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Sir Winston Churchill


Whither Nuclear Deterrence?

A great article on the new reality:

There appears to be some progress with respect to the SNF problems. India has made gains in stabilizing and securing their arsenal to address the dangers of SNF and anti-state actors as an example to other new nuclear powers. First, India has adopted a strict policy of no first use. Second, India asserts that it will not resort to nukes against non-nuclear and non-aligned states. India’s current doctrine is focused on denial by punishment, and they are pursuing a triad of air, land and sea based systems to ensure second strike capability. Third, India has enforced strict civilian control by democratically elected leaders through a survivable command and control system, and their arsenal is protected by adequate security and safety systems to prevent unauthorized use. And fourth, though India will not accept limitations on its maintenance, testing and R&D, its stated goal is to continue to emphasize and pursue global nuclear disarmament.

Where no progress has been made is with regard to the irrational state and anti-state actors. The Bush Administration’s doctrine of preemptive war was intended as a step towards addressing the new security threats, but there are many dangers inherent in this approach. With the invasion of Iraq the Global War on Terror became as much a war of counterproliferation as a war on terrorism.

In the past nonproliferation and counterproliferation entailed diplomacy, sanctions, deterrence, defenses and the capacity to strike at another nation’s nuclear arsenal, command and control and delivery systems. This shift is a tacit acknowledgement that the Non-Proliferation Treaty does not guarantee a nation will not develop or acquire nuclear arms. Deterrence now, at least for the time being, has broadened to include not just deterring a nuclear state from using their weapons, but also includes preventing non-nuclear states and non-state actors from acquiring nuclear weapons. And in the case of Iran, this approach appears to be failing. Indeed, the Bush Doctrine and preoccupation of America’s conventional military on conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may have actually had the opposite effect and accelerated development efforts by states that were already pursuing nuclear weapons.

All of which begs the question: where do America and nuclear deterrence go from here? The current global security situation has been and will continue to be a challenge to large and small powers alike. Major powers are confronted with threats that their vast arsenals appear useless to deter, and are reverting to risky, offensive doctrines of the past. In response, small powers and anti-state actors are deciding to pursue nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in attempts to deter a major power they believe is an irrational, uncontrollable threat.

So, with the vexing problem of anti-state actors rendering deterrence by denial and existential deterrence dead letters, deterrence by punishment seems to be the only remaining option for America. This would entail warning the most likely cooperative sources of a terrorist bomb or bomb technology - Iran, Pakistan and North Korea – that if an unexplained nuclear detonation takes place on the territory of the United States, Tehran, Islamabad and Pyongyang would pay a heavy price. Ten years ago this kind of policy would have been unthinkable, but the brave new world of atomic proliferation seems to demand it.

The flaw with this approach, of course, is that our enemies have no reason to believe we'd make good on the threat.


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