After downplaying plans for additional cuts in the U.S. nuclear
arsenal during the run-up to the 2012 elections, President Obama has
returned to the subject in his second term. According to published
reports, he has won military support for cutting the number of
“deployed” (operational) nuclear warheads to barely 1,000, which would
be easily the lowest level of his lifetime.
I won’t get into all the debates about nuclear capability
and credibility that occurred during the Cold War, because as Barry
Blechman of the Stimson Center has sagely observed, “so-called
‘requirements’ for effective deterrence are based strictly on theories
and speculation.” However, there is one core paradox in any nuclear balance based on
offensive forces that bears mentioning: all those nuclear weapons that
we maintain to deter aggression become a powerful inducement to attack
if an enemy thinks they can be destroyed in a first strike. After all,
they are a constant threat to that enemy’s survival.
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