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On Nuclear Deterrence and Assurance

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In due course, the fact that continuing faith in fixed Cold War models, terms, and metrics has stymied the Nuclear Posture Reviews NPR implementation will be a historical footnote, one with possibly lasting effect. The important question to consider now, however, is not the fate of the 2001 NPR, but rather the fate of future reviews and efforts to better align U.S. strategic policy and requirements with the reality of multiple and diverse opponents, WMD proliferation, and dynamic threat conditions. Many of the basic contours of U.S. strategic policy goals taken into account by the NPR are likely to endure, particularly including the need to deter multiple threats, assure understandably nervous allies, and provide protection against various forms and sizes of attack, including limited nuclear and biological attacks. Future reviews of U.S. strategic policy will confront the same questions of how U.S. strategies and strategic forces can help support these goals in an unpredictable, dynamic threat environment. The continued application of Cold War strategic orthodoxy to those questions will prevent any plausibly useful set of answers. The balance-of-terror tenets, as applied, serve largely to buttress a political agenda of stasis that actually works against the very steps that could facilitate the realignment of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and policy with contemporary realitiesincluding the potential for prudent, deep nuclear force reductions. It is time to move on from the enticing convenience and ease of the brilliant and innovative theoretical strategic framework of the Cold War. That framework is traceable to hubris, unwarranted expectations, and the need for convenience and comfort, however false. It is based on hopes that are beyond realization and conditions that no longer exist. Outside of the unique Cold War standoff that gave it a semblance of coherence, the balance-of-terror lodestar will be a continuing source of dangerous and confused policy guidance.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Chemical, Biological and Radiological Warfare
  • Nuclear Warfare
  • Nuclear Weapons

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