Cover Image

Not for Sale



View/Hide Left Panel
Click for next page ( 2


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
Introduction Despite 40 years of the nuclear arms race and continuing rivalry and tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, the world has succeeded in avoiding nuclear war. This fact supports the view that the probability of nuclear war is very small. But the unimaginably horrible consequences of a nuclear war, if it were to occur, make the probability, whatever it may be, too large for comfort. Therefore, it is important to examine the various sequences of events that might lead to nuclear war and find ways to make each of them less likely. Students of this subject have considered many different paths that might lead to nuclear war, ranging from a so-called bolt out of the blue to an accidental or unauthorized firing of a nuclear weapon, to a terrorist or rogue nation attack. In the judgment of many careful observers, however, the most likely paths to nuclear war begin with either an international crisis directly involving the United States and the Soviet Union or a regional crisis that involves critical U.S. and Soviet interests or important superpower client states that could lead through a series of escalating actions to a war neither side wants.t The frightening possibility of an inadvertent nuclear war one that develops from an unplanned and unpredicted event calls for the most serious efforts to find ways to keep superpower confrontations from escalating to nuclear war. THE NATURE OF INTERNATIONAL CRISES International crises are extraordinary situations of conflict be- tween the national interests of two or more countries that call for action under great pressure of time and that often involve or threaten the use of military force. Such crises require coordination between military and political leaders in each country and are characterized by a complex interplay between the primary parties and often other nations as well. International crises can present a fundamental tension between the goals of protecting the interests thought to be at stake and avoiding military conflict or unwanted escalation. Crisis manage- ment involves the development and implementation of strategies 1

OCR for page 1
2 CRISIS MANAGEMENT IN THE NUCLEAR AGE for reconciling the tension between these goals.2 The objective of each side is not necessarily to avoid war at any cost; to attain that objective, a country need only yield to its adversary's desires. Crises persist and recur because nations participate in them, choosing to defend their interests rather than acquiesce. A nation might not, however, limit itself to protecting its interests; it might also try to advance those interests in a crisis. Moreover, a nation's objectives can change in the course of a crisis if it sees an opportunity to gain relative advantage without incurring the risk of escalation to an unacceptable level. Taking advantage of a crisis in this manner goes beyond crisis management to crisis manipulation. To achieve their goals in an international crisis, nations need sufficient military capability and sufficient will to use it to achieve the desired behavior on the part of their adversaries. Capability and will must not only exist but must be conveyed to and perceived by the other side. Conveying will may raise the risks of war, but nations often take such risks to protect their funda- mental interests in the belief, justified or not, that they can control the risks and avoid unwanted costs. The difficulty of resolving the tension between the objectives of protecting the national interest and preserving international peace is what makes crises so dangerous. The dangers multiply when the adversaries have nuclear arsenals. The leaders of the superpowers face the task of protecting their nations' interests without using or provoking the use of nuclear weapons, or causing a military conflict that could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons. The possibility of nuclear war gives national decision makers the strongest of motives to avoid military conflict, but it does nothing to mitigate the importance of national interests. Consequently, national leaders have much less room to maneuver in the nuclear age. The advent of nuclear weapons has dramatized the limits of power that can and should be exercised to attain national goals. With the potential consequence of massive nuclear destruction, the concept of being willing to win a war or protect one's interests at all costs is no longer meaningful. The technology and organization of nuclear forces create severe management problems that raise the risks of inadvertent war. The weapons and their command structures are far-flung and complex, decision times are shortened, and in a crisis it is extremely difficult to maintain central control over military decisions that might plunge a nation into war. Central to the problems of command and control

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 3 and of crisis prevention is an inherent tension between readiness and safety. Keeping one's nuclear forces at a high state of readiness to ensure their survivability, which is important for deterrence, can have the unintended consequence of provoking an adversary to take additional steps to ensure the survivability of its nuclear forces, particularly in a crisis situation. Such interactions risk the initiation of a chain of events that could lead to inadvertent nuclear war. This report explores the problem of keeping crises involving the United States and the Soviet Union from leading to nuclear war. It identifies major technical, military, political, and organizational problems that arise when crises involve the superpowers; analyzes the difficulties involved in resolving such crises short of war; and, in light of this analysis, reviews some recent suggestions for preventing or managing superpower crises. TYPES OF INTERNATIONAL CRISES Crises that may involve the superpowers can evolve from many different kinds of political circumstances in many parts of the world. In the past, such crises have involved direct U.S.-Soviet confron- tations, as in the Berlin crises of 1948 and 1961; U.S.-Soviet involvement in regional crises between client states, as in conflicts between Israel and its neighbors; and conflict between a superpower and another country, such as that between the United States and Libya. Crises between the superpowers and regional crises can be par- ticularly dangerous because they involve fundamental interests in volatile situations, and so may risk escalation to war. Nuclear war in either of these contexts would probably require some unpremed- itated action or miscalculation, because, presumably, neither side wants to resort to nuclear exchange. However, these crises can become very dangerous games of"chicken." Crises triggered by a third party, as for example terrorist use of a nuclear weapon, could also be very serious. Actual third-party use of a nuclear weapon would cause great confusion, possibly leading to retaliation against a nation thought, correctly or not, to be responsible for the incident. Crises can occur inadvertently or advertently. An inadvertent crisis could arise, for example, from an accidental missile launch, from unusual military maneuvers of one side that arouse concern, or from the consequences of an unpredictable and unplanned event

OCR for page 1
4 CRISIS MANAGEMENT IN THE NUCLEAR AGE such as an insurrection in Eastern Europe. An advertent crisis is one that is intentionally precipitated, for example, when the Soviet Union cut off Allied ground access routes to Berlin in 1948. Between these extremes lies an important class of crises in which a planned action by one side is interpreted by the other side to the surprise of the initiator as a threat to vital interests. This kind of miscalculation occurred in Korea in 1950. At the time, the United States did not seem to include South Korea in its defense perimeter, but after the North Korean attack, the United States reassessed its interests and chose to intervene in the conflict.3 This sort of crisis is particularly dangerous because each side's interests are not well known to the other and may not even be clearly defined. It is in such a situation that it is easiest to imagine a miscalculation that might lead to escalation across the nuclear threshold. NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND SUPERPOWER CRISES The restraint of superpowers in any future crisis will depend in part on their confidence in the ability of their offensive nuclear forces to survive and therefore to deter a nuclear attack. In terms of the balance of opposing nuclear arsenals, a stable strategic environment, or strategic stability, requires that each side's forces be relatively invulnerable so that there is no perceived pressure to "use 'em or lose 'em," and that neither side has a sufficient first- strike advantage to lead to the temptation to attack preemptively in a crisis. For deterrence to work, each side must believe that were it to attack its opponent with nuclear weapons, the opponent would retain surviving weapons adequate to cause unacceptable retaliatory damage to the attackers In a time of crisis, stability is enhanced when both sides believe that neither would benefit significantly by striking first.5 Much of the structure of nuclear forces in both the United States and the Soviet Union can be understood in terms of the need to ensure that the forces can survive an opponent's first strike and that the opponent is fully aware of this fact (see the box entitled "Diversity in the U.S. Nuclear Force Structure". The stability of the strategic balance is always subject to change as new weapons technologies emerge and as the superpowers alter their nuclear force structures, warning and alert systems, and doctrines. In recent years, many observers have become concerned that some new technological developments, particularly more ac-

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION .. a ~ In am ii i!i~i~j~ ~ {k , W~' arm, ~~ item j mu- ~4 ~ ,~ - for Did 'I. ~~ bus '''a ~ , : :Ni At _ ~~.j~ ~~ ~S,,, Ace. I ~ it ~ curate delivery systems and weapons that shorten the warning time for defenders and increase the feasibility of a "decapitation" strike against command centers, may soon make the strategic balance less stable. The box entitled "Technological Change and Strategic Sta- bility," elaborates the effects recent technological changes may have on strategic stability.6

OCR for page 1
CRISIS MANAGEMENT IN THE NUCLEAR AGE i . ~ S- Act::.i

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 7 THE DANGERS OF SUPERPOWER CRISES IN THE NUCLEAR AGE Superpower crises in the nuclear age present monumental prob- lems of management with unprecedented stakes. Moreover, the problems may be increasing in difficulty. The possible initiation of a nuclear exchange depends on how political and military leaders gather and interpret information, make judgments, balance political and military imperatives, assess options, make decisions, and exe- cute them through a far-flung and complex network of organizations, technical systems, and individuals. Malfunctions in any part of this process of crisis management can contribute to the initiation of inadvertent nuclear war. The next section of this report identifies the individuals and institutions in the United States and the Soviet Union that would most likely be responsible for decisions in a superpower crisis and examines the problems of management they have faced in past crises and may confront again in the future. The final section presents some general guidelines that follow from past experience and discusses some recent proposals for controlling or averting superpower crises.