What is the Greatest Threat from Nuclear Weapons?

Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both in the magnitude of the devastation they cause, and in their unique, persistent, spreading and genetically damaging radioactive fallout, they are unlike any other weapon. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a big city could kill millions of people. The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would alter the global climate and cause widespread famine.

The United States' nuclear policy must address the stance of nuclear force and nuclear command, control and communications first. Unlike when the United States used nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945, today the adversary will also possess nuclear weapons in any conflict in which the United States would use them. This means that the risks involved in the use of nuclear weapons by the United States, whether in a first or second attack, are greater. These risks may lead to greater caution among all parties, including the United States, but they add to the challenge of protecting the United States, allies and partners in possible regional scenarios where Russia, China or North Korea could threaten them.

Consequently, since nuclear war would carry a clear risk of catastrophic destruction for the United States and probably its allies or partners, U. S. leaders should only contemplate its use when the violence and destructive capacity of the aggression to be defeated is of a similar scale. Nuclear-weapon states have been attacked and have lost wars, as did the United States and Russia, respectively, in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Nuclear weapons have not allowed states to force adversaries to stop supporting terrorism, reverse illegal territorial aggrandizement, respect human rights or desist from cyber attacks. Curbing these activities is a clear national security priority for the United States, but the U. nuclear arsenal cannot reasonably be expected to deter these threatening activities or force the countries involved in them to stop. In short, nuclear weapons cannot solve most of the problems of today's world.

Russia, China and North Korea represent the few threats that the U. nuclear weapons are needed to deter or, if that fails, possibly help defeat. All of these threats have precedents and reflect the dynamic of action-reaction among adversaries, including the United States. The drivers and evolution of these threats differ depending on how far back in time you rewind history and what perspective you take to evaluate what happened before.

In any case, potential Russian, Chinese and North Korean threats vary. Deterrence strategies require individual consideration of the three countries' unique military capabilities and national objectives, which are debatable. Table 2 presents estimates of the United States nuclear forces and its three immediate nuclear concerns. Russia's competitive strategy is to weaken its adversaries through the lowest level of violence necessary (or preferably without any violence).

Among other reasons, Russia seeks to avoid mobilizing the West's superior economic and military potential. Actors with diverse affiliations to the Russian state have engaged in political and economic interference and non-kinetic military actions at various levels of conflict. At the same time, Russian leaders welcome the psychological deterrent shadow cast by nuclear weapons on any potential conflict with Russia. The purpose of Russia's escalation management strategy is to deter direct aggression, prevent a conflict from spreading, prevent or prevent the use of highly harmful products, capabilities against the Russian homeland that could threaten the state or regime, and end hostilities under conditions acceptable to Moscow.

Only strategic deterrent forces armed with conventional capabilities (offensive attack and aerospace defense), non-strategic nuclear weapons and strategic nuclear weapons are effective deterrents in regional and large-scale wars. Similar to how an emerging generation of nuclear strategists see U. today's nuclear policy, Kofman and Fink write: Facing these evil dilemmas, Russian lawmakers echo their U. counterparts in saying that if they first used nuclear weapons it would be to prevent further escalation of the conflict (Russia) or restore deterrence to the lowest possible level of harm (the United States).

If there was a nuclear escalation with attacks on their strategic forces both maintain the option of launching a retaliatory attack with warning nuclear forces before the enemy's nuclear weapons arrive. Both countries also threaten nuclear use to deter an adversary's attack perhaps by cyber means against critical nuclear command and control infrastructure. In all this both countries acquire and plan to use incomparably extensive and destructive nuclear and dual-use arsenals and for the United States perhaps missile defenses to prevent each other from dominating an imaginary escalation process. More than NPRs traditionally recognize, The United States and its allies must understand how to reassure Russia that NATO does not pose an offensive threat to Russian interests while at same time projecting sufficient capabilities and political determination to deter Russian armed aggression.

Such peace of mind can foster stability an overall goal of U. S. In doing so The United States and its allies must demonstrate that Russian reductions in rhetoric actions and coercive forces will lead to reductions in NATO rhetoric action and forces which Russia could reasonably find threatening The United States and its allies should also seek greater clarity on Russia to better understand how Russian political and military officials think operationally about first use under what circumstances against what objectives This awareness can help determine how NATO could deter or deter Russia from undertaking such an escalation It is a cliché but nonetheless true that political cohesion and therefore NATO's determination is vital in all this Along with a long-term effort to diversify increase survivability of its nuclear arsenal China is seeking kinetic non-kinetic capabilities thwart U. Efforts help its allies Taiwan regional crisis The key challenge for U.

And friendly defense policymakers must counter these capabilities related Chinese intentions prevail.

Bradford Tutwiler
Bradford Tutwiler

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