Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Cold War for a New Era of Strategic Piracy

By ThÉrÈse Delpech | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Lessons from Crises

The light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on
the waves behind us.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge1

The role of the nuclear factor in international crises since 1946 is all too commonly underestimated, even among the community of specialists. A reexamination of the period since World War II made possible by many declassified documents, especially from the United States, shows just how mistaken that perception is. Tentative steps— sometimes cunning, sometimes blundering, now subtle and then blustering—to translate nuclear capabilities into effective deterrence, compellence, or blackmail are in fact present in a variety of crises that hold a series of lessons for international security in the 21st century.

Granted, nuclear deterrence does not operate only when crises occur. It does reinforce caution and moderation even in peacetime. The interest in crises, though, stems from the fact that they test deterrence in a situation of tension, since they can be described as twilight regions between peace and war,2 with stakes of such magnitude in nuclear matters that mistakes in this twilight can be devastating. The aim during a crisis is to prevent not only war but also significant political losses. Both are failures of deterrence, but while the first constitutes the “unthinkable” that must be prevented at (almost) any cost, the second has the ability to modify the strategic balance in ways that could lead to crises in the future that are more damaging than the previous ones if credibility has been badly damaged.

1Specimens of the Table Talk of the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge, London: Harper & Brothers, 1835, p. 11.

2 See President Eisenhower’s closing comments in a press conference on March 4, 1959: “We are living in sort of a half world in so many things. We are not fighting a war, we are not killing each other, we are not going to the ultimate horror. On the other side of the picture, we are not living the kind of normal, what we’d like to call a normal life of thinking more of our own affairs, of thinking of the education and happiness of our children, and all that sort of thing that should occupy our minds.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The President’s News Conference of March 4, 1959,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959; Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President, January 1 to December 31, 1959, Washington, D.C.: Office of the Federal Register, 1960, p. 236.

-61-

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Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Cold War for a New Era of Strategic Piracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Advance Praise for Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century i
  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - Why Is This Subject Important? 9
  • Chapter Three - Concepts 23
  • Chapter Four - Lessons from Crises 61
  • Chapter Five - The Age of Small Powers 93
  • Chapter Six - Ahead of Us- The Big Piracy Game? 115
  • Chapter Seven - Space and Cyberdeterrence 141
  • Conclusion 159
  • References 165
  • About the Author 181
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