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The Necessity of the Nuclear Deterrence Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 4th, 2021

Thesis Statement

The use of the nuclear weapon in the context of deterrence and maintaining the international peace and stability seem to be outdated at the moment; nevertheless, in the circumstances of numerous ethnic conflicts and the spread of world terrorism, the deterrence strategy stays rather effective even in spite of being outdated and elaborated for the conditions of the Cold War.


To begin with, it is necessary to mention that the use of nuclear weapons was regarded as an extreme measure during the period of the Cold War, and the main concept, linked with the matters of nuclear weapons was the deterrence strategy, which was aimed to preserve the world from nuclear war. The fact is that the paradox of this strategy is the modified balance of power – the key concept of political realism. As for nowadays, it is necessary to mention that the use of the the nuclear weapons is still mentioned within the points of deterrence theory, which is particularly relevant in the context of the possible nuclear programs in Iran and the tests of nuclear missiles in North Korea.

Taking into account the necessity to maintain peace and stability in the unstable world, it should be stated that some political researchers still regard deterrence as the required measure for preventing the outbreak of nuclear war. Originally, deterrence requires the availability of nuclear weapons and the means of their successful delivery to the enemy’s positions. Thus, the States, pretending to be the world nuclear powers, are able to dictate their own rules in the world arena.

Literature review

Originally, the studies of nuclear weapons and the strategy of deterrence were mainly related to the periods of the Cold War, as the necessity in deterring antagonists disappeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Baylis (1995, p.675) emphasized the following notion in his research: “By the mid-1960s, unilateral deterrence gave way to “mutual deterrence,” a situation of strategic stalemate. The superpowers would refrain from attacking each other because of the certainty of mutually assured destruction, better known as MAD. This theory is still a major part of the defense policies of the United States and Russia. Both superpowers recognized that the first requirement of an effective deterrent was that it should survive or “ride out” a surprise “counterforce” targeted attack without being decimated, a task made difficult by the ever-increasing numbers of accurate delivery systems, “penetration aids,” and multiple warheads.” From the point of view of this notion, it is necessary to mention that the nuclear weapon may be regarded as a reliable tool for deterrence, and, thus, for maintaining stability and peace, the availability of nuclear weapons is still relevant. Originally, it is often stated that the term deterrence is often used in a more general sense for referring the matters of strategy in any field of potential conflict in order to afflict unacceptable damage on an aggressor, and guaranteeing that potential aggressor will not be able to restore within the nearest time and respond for the affliction. Currently, this strategy is not widely used; moreover, the threat of use nuclear weapons is prohibited in a range of international treaties. Nevertheless, terrorist organization Al-Qaeda claims it has access to nuclear weapons and may use it at any time. Originally, it is unknown whether they really have it or just pretend; however, the world community is obliged to act accurately and carefully while performing some actions towards the terrorist in particular and the Arab world in general. Thus, it is still used as the stabilizing factor due to the notion that world leaders aim to prevent a possible nuclear war.

As for the matters of criticism, it should be stated that this notion is often criticized for its numerous drawbacks and the principles that this stabilization is on the edge of the world catastrophe. Barkenbus (2005, p.156) stated that deterrence theory is criticized for “its assumptions about opponent rationales: first, it is argued that suicidal or psychopathic opponents may not be deterred by either form of deterrence. Second, diplomatic misunderstandings and/or opposing political ideologies may lead to escalating mutual perceptions of threat, and a subsequent arms race, which elevates the risk of actual war. An arms race is inefficient in its optimal output; all countries involved expend resources on armaments, which would not have been expended if the others had not expended resources.” Critics of the deterrence strategy also maintain the fact that nuclear weapon is often regarded as the weapon, which requires constant technical maintenance, special storing conditions, and proper utilization after the technical condition of nuclear equipment and the quality of containers worsens. All these measures are rather expensive. Thus, the stockpiling of nuclear weapons increases the risk of State budget deficits essentially. This is fraught with the restriction of civil liberties, the creation of a military-industrial complex, and other undesirable measures.

As for the recent views, it is necessary to highlight that the issues of criticism stayed the same and were regarded to be even more relevant. Even the new form of criticism appeared, which is based on the detailed analyses of the actions of a leader, or group of leaders in crisis. Thus, much depends on the personality of the leader, as, independently on the state structure and the ruling regime antagonistic leader claims for resorting to a nuclear weapons. The brightest example was Hiroshima when the the democratic State decided to eliminate millions of peaceful Japanese citizens for adjusting stability in the world political arena.

The creation of the atomic bomb and the successful application of its power, in reality, had created a new political reality at that time. In those circumstances, two superpowers had an opportunity and ability to destroy everything on our planet at least 40 times. The realization that the nuclear arsenals of the States were really huge and the fact that the smallest direct aggression may cause nuclear catastrophe on the whole planet required the elaboration of principally innovative tools of keeping peace in the world. The described fear appeared to be the best negotiator ever; nevertheless, there were several instances that made the initiation of war as close as never. One of such instances is the Missile Caribbean Crisis, after which the two adversaries had to start the diplomatic negotiations and then decrease the tension in their relations. Nevertheless, the principles of deterrence were observed up to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cohen (1997, p.243) emphasizes the following notion on this point: “For the nuclear deterrent strategy was really successful, a country is obliged to preserve its second-strike capability. This means that after the massive nuclear attack on its territory, the country should be able to initiate the massive response.”


Currently, the fact that nuclear weapons may be used as the stabilizing fact is widely denied, as the problems linked with this strategy are too serious. Originally, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the nuclear security background changed essentially in the American security agenda. Currently, the American connection to NATO in the issues of nuclear powers is no longer regarded as critical for political and military stability as well as stability. Thus, in the countries of northeast Asia and the Middle East, according to Cimbala (2004, p. 35): “the importance of extending nuclear deterrence to countries threatened by new proliferators is gaining in prominence and visibility. Particularly but not exclusively among the NATO members “to the east”, the U.S. nuclear connection to Europe also remains an important mechanism for the broader American involvement in Europe.” Taking into account the point of view of the represented notion, it is necessary to emphasize that assuming the very fact of readiness to enforce the network of nuclear security in Asia and the Middle East can not guarantee complete sufficiency. The fact is that in the eyes both of allies and friends such as Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Saudia Arabia, and the Middle East in general, as well as potential new nuclear adversaries, the defense systems require the implementation of missiles, while any missile program may be regarded as the act of aggression, especially by the adversaries of a State.

The skeptical view on the issues of the effectiveness of the extended nuclear deterrence in the up-to-date circumstances is generally concentrated on two central issues. On the one hand, it is an alleged irregularity of stakes between the United States along with the other States and a nuclear adversary in a region; on the other hand, the difficulties of replicating the more visible elements that underpinned the U.S. nuclear security guarantee to Cold War NATO Europe (Barkenbus, 2005, p.47).

Originally, the declaratory principles at all levels of the extended deterrent strategy played a significant role in the issues of avoiding nuclear conflicts during the Cold War; nevertheless, the arms race are not observed nowadays; moreover, some States (North Korea, Iran) conceal the fact of obtaining the nuclear weapons, let alone the amount of the warheads. Some researchers state that this fact would not create obstacles for the deterrence of the future; however, the others claim that the circumstances are quite different; thus, the strategies should be at least modified deeply.

The key role in this strategy is offered to the USA as the world policeman, and Barkenbus (2005, p.207) argues that: “it is the very magnitude of those stakes which calls for actions to support or provide nuclear security guarantees to allied or friendly countries in both regions. This is so despite the difficulties that need to be confronted and even if the ultimate outcome sometimes may be uncertain. Finally, concerns that the United States would be at a strategic disadvantage in any crisis with a more distant nuclear power are not new. In some ways, they are reminiscent of the long-ago arguments over the credibility of the American nuclear guarantee to Europe.” In the light of this fact, it is necessary to mention that the issues of deterrence are generally regarded as outdated and unreliable ways of maintaining stability in the international political arena. Consequently, the deterrence strategy As-Is should be subjected to essential and complete modifications for corresponding to the requirements of the modern world.


The idea of the use of the nuclear weapon as the stabilizing factor and a tool for preserving peace and security takes its origin in the concept of the balance of power, which is related to political realism. The main idea of this notion is covered by the fact that while all the actors in the international arena have equal powers, war is impossible. This concept became the main reason for the arms race when capitalistic and socialistic states aimed to deter each other from using nuclear weapons. The US deterrence plan, elaborated by McNamara, presupposed the idea of massive response when the USA would respond to Soviet aggression and aim their missiles at Soviet strategic objects and cities. The USSR, in its turn, did not wish to chase the USA in this race and increased its nuclear potential. The race appeared to be meaningless, as both sides did not wish to initiate the nuclear disaster.

The idea of a massive response was rather popular; however, the adversary was the only one, and the deterrence strategy could be regarded as an effective tool for stabilizing the world. The fact that nuclear weapon was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace signifies the fact that this strategy was reliable and hoped for. However, in the circumstances of the multipolar world, which is more liberalistic than realistic, it should be stated that deterrence is no longer relevant. The main concept of stability of the contemporary world is the concept of democratic peace, which claims that democracies do not initiate aggression against each other. As for the issues of deterrence in these circumstances, according to Dorn (2005, p. 43), it is necessary to emphasize the following fact: “Deterrence is a strategy by which governments threaten an immense retaliation if attacked, such that aggressors are deterred if they do not wish to suffer great damage as a result of aggressive action. Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), conventional weapons strength, economic sanctions, or any combination of these can be used as deterrents.” In the light of this fact, it should be stated that the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction is regarded as part of this strategy, which was clearly observed during the Cold War period between the USA and the USSR. Originally, deterrence also requires a zero-sum model of conflict, for the deterrence actions were effective. The contemporary multipolar world is absolutely incompatible with the zero-sum model.

The methodological approaches for researching the matters of nuclear weapons entail mainly the historical analyses of deterrence and massive response strategies. Moreover, for the successful analysis of these concepts, it was necessary to regard the main features of political realism and compare them with the contemporary world realities. From this point of view, it should be stated that deterrence is often regarded as a strategy when a government creates the defense and intelligence structures with the central aim of neutralizing or avoiding attacks. However, the application of nuclear weapons in these systems is impossible, as it is the weapons of attack but no defense.

It has already been emphasized that the contemporary academic literature criticizes the deterrence strategy in the circumstances of the modern world. Thus, Karem (2002, p.321) claims that in some cases, the deterrence strategy during the Cold War may also be criticized. He gives the following consideration as a confirmation: “In some real-life situations, such as the Yom Kippur War, leaders felt that internal or external political considerations forced a conflict. One of the essays, regarding the internal military and political discussions within the Egyptian high command in 1973, indicates that senior civilian leaders (including Anwar Sadat) believed that they had to fight a war in order to have enough internal political support to negotiate for peace.” Moreover, Israel was seriously mistaken when considered that the Israeli military forces would deter any possible attack from the side of Syria or Egypt. The fact is that Sadat felt unable to avoid any aggression, and the Syrian army considered that their actions could be victorious.

Originally, the policy approaches towards the analyses of the nuclear weapon could not be contributed by such analyses or considerations. As for the theoretical approach, the compilation of several concepts initiated in the paper could add to the allover concept of deterrence and give the origin for realizing the innovative system of keeping stability in the world. The fact is that the main theoretical claim of this paper is to confirm that nuclear weapons can not be the stabilizing factor in the circumstances of the contemporary world; consequently, peaceful solutions should be implemented. The conceptual base for nuclear deterrence may be concealed in the concept of the “Balance of Terror”, as currently, only terrorists dare to threaten the use of weapons of mass destruction, while the civilized countries claim that all the conflicts and tensions should be solved diplomatically. Still, even the balance of terror in the contemporary world is single-sided, as terrorists have nothing to fear, while they may keep in terror the civilized countries. It is necessary to mention that currently, this term is used for rhetorical purposes and was first mentioned in 1955 by Lester Pearson, who emphasized the fact that “the balance of terror has replaced the balance of power.”


In conclusion, it is necessary to mention that the use of nuclear weapons as the stabilizing factor in the world arena is impossible. Originally, there were several reasons, and the widest reason is the changes in the main philosophy of the political image of the world. The liberalistic approach and the spread of democratic views are incompatible with the threats of the use of force. Another reason is the ineffectiveness of deterrence in the multipolar world, while it may be effective only in zero-sum models of conflicts.

Surely, there are also practical reasons for the impossibility of deterrence. The reasons are solely historical, and the brightest example is the Caribbean crisis, which is regarded to be the hottest aggravation of the Cold War antagonism. Luckily, the leaders of the superpowers had realized that the resort to the use of nuclear weapons could be fatal. Finally, there are practical reasons exist: deterrence presupposes the potential for the massive response, while the creation and maintenance of such potential may cause the largest ever deficit in the budget of any country.


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  2. Barkenbus, J. N. (Ed.). (2005). Ethics, Nuclear Deterrence, and War. New York: Professors World Peace Academy.
  3. Barnaby, F. (1993). How Nuclear Weapons Spread: Nuclear-Weapon Proliferation in the 1990s. New York: Routledge.
  4. Baylis, J. (1995). Ambiguity and Deterrence: Nuclear Strategy. New York: Oxford University.
  5. Cimbala, S. J. (Ed.). (2004). Deterrence and Nuclear Proliferation in the Twenty-First Century. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  6. Cohen, D. B. (1997). From START to START II: Dynamism and Pragmatism in the Administration’s Nuclear Weapon Policies. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 27(3), 412
  7. Dorn, B. (2005). North Korea: A Threat to Regional Stability? Bryan Dorn Reviews North Korea’s Nuclear Weapon and Ballistic Missile Programmes. New Zealand International Review, 30(6), 19
  8. Karem, M. (2002). A Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East: Problems and Prospects. New York: Greenwood Press.
  9. Thakur, R. (1997). Time for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World. New Zealand International Review, 22(1), 2
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