additional risk that one or both sides would acquire and use nuclear weapons during a protracted war.
There is, however, no demonstrable relationship between the actual possession of nuclear weapons and the avoidance of war. First, even if all nuclear weapons were eliminated, the inherent capacity of major powers to build nuclear weapons would act as a deterrent to the outbreak of major conventional wars, since both sides would fear that the other might acquire and use nuclear weapons during a protracted struggle if its vital interests were threatened. In other words, existential nuclear deterrence, as discussed in Chapter 1, would remain to some extent even if nuclear arsenals were dismantled. Second, there have been, and continue to be, profound changes in the structure of the international order that reduce the probability of major war, independent of nuclear deterrence. These include the spread of democracy; the growth of information-based economic systems that do not depend on or benefit from territorial conquest; expanding economic interdependence and integration; the emergence of strong international political and financial institutions, such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund; the diffusion of global communications and shared culture, which limit the degree to which governments can control information and propagate negative images of adversaries; the advent of modern intelligence and surveillance systems that facilitate accurate assessments of military capabilities and which make surprise attacks less likely to succeed; the development of collective security arrangements, such as NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and, more recently, deployment by the Western powers of modern conventional armaments, such as precision-guided munitions, which improve the effectiveness of defenses against armored attacks. In short, the avoidance of major war in the nuclear age can be attributed to many factors rather than to nuclear deterrence alone. It is not unreasonable to believe that a continuation of the trends mentioned above, together with the development of more robust collective security arrangements, the maintenance of modern and capable conventional forces, and the deterrence provided by the capacity of major states to build nuclear weapons, could be capable of deterring large-scale war among the major industrial powers just as effectively as the current system—and with fewer risks.
After considering these risks and benefits, the committee has concluded that an essential long-term goal of U.S. policy should be the creation of international conditions in which the possession of nuclear weapons would no longer be perceived as necessary or legitimate for the preservation of national security and international stability. The following section outlines the most important of these conditions.
The balance between the risks and benefits of comprehensive nuclear disarmament will be determined first and foremost by the overall evolution of the