How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 3

President Nixon believed that irrationality played an important role in nuclear deterrence: “If the adversary feels that you are unpredictable, even rash, he will be deterred from pressing you too far. The odds that he will fold will increase and the unpredictable president will win another hand.” [1] As with the first two parts in this series (see links below), this thinking overlooks what happens if both sides succumb to such thinking.

A friend of mine who worked on these issues in the State Department thinks I am crazy to worry about a Russian-American confrontation escalating to war because, in his words, “The Russians are too cautious. They know the horror of war in a way that we do not.” He may be right, but I hate to bet the lives of my children and grandchildren on the Russians being more rational than we – especially as a new generation comes to power there, for whom the devastation of World War II is but a distant memory.

Martin Hellman

Footnote [1]: Richard Nixon, The Real War, Warner Books, New York, 1980, pp. 254-256.

This is part of a series on “How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence?” Here are links to each post: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, and Part 8.

How You Can Help If you agree that society’s complacency concerning nuclear may be unwarranted, please sign our petition asking Congress to authorize a National Academies’ study of that risk, and encourage friends to do the same. My paper, “How Risky is Nuclear Optimism,” provides a brief, but more complete summary of the reasons such a study is needed.

About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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One Response to How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 3

  1. Ken Doig says:

    Your hope that the Russians (“the Russian state”. E.g., an American patriot might love Independence-Day, apple-pie, the American people, culture [I speak here of thoroughly-assimilated whose forefathers came whencever, usually beyond “living-memory”.], values, generousness, the, “use-to-be” Kantian Rechtstaat, i.e., rule of law, majority or large number of citizens have suffrage, not only voting in elections, but the two overlooked votes we have; our grandjury- & regular jury-vote. Moreover, have they the legal right to enter into various kinds of government “service”, who, if statutorily eligible, may run for public. A “Rechtstaatsrepublik” must be meritocracy-based, government, courts, all legislative-bodies, civil-service, military & law-enforcement, etc. There must be a separation of state-branches (independant judiciary, an exec. branch, and either a uni- or bicameral [or “tri-” or “polycameral” lawmaking-bodies, constitutionally delagated different powers, this would greatly help ensure tyranny] national diet the more they dislike or are at odds with the other branches, so much the better. This helps obviate colusion. Outta time, I’ll write more. Dr. Hellman, love your blog, couldn’t agree w/ you more or that (closer in time, closer in the attitudes, of mainly the Likudist Netanyahu admin & the Bush-Obama admin. They’re gonna attack Iran no matter what, but certainly no for their stated reason. I know not the exact motivation, some say it’d be a fire-sacrifice (the Internation high-finance with their centralbanks, whose primary “raison d’être” is to foment war so they can lend massive war-financing, etc. NWO-Freemasons-Iluminati-CFR-Club of Rome- …
    Kenneth S. Doig (Scottish-Gaelic surname)
    http://www.protogermanic.com
    Belmont (SF BayArea, on peninsula midway between San José & SF), CA

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