The logic of deterrence is thus more elusive than it may appear at first glance, especially if that glance is conditioned by the long nuclear stand-off of the Cold War. Nuclear deterrence is deterrence in radically simplified form, since the destructiveness of the weapons themselves tends to disabuse those who hold them of any notion that mere audacity or cleverness could allow them to evade the consequences of their use; though it is worth recalling that even in the nuclear arena the hypothetical dangers of a "decapitating" first strike have proved capable of stirring up intense anxiety from time to time. Nuclear deterrence--which amounts to little more than an exchange of hostages on a massive scale--is also unusual in that, at least as between the Soviet Union and its Western opponents, both sides were tacitly willing to admit to being deterred, a fact that contributed to the transparency, and hence the stability, of the nuclear balance.
Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Contemporary Conflict: http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil
Strategic Insights (October 2002), v.1 no.8