U.S. Enlargement Strategy and Nuclear Weapons, The

Working Papers

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March 2000

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The United States has a global security strategy, in deeds if seldom clearly in words. The U.S. security strategy is to enlarge the areas of the world that it can control militarily and to weaken all states outside those areas. The strategy does not rely solely on military means, but enlarged military control is the end and military means--armed interventions, alliance extensions, arms sales--usually lead the way. Aside from a 1992 Pentagon trial balloon, which was poorly received though accurate enough as far as it went, and a few other statements, the strategy has been manifested via a series of consistent actions rather than formal statements.

Along with this overall strategy, the United States also has policies regarding nuclear weapons. Some of these policies are stated, some are tacit. The stated policies include de-emphasizing nuclear weapons, discouraging nuclear proliferation, and pursuing nuclear arms reductions, a comprehensive test ban, and other nuclear-arms-control measures. The tacit policy is reliance on deterrent nuclear forces to limit escalation of conventional conflicts and to offset the nuclear forces of other powers.

These two policies, military enlargement and reliance on nuclear stability and arms control, are not compatible. Continued enlargement backed or led by military force will not support de-emphasis of nuclear weapons, let alone nuclear disarmament. It may not support nuclear nonproliferation even among allies, depending on whether the United States is seen to become overextended or overcommitted at home or abroad. Military enlargement weakens support for several of the arms-control measures on the U.S. agenda. Enlargement is also likely to lead to crises that will test the stability of nuclear deterrence more seriously than it has been tested since the early years of the Cold War.

In this paper I first remind the reader of the main components of the U.S. military enlargement strategy. Next I describe why other states, given the U.S. enlargement strategy, find and will continue to find nuclear weapons useful. These states are not all potential opponents. Third, I explain how the U.S. enlargement strategy undermines nuclear arms control. What is more important, I show why it will inevitably lead to nuclear crises. Last, I discuss the alternative strategy of military restraint and show how it would ensure U.S. influence for a longer time and with greater safety than the present strategy of unilateral U.S. military enlargement.

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