2002 September 16 Monday
Proliferation, Deterrence and Preemption

The biggest foreign policy question the United States and its allies face today is whether the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) must be stopped by use of military force. Can deterrence serve as a sufficient strategy to deal with the otherwise inevitable spread of nuclear weapons and other WMD to more regimes?

This question is not being debated in public with sufficient clarity (though one suspects there is considerable clarity in the secret discussions of the Bush Administration). Stanley Kurtz examines why this is the case in his most recent article Brave New World: Why We Must Invade Iraq in The National Review Online. He describes arguments that Marc Trachtenberg has made in the Fall 2002 issue of The National Interest:

As Trachtenberg points out, in a world where everyone has nuclear weapons, the balance of terror cuts two ways. On the one hand, it makes states reluctant to come to blows. On the other hand, just because of its intimidating effects, the balance of terror rewards those who are willing to bring themselves up to the brink (on the assumption that potential foes will be scared off by the prospect of a nuclear exchange). In the current world, the boldness of state action is constrained by relative conventional military power. But in a world where conventional military might has been rendered irrelevant (because everyone has the bomb), it's those with the will to take risks who will prosper (so long as they don't actually step over the line and provoke a nuclear exchange). And eventually, of course, someone will step over the line — (mis)calculating that their foes will simply accept some aggressive action (say, an invasion of Kuwait), out of fear of escalation to a nuclear exchange.

While Trachtenberg's full article does not appear to be on-line you can find what appears to be an excerpt on their site. Entitled Waltzing To Armageddon?, it makes for sobering reading:

Each side might be afraid of escalation, but those fears are balanced by the knowledge that one’s adversary is also afraid, and his fears can be exploited. In the case of a conflict between two nuclear powers, if either side believed that Waltz’s analysis was correct--if either side believed that its adversary would give way rather than run any risk of nuclear attack, as long as his vital interests were not threatened--there would be no reason for that country not to take advantage of that situation. That side could threaten its adversary with nuclear attack if its demands were not met in the firm belief that its opponent was bound to give way, and that it would therefore not be running any risk itself. That belief might turn out to be correct, but if it were not--if its rival was unwilling to allow it to score such an easy victory--there could be very serious trouble indeed. And if both sides were convinced by Waltz’s arguments, and both adopted strong deterrent strategies, the situation would be particularly dangerous. Each side would dig in its heels, convinced that when confronted with the risk of nuclear war, the other side would ultimately back down. Such a situation could quickly get out of hand. As Dean Rusk pointed out in 1961, "one of the quickest ways to have a nuclear war is to have the two sides persuaded that neither will fight."

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 16 06:35 PM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment


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