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

By Stephen J. Cimbala | Go to book overview

2

Nuclearized Conventional Warfare

One of the inspirations for this chapter was Robert Jervis’s important work, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy.1 This book is widely cited as a critique of the U.S. countervailing strategy first designated as such by the Carter administration and continued in large measure by the Reagan administration. But it goes well beyond that, into a general critique of much of American nuclear strategy. One of the key points Jervis makes is that American nuclear strategists are guilty of conventionalization, that is, of attributing to nuclear weapons a variety of uses for which conventional weapons have historically been appropriate. Thus, one imagines nuclear defenses in the same way that conventional defenses have always worked: in order to deny the enemy its objectives. In similar fashion, duels between offensive nuclear forces, such as ICBMs shot from Siberia onto North America and vice-versa, are toted up as if they were exchanges of tanks, artillery pieces, and numbers of conventional force divisions.

This is profoundly true, as I can attest as at least the co-conspirator of force exchange models that have appeared in the academic literature. 2 There is something very different about nuclear exchanges as opposed to volleys of conventional weapons, no matter how costly in lives and property are the latter. It is sometimes said that the U.S. bombings of Tokyo and Dresden in World War II caused more prompt fatalities or overall destruction than the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is arguable statistically but need not concern us as a statistical argument per se. Anyone who has seen a nuclear test explosion would not compare the effects of conventional bombing with nuclear. Nor are the expectations of policy makers faced with a decision to use nuclear

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