The False Security of Nuclear Weapons

Jason Steck at PoliGazette has contributed to the discussion of nuclear weapons policy, too. He’s more sanguine about the prospects for substantially reducing our arsenal of nuclear weapons than I am:

It is reasonable to maintain a carefully-designed nuclear force as a deterrent against enemy leaders that may value only their own personal or national survival and power.


It would therefore be reasonable to look towards making deep cuts in our existing arsenal of land, air, and sea-based nuclear forces. The cuts could be made with an eye towards survivability of the nuclear force, prioritizing deployment on submarines which are impervious to any comprehensive first strike or pre-emptive attack.

I think he’s a little too USA-centric in his thinking on this. All countries don’t have the same political constraints that we do. Russia has followed a foreign policy of national greatness for nearly 400 years, I believe most Russians continue to support such a policy, and, as I’ve pointed out, Russia can’t continue to pursue that policy and forego nuclear weapons. I believe that it’s possible for negotiations with Russia to result in fewer nuclear weapons in both of our arsenals but not so few that it jeopardizes Russia’s position as a world power.

4 comments… add one
  • I don’t doubt for a minute that Russia intends to pursue a national security strategy that prioritizes nuclear weapons. What I disagree with is the notion that the only way to counter that strategy is one-for-one matching of nuclear weapons. Rather, I believe that a much smaller arsenal would still be more than adequate to provide a secure second-strike capability on board submarines sufficient to devastate Russia in the event of any attack on the United States and, therefore, sufficient to deter such an attack from ever occurring.

    Deterrence does not require equal nuclear forces, merely sufficient nuclear forces to guarantee that the costs of any attack would outweigh any possible benefits.

  • Our current policy isn’t deterrence by one-to-one parity with the Russians. It’s estimated that Russia has about 20,000 nuclear weapons; we have 10,000. What I’m advocating is proportional reductions on both sides to whatever level the Russians will accept, possibly 10,000 weapons on their part. What are you advocating? That we have a quarter as many weapons as the Russians? A tenth? What?

    My bottom line point is that the Russians need their nuclear weapons to pursue their foreign policy objectives and a small number i.e. in the dozens or hundreds doesn’t cut it.

    Then there’s the additional question of whether Russia nuclear weapons reduction actually increases worldwide security. Or does it just put more weapons-grade material on the black market?

  • I’m advocating that the whole process of calculating proportionality is flawed. It does not matter whether we have half, a quarter, or one-tenth of the number of nuclear weapons that someone else has. It matters ONLY that we have a sufficient number to have a secure second-strike capability that can impose unacceptable costs on any attacker. That requires only a few hundred warheads and that number does not vary REGARDLESS of how many warheads the other side has.

    If Russia wants to waste money by acquiring more nuclear weapons than are necessary to pursue any objective, that is their problem. We are under no obligation to pursue an illogical process of strategic development just because they do so.

  • Your assumptions about Russian foreign policy and domestic politics are flawed. Russian foreign policy isn’t based on good will. It’s based on main force. Russian domestic politics doesn’t discourage nuclear weapons use. Deterrence discourages Russian nuclear weapons use so the proper number of nuclear weapons on our part is whatever continues to deter their use. We will and should, prudently, continue to waste our money accordingly.

    Note that I’m not demonizing Russia or Russians. I like Russians. I speak Russian, I’ve studied Russia’s history, and I follow current events there pretty closely.

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