Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age

By Taint, Michael H | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age


Taint, Michael H, Air & Space Power Journal


Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age by Keith B. Payne. University Press of Kentucky, 663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 405084008, 1996, 168 pages, $26.95.

Success can be a dangerous thing. In the minds of most military and political leaders, the collapse of the Soviet Union and consequential end to the cold war meant a complete validation of nuclear deterrence through mutual assured destruction (MAD); indeed, the entire subject of nuclear strategy, so "hot" just a decade ago, now appears passe. Dr. Keith Payne, editor in chief of Comparative Strategy and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, has written a brief but refreshingly original book that serves as a much needed wake-up call for people who believe that nuclear strategy can now be safety placed on the back shelf in this post-cold-war world while we focus our attention elsewhere. The truth is, the deterrence challenge has gotten far more complex.

Nuclear strategy has usually been characterized by the division of the defense community into bipolar camps: people either believed in maintaining parity/superiority in strategic forces and were known as hawks or in MAD (as Payne calls it, "assured vulnerability") and were known as doves. Payne goes beyond this either/or thinking, insisting that we need a new synthesis from both viewpoints to develop an effective strategy in this Second Nuclear Age. Although he recognizes that the use of deterrence is and always has been "the acme of skill" (to borrow from Sun Tzu), his central thesis is that "there are virtually no grounds-other than intuition or hope-for making sweeping claims about the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence throughout the Cold War, or to predict how future challengers will behave in response to familiar deterrence policies under various hypothetical conditions. …

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