Monthly Archives: June 2012

How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 8

Logical thinking should determine the size our arsenal. Yet, as we will see below, that number has been determined in a highly irrational manner which “frightened the devil” out of President Eisenhower and continues to be applied today. Continue reading

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How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 7

Military officers are trained to fight wars, while the only rational use for nuclear weapons would be to prevent war. Putting nuclear weapons under the command of military officers therefore introduces the risk that logic which applies to conventional weapons will be misapplied to nuclear weapons. General Thomas Power, Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1957 to 1964 appears to have committed exactly that error. Continue reading

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How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 6

Drug or alcohol abuse is another potential source of irrationality in nuclear deterrence. This problem has affected a number of top nuclear decision makers, including JFK, Richard Nixon, Boris Yeltsin, and Tony Blair. Continue reading

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How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 5

The last two installments in this series dealt with President Nixon’s deliberate, conscious incorporation of irrationality into nuclear deterrence. This installment deals with an unintended risk: Nixon’s suicidal ideation in the final months of his presidency, as Watergate pulled him down. Continue reading

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How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 4

The previous installment in this series quoted President Nixon as advocating “unpredictable, even rash” presidential behavior in order to “win another hand” at nuclear poker. He employed exactly that approach during his first year in office in what has become known as the “Madman Nuclear Alert.” Continue reading

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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, this thinking overlooks what happens if both sides succumb to such thinking.
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How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 2

Deterrence’s demand for irrationality is spelled out clearly in a 1995 USSTRATCOM report, “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence”: Because of the value that comes from the ambiguity of what the US may do to an adversary if the acts we … Continue reading

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