Deterrence Stability with Smaller Forces: Prospects and Problems

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Abstract

Many scholars and policy-makers have assumed that reduction of US and Russian strategic nuclear forces to the lowest possible levels, perhaps to zero, is contributory to deterrence and crisis stability. This study tests a variety of reduced US and Russian nuclear forces, including hypothetical forces and START configurations, for their relative force advantage and for their ability to fulfil previously accepted standards of assured retaliation. It turns out that, as forces decrease towards very low levels, the Russian force falls behind the US force in operational flexibility and becomes much more vulnerable to surprise strikes without warning. Both forces maintain the ability to inflict historically unprecedented retaliatory damage even at the 1,000 warhead level, the lowest included here. The good news is that minimum deterrent forces rapidly run out of plausible targets, making them irrelevant for counterforce first strikes or for escalation dominance. The bad news is that minimum forces can become exclusively city attacking forces by default. Former adversaries now turned into potential partners in search of regional and global stability, the USA and Russia must safeguard the transition from a nuclear deterrence regime to a more disarmed world. The reduction of US and Russian arsenals to several hundreds of weapons is contributory to stability on the assumption that the British, French and Chinese nuclear weapons inventories undergo proportionate reductions also. A second assumption built into favorable prognoses for US and Russian reductions well below START levels is that nuclear proliferation can be constrained. Absent constrained proliferation and cooperative European and Asian nuclear powers, US and Russian force reductions below 1,000 warheads are ambiguously stable. Neorealist arguments in favor of well-managed proliferation understate the extent to which Cold War stability was overdetermined. US-Soviet nuclear deterrence rested on a substructure that included bipolarity and learned behavior modification for crisis management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-78
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Volume32
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1995

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deterrence
proliferation
strike
news
behavior modification
nuclear power
escalation
retaliation
nuclear weapon
Arsenals
ability
Nuclear weapons
weapon
cold war
damages
flexibility
Russia
Nuclear energy
regime
management

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations

Cite this

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Deterrence Stability with Smaller Forces : Prospects and Problems. / Cimbala, Stephen J.

In: Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 32, No. 1, 02.1995, p. 65-78.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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