Do more nuclear weapons make the world a safer place? Since 1945, nuclear weapons have underpinned the global balance of power. This episode explores the development and practice of nuclear deterrence.
Foundation of Nuclear Deterrence
Developed in the Cold War, the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine is the foundation of nuclear deterrence theory. MAD is the concept that two nuclear-armed nations will not strike each other under the understanding that nuclear war would annihilate both nations.
MAD only works if both sides can withstand a nuclear strike and then strike back. Both sides must possess a credible threat – both the capability and willingness to strike back. But even under the relative stability of MAD, nations are still subject miscalculations and mistakes when interpreting the adversary’s intentions, which could lead to escalation and nuclear warfare.
Nuclear Deterrence in a Multi-Polar World
As nuclear technology spread, nations adopted different policies to confront their specific geopolitical situations. China developed its nuclear arsenal in the 1960s with the understanding it could not match the United States or Soviet Union in their nuclear arms race. Instead, it advanced a minimal deterrent strategy, which used a smaller number of nuclear weapons to threaten the “lowest level of damage” necessary to deter attack.
Pakistan and India face bipolar nuclear tensions. Both countries began developing and testing nuclear weapons in the 1970s, and even demonstrated capabilities in the 1990s. Although they exist in a multipolar world, their nuclear strategies only seek to deter each other.
Want to dive deeper into nuclear deterrence? Check out these articles:
- The indelicate balance of nuclear modernization, Adam Mount, The Bulletin
- Trump’s Nuclear Deterrence Challenge, Franklin Miller and Keith Payne, Wall Street Journal
- Careful, we might nuke you: The consequences of rejecting a nuclear no-first-use pledge, James Doyle, The Bulletin