A Bet Portrayed as a Certainty: Reassessing the Added Deterrent Value of Nuclear Weapons (book chapter)

In this paper, I address three of the most frequently used arguments for maintaining a significant measure of dependence for international security on nuclear deterrence both globally and regionally:

  1. Nuclear weapons have deterred great powers from waging war against each other, so a world without nuclear weapons will lead to, or at least might encourage, great-power war.
  2. The US nuclear umbrella has deterred nuclear proliferation, so the reduction of the US nuclear arsenal will undermine the credibility of US extended deterrence and create additional incentives for nuclear proliferation.
  3. Nuclear weapons have deterred other powers from invading the territory of those states that possess nuclear weapons and thus leaders of countries with relatively weak conventional capabilities will keep their weapons as an equalizer. A version of this argument focuses on dictatorial regimes or “rogue states” whose very existence depends on their having nuclear weapons.

After showing that these arguments are not as convincing as their frequency suggests, I delineate opportunities that advocates for a nuclear-free world or a world with few nuclear weapons should exploit on their way to advancing their goal, based on the decoupling of nuclear weapons and deterrence.