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Risking Nuclear Escalation: The Characteristics of War from the Sino-Soviet and Kargil Wars

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Technical Report,25 Jun 2018,23 May 2019

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US Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth United States

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This monograph examines the potential characteristics of a future conflict between nuclear-armed adversaries based on the only two historical cases of direct conflict between nuclear powers the 1969 Sino-Soviet War, and the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. This paper argues that these two wars suggest five key characteristics of conflicts between two nuclear powers first, nuclear confrontations are risky and difficult to control second, information operations and the international community have a significant impact on the outcome third, military leaders will probably encourage escalation fourth, military operations will face severe political and strategic constraints, and finally, horizontal escalation is significantly more destabilizing in conflicts than vertical escalation. Based on these conflicts and characteristics, current US Army doctrine and concepts are ill-suited for future war against nuclear-armed near-peer threats because the risk of escalation will require significant political and strategic constraints, and future operations should remain extremely limited in size and scope. Several potentially significant implications for the US Armys way of war result from the constraints, limitations, and altered character of war caused by nuclear weapons. First, army commanders, at battalion level and above, will have to assume significantly greater tactical risk to limit and control the risk of strategic escalation. Second, the US Army will probably have to fight at a much slower tempo and use more constrained methods than typical American operations. Finally, tactical advantages and successes will derive largely from political and strategic advantages achieved from information operations and the international community.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Nuclear Warfare

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