Rethinking the Role of Nuclear Weapons   [open pdf - 31KB]

"The reduction of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals suggests that such weapons have a reduced role in world affairs. But what that role should be is unclear. Should nuclear weapons be available only to prevent nuclear war or, instead, to underpin global security? The two concepts have divergent implications. If nuclear weapons have any use beyond retaliation for nuclear attack, the danger of nuclear war is bound to be higher. Conversely, lowering the danger of nuclear violence weakens the utility of the fear that that danger produces. In the Cold War, the fear of nuclear war was used by the United States to engender caution and stability. Had it not been for that fear, the 20th century might have had three world wars instead of two. [...] The hot debate about whether to abolish nuclear weapons is less important than the abolitionists think. Nuclear weapons are here to stay period. The more practical argument over the right size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be bracketed by a few thousand warheads at the high end and a few hundred at the low end. That difference matters less for U.S. interests and international security, including whether nuclear weapons are used again, than the more fundamental question: Should nuclear weapons have any purpose other than to prevent nuclear war?"

Report Number:
Strategic Forum No.141
Public Domain
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