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Strategic Impasse: Offense, Defense, and Deterrence Theory and Practice

By Stephen J. Cimbala | Go to book overview

9

Deterrence, Nuclear Avoidance, and Future Superpower Relations

You must know, then, that there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second.

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince1

Machiavelli’s comparison between the method of law and the method of force rings as true for the comparison between conventional defense and nuclear deterrence. Our instinct is to regard the first as preferable and honorable under conditions of self-defense, the second as immoral and beastly. And so it is immoral and beastly. Where conventional defense capabilities suffice for deterrence, they should be accepted as necessary and sufficient conditions for that purpose. Where they do not or cannot, other conditions obtain. Machiavelli’s genius was to recognize the importance of necessita which might require the policy maker to choose between shades of bad and, nevertheless, to understand the importance of choosing wisely.

Choosing wisely with regard to nuclear weapons is not simple. Instinct would do away with them, and under the proper and permissive political conditions, so would reason. These conditions do not yet obtain. The United States and the Soviet Union have the power to change the political relations to which their military instruments are subordinate. Whether improved political relations would lead to lesser reliance on nuclear weapons by the superpowers is arguable. In addition, the qualities inherent in both sides’ nuclear arsenals are more important than the sizes

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