confidence that proliferation is not taking place. The degree of commitment of the nonnuclear weapons states to these crucial collective efforts will surely depend at least in part on impressions about whether the nuclear weapons states are working seriously on the arms reduction part of the global nonproliferation bargain.

NUCLEAR DETERRENCE PAST AND FUTURE

During the Cold War, nuclear deterrence was the bedrock of U.S strategy for preventing both nuclear war and major conventional war because a more effective alternative was not apparent: the adversarial U.S.-Soviet relationship made it seem imprudent to rely on good intentions to preclude nuclear attack or massive conventional assault; the character of nuclear weapons and the diverse means for delivering them meant that attempts to defend the United States or its allies against nuclear attacks on their populations could be overcome with much less effort than would have to be invested in the defenses; highly survivable basing modes for significant parts of each side's nuclear forces made it impractical to execute a disarming first strike even if conflict seemed imminent; and concern about the powerful conventional forces of the Warsaw Treaty Organization (and, in Asia, those of China and North Korea) motivated the United States and its allies to adopt a first-use-if-necessary nuclear posture to deter large-scale conventional attacks.

But nuclear deterrence itself was (and is) burdened with an array of dilemmas and dangers. For example, deterrence is likely to succeed only if there are credible plans for what to do if it fails, but constructing such plans is exceedingly difficult, and attempts to make the threat of nuclear retaliation credible can be seen as aggressive advantage seeking by the other side. This raises tensions, stimulates arms races, or increases the chance of nuclear war from crisis instability or accident. In addition, the assertion by some countries of a need and a right to have a nuclear deterrent may encourage additional countries to assert the same need and right, leading to further nuclear proliferation.

This committee has concluded that the dilemmas and dangers of nuclear deterrence as practiced by the United States in the past can and should be alleviated in the post-Cold War security environment by confining such deterrence to the core function of deterring nuclear attack, or coercion by threat of nuclear attack, against the United States of its allies. That is, the United States would no longer threaten to respond with nuclear weapons against conventional, chemical, or biological attacks. Given adequate conventional forces, the active and conspicuous role given to nuclear weapons during the Cold War can be greatly reduced without significant adverse effect on the probability of major war or on this country's ability to deal effectively with regional conflicts where its vital interests and those of its allies are at stake. The committee believes that Russia and the other nuclear weapons states can be persuaded to reach a comparable conclusion.



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