The Past and Future of Nuclear Deterrence

By De Ruggiero, Saverio | Naval War College Review, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The Past and Future of Nuclear Deterrence


De Ruggiero, Saverio, Naval War College Review


Cimbala, Stephen J. The Past and Future of Nuclear Deterrence. Westport, Conn.: Praeger,1998. 235pp. $55

Stephen Cimbala, professor of political science at Penn State University, continues with this book his contribution to the study of U. S. security issues. His objective is to "examine the nuclear past in order to foretell at least some part of the nuclear future[,] . . . the place of nuclear weapons in relationship [to] force and policy" Given the increasing complexity of change in the mix of national political postures and arsenals, both horizontally (as with India and Pakistan) and vertically (as with China), Cimbala largely achieves his goal. His views, which include the consideration of noted futurists' predictions, escort the reader through the strategies of deterrence, from World War I to the present.

Cimbala begins his study by asking whether the Cold War strategy of deterrence really worked. Arguing that one's acceptance or rejection of nuclear weapons and arms control proposals is a function of "strong psychological predispositions, prejudices, and gut feelings of threat or reassurance," he postulates two entirely different frames of reference. The first he identifies as the "military-traditional" one; it is an analysis of the comparative relationships of force, be they conventional or unconventional. His second frame of reference is one of political objectivity Cimbala challenges the concept of certainty, revisiting thorny issues associated with a Nato strategy of flexible response, of nuclear war conducted on European soil. Arguing especially against the "rhetoric of assured destruction," he poses a major point for consideration: that a successful Cold War strategy of nuclear deterrence was the result of improvisations built around the realities of nuclear-escalation uncertainties, of leadership experiments in applied psychology. His arguments are also pertinent to the interests of Realists who postulate that nuclear balance is a necessary state of international relationships and that nuclear weapons proliferation and international stability can be made compatible. A reader analyzing the major reference points of Realism may wish to consider U.S. antimissile programs, such as the Army's theater high-altitude area defense missile (THAAD) . THAAD, ultimately designed to provide a national defense against the growing numbers of nations possessing ballistic missiles, raises the issue of disproportionate national advantage. An additional question is whether a successful antimissile defense system could detract from arms reductions and nonproliferation treaty efforts, further clouding future nuclear policy. …

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