The Sarajevo Fallacy
Our age must learn the lessons of World War II, brought about when the democracies failed to understand the designs of a totalitarian aggressor. . . . But we must remember as well the lesson of World War I, when Europe, despite the existence of a military balance, drifted into a war no one wanted and a catastrophe that no one could have imagined. Military planning drove decisions; bluster and posturing drove diplomacy. Leaders committed the cardinal sin of statecraft: They lost control over events. -- Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval1
For most of the twentieth century, the hope for peace and the fear of war converged on the phenomenon of the arms race. At the root of this hope and fear lay a widely shared conviction that arms races were inherently dangerous and ultimately destabilizing. So firmly established was this belief in Western political discourse that statesmen came to take it for granted.
As a result of this conviction, Western strategy for much of the postwar era remained torn between two fundamentally opposing premises: the notion that military strength deters aggression and the competing belief that the arms race itself could be a cause of war. Throughout the Cold War era, the view that the arms race could lead to catastrophe continually challenged and unsettled the Western faith in nuclear deterrence. Though understanding the need to guarantee peace through military power, Western governments and peoples remained wary of the means at their disposal, haunted by the fear that the very measures they took to secure their safety could be driving them to oblivion.