US Nuclear Deterrence

By Below, Tim D. Q. | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

US Nuclear Deterrence

Below, Tim D. Q., Air & Space Power Journal

An Opportunity for President Obama to Lead by Example

Although the United States has undertaken significant nuclear arms reductions since the end of the Cold War, as has Russia, and is currently on track to achieve the cuts agreed under the terms of the Moscow Treaty by 2012, many people argue that the contemporary security environment warrants further reductions.1 The Nuclear Posture Review of 2002 formally recognized the termination of an adversarial relationship with Russia and set out a move away from a Cold War-styled "threat-based" approach, instead adopting a "capabilitybased" approach. This would provide a "credible deterrent at the lowest level of nuclear weapons consistent with U.S. and allied security," with the broadest possible range of options to respond to any one of a variety of security challenges.2 The capabilitybased approach established a "new triad" composed of offensive nuclear and nonnuclear strike systems, active and passive defenses, and a "responsive nuclear infrastructure."3 On 5 April 2009, Pres. Barack Obama gave a groundbreaking speech on nuclear weapons in Prague, Czech Republic, stating the United States' commitment to the visionary goal of "the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."4 Working in the strategic environment, this article considers the direct and indirect nuclear threats to the United States and evaluates the relative merit of retaining extant US nuclear force levels, undergoing complete nuclear disarmament, or implementing unilateral denuclearization to the level of minimum deterrence.5 It concludes that the United States should denuclearize now to an objectively determined level required for true minimum deterrence, reject the first use of nuclear weapons, and unequivocally articulate its rationale for so doing.

Nuclear Threats in the Contemporary Global Environment

Direct threats to US security stem from proliferation, risks of accidents and unauthorized or inadvertent use, and nuclear terrorism. Roger Molander, of the RAND Corporation, asserts that "in the near future, a large number of countries are each going to develop a small number of nuclear weapons."6 The Union of Concerned Scientists considers this the greatest long-term danger confronting both US and international security today.7 Moreover, the more widely proliferated nuclear weapons become, the more theoretical opportunities may arise for theft of nuclear material. Conversely, a minority of public proponents argue that wider proliferation may lead to more stability and that the existence of nuclear weapons potentially makes it possible to approach a "defensive-deterrence ideal," reducing the probability oí any warfare breaking out.8 This minority cannot, however, escape the fact that the chances of an explosive accident or an unauthorized or inadvertent launch increase as the number of nuclear states increases.

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2002) declared that "the gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology."9 Similarly, the national security strategy of 2006 is unequivocal in its assessment that, in the wake of 9/11, "there are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD [weapons of mass destruction]."10 Despite programs such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, hundreds of complete weapons and even more nonassembled critical weapon components are currently stored in conditions that leave them vulnerable to theft by determined criminals. This parlous state of nuclear security has not gone unnoticed by the criminal fraternity.11 Hans Kristensen, of the Federation of American Scientists, however, considers the threat of nuclear terrorism "very hypothetical" and certainly not something that justifies an "operational nuclear weapon" for a response.12

It should be noted that none of the direct threats arise from the use of nuclear weapons by state actors. These actors, however, do present indirect threats to the United States through their potential to inhibit US influence and their contribution to regional instability. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

US Nuclear Deterrence


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.