Why was Nuclear Deterrence Successful?

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  • Why was Nuclear Deterrence Successful? Credibility vs Rationality.
    • Flexible Response
      • Flexible Response- This policy included the use of conventional forces in war and offered alternatives to total nuclear war.
        • Technology had improved since massive retaliation was adopted. Improvements in communication and transportation meant U.S. forces could be deployed more effectively, quickly, and flexibly than before.
          • Advisers persuaded Kennedy that having multiple options would allow the president to apply the appropriate amount of force at the right place without risking escalation or losing alternatives.
            • This would improve credibility for deterrence as the U.S. would now have low-intensity options and therefore would be more likely to use them, rather than massive retaliation's all-or-nothing options
              • Cuban Missile Crisis, US came up with different choices - 1.Avoid War by doing nothing, 2.Destroy missile sites. 3. Diplomatic pressure. 4. Blockade. NO nuclear options!
                • Led to a successful agreement, US took missiles out of Turkey, USSR took missiles out of Cuba.
        • mutual deterrence at strategic, tactical, and conventional levels, giving the United States the capability to respond to aggression across the spectrum of warfare, not limited only to nuclear arms.
          • Flexible Response was implemented to develop several options across the spectrum of warfare, other than the nuclear option, for quickly dealing with enemy aggression.
    • MAD theory.
      • By the mid-1960s - creation of hydrogen bombs - 58 megatons of TNT - unilateral deterrence gave way to "mutual deterrence," a situation of strategic stalemate.
        • The superpowers would refrain from attacking each other because of the certainty of mutual assured destruction, better known as MAD.
          • The strategy is a form of Nash equilibrium in which, once armed, neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm.
        • Massive Retaliation
          • In the event of an attack from an aggressor, a state would massively retaliate by using a force disproportionate to the size of the attack.
            • Means of preventing any attack on the West as well.
              • U.S.S.R. had no desire to provoke an all-out nuclear attack, the policy of massive response likely deterred any ambitions it would have had on Western Europe.
      • Self Destruction was guaranteed meaning a nuclear war would only resulted in the destruction of both countries.
        • MAD worked because both USSR and USA agreed to allow perfect detection of the 1st strike and they would not heavily defend against the strike e.g Fallout Shelters.
          • it would violate the MAD doctrine and destabilize the situation, because it would not have to fear the consequences of a second strike.
            • The primary application of this doctrine started during the Cold War (1940s to 1991)
      • Launch on warning.
        • Launch on warning is a strategy of nuclear weapon retaliation that gained recognition during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
        • nations deploy an early warning system that detects incoming nuclear missiles.
      • First Strike.
        • A successful nuclear deterrent requires that a country preserve its ability to retaliate, either by responding before its own weapons are destroyed or by ensuring a second strike capability.
          • This led to the foundation of the nuclear triad, (bombers, missiles, and submarines) to assure that a second-strike capability existed able to cause massive destruction to the attacking nation even if they struck first.
            • E.g. United States, Russia and China. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, have only sea- and air-based nuclear weapons.
          • This led both to the hardening and diversification of nuclear delivery systems
        • SALT 1
          • Limited the superpowers to a certain number of nuclear weapons. e.g. 1 ABM launch site. This strengthened deterrence because it meant both the superpowers had the same capability to destroy the other.


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