A New Nuclear Century: Strategic Stability and Arms Control

By Stephen J. Cimbala; James Scouras | Go to book overview

3

FRICTION AND NUCLEAR DETERRENCE

Nuclear weapons were thought by many to contradict much that had been taught previously about military strategy. Nuclear weapons would keep the peace by means of deterrence. The threat of using means of destruction so absolute in their consequences would suffice to replace war, and friction along with it. Generations of nuclear strategic thinkers in the United States and some policymakers treated the end of the Cold War as confirmation of this logic. Both the peaceful withdrawal of Soviet military power from East Central Europe and the demise of the Soviet Union itself without war provided for some observers the proof that nuclear deterrence worked by freezing the frame of war until communism collapsed in Europe.

This reading of the Cold War and of the reasons for Soviet peaceful disengagement or demise is wrong: We and others have elaborated on that topic elsewhere. 1 The expectation that nuclear deterrence has invalidated great power wars and thereby circumvented friction—and Clausewitz—is even more mistaken than the assumption that nuclear weapons gave the West victory in the Cold War. Nuclear and other deterrence as practiced during the Cold War was marked by a dangerous and unavoidable component of friction, and so too will it be in the future. Friction is not determined by the size of arsenals or by the devastation that weapons can inflict if fired, but by the human relationships that must be engaged in order to deter or, if need be, to fight with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear ones. 2

A great deal was assumed about human behavior by deterrence theory, and that theory has been subjected to numerous critiques that will not be repeated here. Instead, this chapter asks about the impact on deterrence of

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