Much effort has gone into understanding and expanding the logic of nuclear deterrence. But, what if nuclear deterrence is illogical? A gem of a book by Columbia University Prof. Robert Jervis, published back in 1984 and entitled “The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy,” raises that question. Here is a key excerpt:
American nuclear strategy … is concerned with how the United States would fight many different kinds of wars, both nuclear and nonnuclear … its advocates argue that the best way to deter wars and aggression is to be prepared to fight if need be: the Russians are unlikely to start or risk a war if the know they will be defeated.
The main theme of this book is that this argument, which makes perfect sense in a nonnuclear world, is profoundly misleading in the current era of abundant weapons of mass destruction. … Because nuclear weapons enable the state that is losing a war to destroy the other side, they have produced a true revolution in strategy. In the past, military advantage allowed a state both to harm the other and to protect itself. Now protection is possible only with the other’s cooperation. … [As a result] the current stress on being able to contain Soviet military thrusts … is misguided.
In today’s world, I would extend Jervis’ argument slightly, to say that our long-term security depends on the cooperation of every existing or would-be nuclear power. If that’s right, do current national security policies increase or decrease our security? and how should they change?
How to help : If you agree that the risks associated with our current nuclear policies need to be better understood, please sign our petition asking Congress to authorize the National Academies to undertake a study of those risks. The petition has been signed by a four star admiral who headed the National Security Agency, a former president of Stanford University, and two Nobel Laureates, so you can rest assured that it makes good sense.