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How to Think About Nuclear Crises

How to Think About Nuclear Crises

How dangerous are nuclear crises? What dynamics underpin how they unfold? Recent tensions between North Korea and the United States have exposed disagreement among scholars and analysts regarding these questions. We reconcile these apparently contradictory…

Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy

Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy

Nuclear weapons have long played a central but often unappreciated role in American grand strategy. In spite of the unimaginable consequences of their use in war, we know far less about how the bomb shapes U.S. national security and world politics than we…

Marching Toward a U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Historical Case for Optimism, Pessimism, and Caution

Marching Toward a U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Historical Case for Optimism, Pessimism, and Caution

The history of denuclearization efforts on the Korean peninsula gives reason for pessimism, caution, and optimism. Attempting to critically engage that history can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one…

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                    [post_content] => How dangerous are nuclear crises? What determines who wins and who loses? And what dynamics underpin how they unfold? Recent tensions between North Korea and the United States have exposed disagreement regarding these questions. While some analysts view escalations in rhetoric and hints of war between the United States and North Korea as “disastrous” and “so dangerous,”[1] others suggest there is little to worry about and that the “threat of war with North Korea may sound scarier than it is.”[2] This disagreement about how to understand nuclear crises is also reflected in academic debates. Different scholars offer interpretations of nuclear crises that appear to be at odds with each other. For some, the threat of nuclear use is generally so remote that nuclear-armed states can enter a crisis with little fear of it crossing the nuclear threshold. For others, nuclear escalation is highly plausible and the presence of nuclear weapons profoundly affects the way crises play out. Policymakers seeking to pursue their political goals within a nuclear crisis or reduce the risk of nuclear escalation will thus find little guidance in the existing scholarship.

We argue that different interpretations of nuclear crises are not — as they initially appear — mutually exclusive. Rather, nuclear crises have different dynamics depending on two variables: the incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the extent to which escalation is controllable by the leaders involved. Identifying these variables is not new: First-use incentives and crisis controllability are widely understood to be factors that affect how nuclear crises play out. However, they have not previously been incorporated into a single framework that can shed light on the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Variation across these two dimensions generates four models of nuclear escalation, which correspond to established ways of thinking about nuclear crises. We label these models the “staircase” model, the “stability-instability” model, the “brinkmanship” model, and the “firestorm” model. In contrast to recent literature, we argue that no one model of nuclear crisis is “correct” — different models simply apply in different circumstances. In specifying the various types of nuclear crisis more clearly and the dimensions that underpin them, we offer a way to unite divergent interpretations of nuclear crises within a broader framework. In doing so, our framework helps make sense of inconclusive empirical findings in the international relations literature. For example, different studies have found nuclear weapons to have either no, limited, or substantial effects on the outcomes of crises.[3] Because different nuclear crises operate according to different logics, it is unsurprising that existing findings are sensitive to differences in methodological approach, case selection, modeling strategies, or coding choices. Finally, the framework provides analysts and policymakers with a tool to assess the relative dangers of potential future nuclear crises, the feasibility of signaling political interests or resolve within a crisis, and the advantages of nuclear superiority.

We first review the research on nuclear crises, highlighting tensions between existing studies. We then develop our framework, describing the two variables and four models of nuclear crisis and discussing the implications of each for the dynamics of this type of crisis. We demonstrate the utility of this framework by showing how it sheds light on the Kargil War between India and Pakistan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Doklam crisis between India and China, and current tensions between the United States and North Korea. We conclude with implications for current and future research.

Our Understanding Of Nuclear Crises

In this study, we employ the definition of crisis used by the multi-decade International Crisis Behavior project: A nuclear crisis is an interaction between two nuclear-armed states in which there is a “change in type and/or an increase in intensity” of disruptive or hostile behaviors with a “heightened probability of military hostilities” that “destabilizes their relationship” and begins with a “disruptive act or event.”[4] Studying nuclear crises is fraught with the same methodological challenges as studies of other crises short of war, including deciding which cases to examine, grappling with selection effects, and identifying appropriate counterfactuals.[5] Despite these challenges, the significance of nuclear crises to contemporary international politics is widely understood. Matthew Kroenig, for example, writes that “the nuclear crisis [is] the primary arena in which nuclear-armed states settle important international disputes.”[6] Indeed, for many, the replacement of great power wars with nuclear crises is one of the defining features of the post-1945 international system.[7] Despite a shared recognition of the importance of nuclear crises, there is little agreement on the dynamics that underpin them. Scholars tend to view “nuclear crises” as a group of events that share an underlying logic, but disagree about what that logic is.[8] For example, according to advocates of the theory of the “nuclear revolution,” nuclear weapons suppress the temptation to escalate crises at all levels. The destructive capacity of nuclear weapons casts a long shadow over all interstate crises, restricting the range of behaviors that states can reasonably engage in.[9] As John Mearsheimer notes, “Nuclear weapons, because of the horror associated with their use, really are the ultimate deterrent” and make “states more cautious about using military force of any kind against each other.”[10] For scholars of the nuclear taboo or advocates of the “stability-instability paradox,” however, the difficulty of credibly threatening to use nuclear weapons, and the bright line distinguishing nuclear use from non-nuclear use, ought to reduce the influence that nuclear weapons have within a crisis.[11] Recent empirical scholarship also suggests that crises operate according to a certain logic, while disagreeing as to what that logic is. For example, Kroenig argues that a state with nuclear superiority is more likely to achieve its goals in a nuclear crisis, while Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann conclude that nuclear weapons do not help states compel others to do what they want during crises.[12] This disagreement is concerning for several reasons. First, policymakers (or anyone, for that matter) seeking to understand how nuclear crises unfold, how dangerous they might be, and how one might pursue a state’s political interests within such a crisis, will struggle to gain insights from a literature that offers contradictory findings and implications. Second, by seeking a single logic that explains nuclear crises, existing work downplays the variety among them.[13] A simple historical reading, for example, suggests profound differences between the dynamics underpinning the 1995 Taiwan Straits crisis, the various Berlin crises, the war in Angola, and the 1970 Cienfuegos submarine base crisis, all of which are typically identified as “nuclear crises.”[14] Indeed, common understandings of the different dangers involved in different crises — that the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, was the “most dangerous” Cold War crisis — reflect a heterogeneity that existing theories do not account for.

Models of Nuclear Crises

In this section, we describe two variables that affect the ways in which nuclear crises unfold: the strength of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis, and the degree to which the actors involved are able to control escalation of the crisis. These two variables are determined by the objective features of a given crisis, although we incorporate the possibility that the crisis participants’ perceptions of these variables may diverge from reality in ways that influence how they behave. Incentives for first nuclear use and the degree of controllability are well understood to affect how a nuclear crisis plays out, however, they have not previously been incorporated into a single framework that sheds light on the diversity of nuclear crises. Examining these two dimensions leads to four possible “ideal type” models of nuclear crisis: the “staircase” model, the “brinkmanship” model, the “stability-instability” model, and the “firestorm” model. These models, in turn, correspond to prominent ways that scholars and analysts have thought about nuclear crises. The framework demonstrates that different models of nuclear crisis should be expected to operate under different circumstances. This insight holds important implications for how to understand existing scholarship on nuclear crises, as well as variation among these crises across time. Table 1 summarizes the indicators of the variables that we examine in the case studies below. Each of these variables is itself the aggregation of other variables. Grouping them in this way, however, allows us to impose some conceptual order on the ways in which nuclear crises can vary, and thus begin to shed light on the diversity of this class of events. Table 1: Indicators of the Two Variables [table id=13 /]   The first variable we examine is the extent to which either side faces incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis. This variable asks whether the crisis is one in which either side would gain substantial advantages from using nuclear weapons first. Such incentives may emerge in at least two distinct ways. First, the dynamics of a possible nuclear war may mean that first nuclear use could meaningfully affect the final outcome of the conflict. In particular, if there is a large disparity in capabilities between the nuclear forces of the participants in the crisis, there will be stronger incentives for both sides to use nuclear weapons first. For the weaker state, having a vulnerable and small nuclear force may generate doubts about the ability of that state’s nuclear arsenal to survive a first strike, thereby creating pressure for states to “use them or lose them,” and incentivizing aggressive nuclear postures and first nuclear use. As Peter Feaver argues, a state with a vulnerable nuclear arsenal has an “incentive to posture its forces for an early use in a crisis, before its nuclear option is curtailed.”[15] For the state with the more powerful arsenal, meaningfully limiting damage through engaging in offensive nuclear counterforce missions might be tempting, as might be the possibility of a splendid first strike — the ability to completely take out an opponent’s nuclear capabilities.[16] Crises characterized by significant nuclear asymmetry — in particular, where one side plausibly lacks a secure second strike capability — will therefore feature greater incentives to use nuclear weapons first than crises characterized by a greater degree of symmetry, in which meaningful damage limitation and/or a splendid first strike are less plausible. Second, nuclear first use may be threatened as part of the bargaining process within a crisis or war. Crises in which one (or both) states has a nuclear posture designed to credibly threaten the first use of nuclear weapons — what Vipin Narang refers to as an “asymmetric escalation” posture — will be characterized by greater incentives to use nuclear weapons first.[17] [quote id="1"] These two factors contributing to incentives for first use are objective features of a given crisis. However, they can only affect the dynamics of a crisis if they are perceived to exist by the leaders involved. If leaders do not perceive that first use could provide significant political advantages in a crisis or conflict, those incentives will not affect crisis dynamics. We therefore code crises in which either side lacks a secure second strike capability and/or has an asymmetric escalation posture and in which one or both leaders perceive that nuclear first use may offer substantial political benefits within the crisis as being characterized by incentives to use nuclear weapons first. That is to say, crises in which either side has and perceives incentives for nuclear first use are coded as having incentives for first nuclear use. The second dimension is the extent to which a crisis is controllable by the actors participating in the crisis. Controllability refers to the ability of leaders to make conscious and strategic decisions to determine the level of escalation in a given crisis. It is important to note that crisis controllability does not refer to the level of escalation that occurs. A crisis can escalate to (and beyond) the nuclear threshold in a controlled fashion, i.e., in a process in which each leader makes a conscious and deliberate strategic calculation to escalate at every stage. Controllability instead refers to the process by which escalation occurs — to whatever level.[18] We code crisis controllability on the basis of a number of features of a crisis. These features are not intended to be an exhaustive list of factors contributing to crisis controllability, but rather a series of indicators that can be observed and that influence crisis controllability in important ways. First, different states have different command and control arrangements, which means that leaders exercise different levels of control over nuclear use.[19] For example, a crisis in which both leaders have exclusive authority to make decisions about nuclear use, and robust institutions exist that enforce that authority even in crisis situations, thereby minimizing the risk of accidental or inadvertent use, is more controllable than one without such checks. Second, clear and mutually understood red lines for nuclear use, if they exist, can increase controllability, since they reduce the likelihood that a state will accidentally cross another state’s red line for nuclear use.[20] Third, if a state’s conventional forces are likely to target forces relevant to the adversary’s ability to use nuclear weapons, or if forces relevant to conventional and nuclear operations are likely to interact with each other in a crisis or military operation, crisis controllability will likely be lower.[21] Fourth, states have varying abilities to communicate with each other during crises: A crisis in which the two states have well-established avenues through which to communicate, or in which a third party can reliably convey information between two states in a crisis, may be more controllable than crises in which states communicate through unreliable or ad hoc channels or exclusively through public signaling. Further, the ability to communicate is not simply institutional: For example, certain pairs of leaders may better understand or empathize with each other than others, improving crisis controllability.[22] It is worth noting four potential objections at this point. First, it might be objected that the two variables are not independent of each other. For example, one reason why a crisis might lack controllability is if there are incentives to use nuclear weapons first and battlefield commanders are therefore given pre-delegated authority to use nuclear weapons.[23] However, the relationship between these two variables is not determinative (as discussed above, there are many other sources of crisis controllability), and one can conceive of crises that are controllable — where there is firm control over nuclear assets, clear red lines, etc. — but in which incentives to use nuclear weapons first are nonetheless strong. These two dimensions are therefore appropriately considered separately because each exerts an independent effect on the character of nuclear crises. A second potential criticism is that neither variable accounts for how high the stakes of the crisis are: Shouldn’t the stakes involved affect the way a crisis plays out? As we discuss below, the stakes of the crisis can be incorporated within our framework. This is because we expect that states would be willing to enter different types of crises to protect different interests. For example, because stability-instability crises pose relatively little risk of nuclear escalation, we expect that policymakers will be more willing to enter them even over relatively unimportant stakes. By contrast, firestorm crises have a much higher risk of nuclear escalation, and we therefore expect that policymakers would only enter such crises if the most vital national interests were at risk. This has implications for understanding existing, contradictory empirical findings, which we discuss more fully in the following sections. Third, some might ask if these are the only two variables that matter. Probably not. As mentioned above, this framework represents a first step in exploring the variation among nuclear crises, but additional variables likely affect how individual crises play out, including perceptual, bureaucratic, normative, and technological variables. Exploring whether adding additional variables sheds greater light on the heterogeneity of nuclear crises would be a valuable avenue for future research and one that we return to in the conclusion. A fourth objection could concern the fact that these variables are determined by objective features of a given crisis, which may be imperfectly known or misperceived by participants at the time of the crisis: Is this not problematic for our analysis? The framework we offer allows for an initial disaggregation of nuclear crises that permits us to begin exploring their diversity and includes leaders’ perceptions of incentives for nuclear first use. This represents an advance on prior literature, but is only a first step. While these objective features of the crisis should be expected to exert a profound influence on the nature of the crisis, even if they are not known or fully understood by policymakers, further incorporation of policymakers’ perceptions and misperceptions could add richness to our framework and would be a productive next step. Indeed, policymakers’ misperceptions of (or uncertainty about) these variables may add explanatory power to our framework by allowing us to better account for miscalculations that states make within crises. For example, Pakistan might have been less willing to provoke the Kargil War had it known that the crisis would be primarily determined by the conventional balance of forces, which favored India. As shown in Figure 1, these two variables create a conceptual space within which existing models of nuclear crisis can be situated. We highlight four models that correspond to the quadrants of this conceptual space. Of course, each model represents an “ideal type.” More types of crisis exist in the conceptual space between these four possibilities.   Figure 1: Models of Nuclear Crises     The four models we identify offer very different interpretations of nuclear crises. Indeed, they suggest different answers to four basic questions about such crises: How likely is nuclear use within a crisis? Does the conventional or nuclear balance have a stronger effect on the outcome? Is nuclear superiority valuable within a crisis? And how feasible is signaling within a crisis? Table 2 summarizes the differences between these four models. The following sections of the paper describe these differences in more detail.   Table 2: Answers to Key Questions About Nuclear Crises [table id=16 /] Stability-Instability Crises Crises that are controllable and have limited incentives for nuclear first use are “stability-instability” crises. This model approximates Glenn Snyder’s view of nuclear weapons. Snyder famously suggested that “the greater the stability of the ‘strategic’ balance of terror, the lower the stability of the overall balance at its lower levels of violence. …Thus firm stability in the strategic nuclear balance tends to destabilize the conventional balance.”[24] Jervis describes the same idea: “To the extent that the military balance is stable at the level of all-out nuclear war, it will become less stable at lower levels of violence.”[25] We should not expect nuclear powers, according to this view, to fight all-out nuclear wars, but they may engage in more lower-level conflicts. Similarly, for scholars who argue that a powerful taboo inhibits nuclear use, crises between nuclear states will be characterized by a clear prohibition against nuclear use, and relative freedom to engage in conventional escalation.[26] The possibility of nuclear escalation within stability-instability crises is low. Even in stability-instability crises that escalate significantly, actors are likely to remain confident that the nuclear threshold will not be breached. Since the risk of nuclear use is low and relatively constant across crises of this sort, we expect the nuclear balance to be unrelated to the outcomes of stability-instability crises, and nuclear weapons will not regularly enter the calculations of leaders in these crises. The outcomes of stability-instability crises will instead be determined by other factors, such as the conventional military balance. Finally, signaling is feasible within stability-instability crises, since the two sides can calibrate their forces and level of conventional escalation to send signals about their political interests. However, since nuclear use is viewed by both sides as unlikely, making nuclear threats will not generally be credible within this type of crisis. Stability-instability crises are therefore relatively safe, at least in terms of the risk of nuclear escalation, and we therefore expect to see statesmen being more willing to enter this type of crisis than others that pose greater risk of nuclear escalation. We also expect stability-instability crises to be relatively common within datasets of crises, a point that has implications for interpreting contradictory empirical findings in existing literature. We argue below that the recent Doklam crisis between India and China is best categorized as a stability-instability crisis. Staircase Crises We term a crisis that is controllable but in which there are incentives for nuclear first use as a “staircase” crisis. This model approximates the view of escalation that Hermann Kahn offers in his book, On Escalation, and emphasizes deliberate, calibrated escalation. Despite the deliberate and conscious way in which escalation occurs according to this model, escalation to and beyond the nuclear threshold is possible given that states may have incentives to use nuclear weapons first, or to use them in a deliberately limited way. In Kahn’s formulation, the first use of nuclear weapons can serve a range of political purposes, including “redressive, warning, bargaining, punitive, fining, or deterrence purposes.”[27] Even apparently accidental nuclear use may, in fact, be deliberate, resulting from a desire to “give the impression that [nuclear] use was unintentional.”[28] In short, according to the staircase model of nuclear escalation, deliberate first nuclear use is highly plausible. [quote id="2"] What determines victory in a staircase crisis? All staircase crises have a nuclear dimension: Escalation to the nuclear level is always feasible and may be deliberately chosen, making nuclear use plausible. However, we expect the degree to which nuclear weapons weigh on the minds of participants in staircase crises to vary according to the level of escalation reached: Because of the significance of nuclear use and the many less escalatory options states typically have available to them before resorting to this extreme level of force, a staircase crisis is unlikely to suddenly escalate across the nuclear threshold without prior conventional escalation. For this reason, staircase crises that do not escalate close to the nuclear level may be determined almost entirely by the conventional balance of power, while those that escalate closer to, or beyond, the nuclear threshold are likely to be determined more by the nuclear balance. Because crises that operate according to the staircase model are, by definition, characterized by high levels of controllability, escalation and de-escalation within such a crisis is possible: Escalation levels can be controlled and calibrated, and signaling by using both nuclear and conventional forces is feasible. Lastly, because a staircase crisis may be determined by the nuclear balance, and because limited nuclear use is plausible, both nuclear superiority and limited nuclear options may well be of value to states engaging in a crisis of this sort. Indeed, calls for “escalation dominance” by policymakers — that is, the ability to deter an adversary at every rung of the escalation ladder — draw implicitly on the staircase model since they assume that escalation occurs as a conscious and strategic choice at each level of escalation. Staircase crises are dangerous and states are therefore unlikely to enter them over trivial matters, although they may be willing to enter them when important national interests are at stake. We would therefore expect staircase crises to be rarer than stability-instability crises, but more common than firestorm crises. We argue below that the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan is best categorized as a staircase crisis. Brinkmanship Crises We label crises that are characterized by limited incentives to use nuclear weapons first and low levels of controllability as “brinkmanship” crises. This model approximates the views of Thomas Schelling, who emphasized the political utility of “threats that leave something to chance” under circumstances in which deliberate first nuclear use is not credible.[29] Similarly, scholars of the “nuclear revolution,” such as Kenneth Waltz, Charles Glaser, and Robert Jervis, also view nuclear crises in this way, although such scholars tend to be more cautious than Schelling about the possibility of using the political leverage that comes from the manipulation of nuclear risk. In this model, states may take steps to escalate a conflict, but those steps are unlikely to involve deliberate first nuclear use, which is not typically credible in brinkmanship crises given low incentives to use nuclear weapons first. As Schelling argued, “There is just no foreseeable route by which the United States and the Soviet Union could become engaged in a major war.”[30] Similarly, for scholars of the “nuclear revolution” school, because achieving a reliable first-strike counterforce capability is extremely difficult compared to the relative ease of achieving a second-strike capability, the incentives for using nuclear weapons first in a crisis are small. States will not lose the ability to retaliate by delaying the use of nuclear weapons, and can still cause enormous destruction even after absorbing a first strike. The lack of incentives for nuclear first use, however, “does not mean that a major nuclear war cannot occur.”[31] Schelling describes the process of escalation as one in which “either side can take steps—engaging in a limited war would usually be such a step—that genuinely raise the probability of a blow-up. …What makes [these steps] significant and usable is that they create a genuine risk…that the thing will blow up for reasons not fully under control.”[32] For Schelling, this possibility is what gives nuclear-armed actors political leverage even in the absence of incentives for nuclear first use. For scholars in the “nuclear revolution” camp, the possibility of uncontrolled nuclear escalation is why nuclear-armed states should avoid challenging each other’s vital interests. What dynamics underpin a brinkmanship crisis? First, as with the staircase model, all brinkmanship crises involve some risk of nuclear escalation. However, nuclear escalation is only likely as part of a process of uncontrolled escalation. What determines the outcome of a brinkmanship crisis? Because the manipulation of the risk of uncontrolled escalation is the primary source of political leverage within brinkmanship crises, outcomes are determined by “competitions in risk taking” and by the “balance of resolve” rather than by the conventional or nuclear balance (the conventional or nuclear balance could affect crisis outcomes by affecting resolve).[33] Signaling and escalation are possible, but we should expect significant conventional escalation within brinkmanship crises to be accompanied by fear that uncontrolled nuclear escalation might occur. Nuclear crises of this sort are therefore dangerous for statesmen to enter into, but they may be willing to do so when the stakes are high, i.e., to secure important national interests. We should therefore expect that brinkmanship crises will occur less frequently than stability-instability crises, but more frequently than firestorm crises, as we discuss next. We argue below that the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded according to this logic. Firestorm Crises We label crises where there are both incentives for nuclear first use and low levels of controllability as “firestorm” crises. A firestorm crisis is the most dangerous and volatile type of crisis: Both deliberate and uncontrolled escalation to the nuclear level might occur even in the absence of significant prior escalation. The fear of a firestorm crisis has played an important role in public discourse and policy discussions throughout the nuclear age. For example, the fear of nuclear “sneak attacks” had strong domestic political salience during the early years of the Cold War.[34] Indeed, early U.S. assessments of the political implications of nuclear weapons viewed them as offensive weapons that would be used to land the first blows of any potential third world war. The desire to prevent a “nuclear Pearl Harbor” was one motivation for the United States abandoning its isolationist tendencies in the aftermath of World War II. Similarly, “worst-case” scenarios in which “rogue states” acquire nuclear weapons draw on the possibility that irrational or religiously motivated states might attack other states out of the blue — for example, that Iran might seek to “wipe Israel off the map” if it acquired nuclear weapons. How do firestorm crises unfold? First, the possibility of nuclear escalation is high: A firestorm crisis could escalate at any moment and without significant prior escalation, which, in turn, encourages crisis participants to be deeply fearful and increases the temptation to take pre-emptive action. Signaling is likely to be difficult given the instability of such a crisis and the speed with which it can escalate. Indeed, crisis participants should be well aware that early blows in any crisis might in fact be nuclear. Because this type of crisis is prone to escalate to the nuclear level swiftly, the nuclear balance is likely to ultimately determine the outcome to a greater degree than the conventional balance. Thus nuclear superiority may be useful to states. Crises of this sort are extremely dangerous, and we therefore expect that statesmen will only enter them to achieve absolutely vital national interests. Because of these dangers, we also expect that firestorm crises will be the most rarely observed type of nuclear crisis. We argue below that future crises between the United States and North Korea would likely unfold according to this model’s logic.

Historical Crises: The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kargil War

We first examine the utility of our typology using the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between the United States and Soviet Union, and the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. In each case, we analyze incentives for first nuclear use and crisis controllability to show which model of nuclear crisis best applies, and the insights that it provides into the crisis. We use these cases because both are widely considered among the most important in the history of nuclear crises, both involved national interests that participants considered important, both involved an attempted fait accompli by one side followed by efforts by the other to reverse it,[35] and both crises reached high levels of military escalation. Furthermore, recent work on nuclear crises explicitly seeks to account for the dynamics of these two cases with a single explanation.[36] As a result, we might expect that these two crises would be more likely than most pairs of nuclear crises to share similar dynamics. If we can show that even these two crises — ostensibly more similar than many others — differed in ways that our framework sheds light on, it would provide significant validation for our approach. The Kargil War The disputed region of Kashmir has been a source of friction between Pakistan and India since their partition in 1947.[37] Control over the territory is split, with a Line of Control (LoC) demarcating the territorial status quo. India has long viewed the territory as an integral part of the Indian Union, while the Pakistani government contends that Kashmir’s accession to India was unlawful and has sought the eventual “liberation” of Indian Kashmir. In May 1999, one year after Pakistan and India publicly tested nuclear weapons, the Pakistani North Light Infantry, backed by guerrillas, mounted an incursion along the LoC, with the aim of presenting India with a fait accompli.[38] Initial Indian attempts to dislodge Pakistani troops proved ineffective, and the Indian government granted Gen. Ved Prakash Malik, Chief of the Army Staff, the right to employ airpower in support of ground operations.[39] On May 26, the Indian military forces initiated a combined air and ground campaign resulting in intense combat.[40] By early July, Pakistan was on the brink of defeat. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, travelled to Washington D.C. to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton, who demanded that Pakistan unconditionally withdraw and restore the ante bellum status quo. Sharif conceded to Clinton’s demands, calling for the withdrawal of all troops from the disputed region on July 12.[41] Coding the Kargil War The Kargil War was characterized by incentives to use nuclear weapons first. Specifically, Pakistan’s nuclear posture threatened first nuclear use in order to compensate for its relatively weak conventional military force.[42] Facing a conventionally stronger enemy, Pakistan had adopted a nuclear posture that integrated nuclear weapons into its military forces in order to credibly threaten a first strike against advancing Indian conventional forces.[43] At the time of the Kargil War, Pakistan had the capability to use nuclear weapons. The 1998 tests had confirmed its nuclear status, and by May 1999, Pakistan had credible delivery systems: several dozen tactical nuclear warheads that could be mated with missiles, a smaller number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, and delivery-capable aircraft.[44] Both Pakistani and Indian leaders recognized Pakistan’s incentives for nuclear first use. Upon the initiation of Indian air attacks, the Pakistani foreign secretary publicly warned New Delhi that his country “would not hesitate to use any weapons in [Pakistan’s] arsenal to defend [its territorial] integrity.”[45] According to Bruce Riedel, a senior adviser to Clinton, U.S. intelligence was aware that the Pakistani army was readying its nuclear-tipped missiles in preparation for an Indian attack across the border.[46] Indian leaders also understood Pakistani incentives for making the first nuclear move.[47] When Malik told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that opening a second front at the border might be militarily necessary, Vajpayee looked shocked and responded, “but General Sahib, they have a nuclear bomb!”[48] Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra confirmed this fear, stating that while the Indian leadership was “95 percent sure” that its army would not need to cross the LoC, the use of “nuclear weapons would have been risked if we did.”[49] Reports of Pakistani nuclear mobilizations exacerbated these fears. During the crisis, India received intelligence reports indicating Pakistani missiles were “being readied for possible launching,”[50] and the chief of the Indian army staff after the Kargil War, Gen. Sundararajan Padmanabhan, stated that Pakistan had “activated one of its missile bases and…threatened India with a nuclear attack.”[51] Because of these reports, some of India’s missiles were “dispersed and relocated,” and India’s nuclear forces placed on “Readiness State 3,” which involved the assembly and deployment of nuclear warheads near delivery vehicles.[52] [quote id="3"] Despite incentives for nuclear first use, the Kargil War was relatively controllable for four reasons: India’s strong command and control institutions, relatively clear Pakistani red lines that India did not seek to cross, a limited geographic zone of conflict that reduced the risk of conventional and nuclear forces interacting, and well-established avenues of crisis communication. This controllability was enhanced by the active involvement of the United States in the crisis, providing additional avenues of communication and clarifying the red lines of both sides.[53] Only Pakistan’s delegative command and control institutions indicate a lack of controllability in the crisis. First, consider Pakistani and Indian command and control institutions, which have contrasting implications for controllability. On the Pakistani side, delegative command and control increases the credibility of nuclear first use and thus increases the deterrent power of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, but also raises the risk of accidental nuclear use and reduces crisis controllability.[54] Indian command and control, by contrast, increases the controllability of a crisis. Indian leaders, fearful of granting the military too much influence over nuclear matters, have consistently maintained high levels of control over the decision to use nuclear weapons. Indian nuclear weapons are maintained in a manner that limits inadvertent or unauthorized use: The civilian department of atomic energy controls fissile materials, while delivery vehicles are held in separate locations and controlled by the military.[55] Second, Pakistani red lines for nuclear use were relatively clear. Specifically, as long as Indian forces did not cross the LoC, the risk of Pakistani nuclear use would remain low. The Pakistani army’s director of strategic plans division, Khalid Kidwai, had publicly outlined scenarios in which first use would occur: “If India conquered a large part of Pakistan’s territory, destroyed a large part of its military forces, strangled Pakistan economically or caused large scale internal subversion in Pakistan.”[56] Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf claims that whenever he met with a foreign leader, “I asked him to convey my message…that if [Indian] troops took even a step across the international border of the LoC…it will not remain a conventional war.”[57] This message was well understood by Indian leaders. As we discuss further below, India was careful not to cross Pakistan’s key red line for nuclear use, even though it would have been to their military advantage to do so. Third, the limited geographic range of the conflict meant that the likelihood of nuclear and conventional forces interacting was low. While both sides took steps to increase the alert status of their nuclear forces, neither sides’ nuclear forces, nor the command and control centers necessary to use nuclear weapons, were close to the conflict zone. As long as India eschewed opening a second front in the war, or invading Pakistani territory, the possibility of Indian conventional forces placing Pakistani commanders under pressure to “use or lose” their nuclear assets was low. Fourth, the existence of official and back-channel negotiations between India and Pakistan, along with the involvement of numerous outside countries — the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia — seeking to facilitate a negotiated solution also enhanced controllability. Regular calls between Indian and Pakistani leaders, a hotline link between the two directors of general military operations, and the additional channels of communication provided by outside parties created many opportunities for de-escalation during the crisis.[58] Predictions The Kargil War was characterized by incentives for first nuclear use and high levels of crisis controllability, and is therefore best understood as a staircase crisis. Based on this assessment, what dynamics should we expect to see in the case? First, because the crisis did not come close to the nuclear threshold, we should expect that the conventional balance would determine the outcome of the war, rather than the nuclear balance or balance of resolve. Second, the primary danger of nuclear use should be expected to have come from deliberate first nuclear use rather than uncontrolled escalation. Third, signaling should have been feasible within the crisis.[59] As predicted, the conventional military balance does appear to explain the outcome of the conflict: Pakistan was on the verge of conventional military defeat when Pakistani leaders acceded to U.S. demands to withdraw their forces, and once India was able to build up its forces sufficiently, it experienced increasing success in pushing Pakistani forces back toward the Line of Control.[60] This occurred despite India restraining its conventional operations in various ways in order to prevent crossing Pakistan’s red lines for nuclear use. By contrast, and as anticipated by the framework we offer, neither the nuclear balance nor the balance of resolve appears to satisfactorily explain India’s ability to prevail in the crisis. The balance of resolve likely favored Pakistan given its consistently more risk-acceptant and revisionist foreign policy preferences, as evidenced by Pakistan’s decision to initiate the crisis in the first place. The nuclear balance was highly ambiguous at the time of the war and it is unlikely that either side could have known its opponent’s nuclear capabilities with much certainty. The Kargil War took place in the immediate aftermath of both countries conducting nuclear tests. Assessments at that time acknowledged the difficulty of estimating the India-Pakistan nuclear balance, with continued debate about whether India’s thermonuclear test “fizzled,” how much fissile material both states possessed, and how many weapons both sides had developed.[61] Even Kroenig, who argues that India had nuclear superiority and that this mattered in the crisis, acknowledges that “it is difficult to know the precise nuclear balance of power” in this case.[62] Indeed, the evidence that Kroenig uses to support his claim that the balance of nuclear power mattered for the outcome is that Pakistan ultimately backed down in the crisis, and that Indian officials stated subsequent to the war that Pakistan would be hurt more by a nuclear exchange than India. However, Indian officials would have strong incentives to make such public statements about the effects of a hypothetical nuclear exchange whether or not they were true.[63] Moreover, Pakistan’s behavior in the crisis is also consistent with the conventional balance determining the outcome. Overall, it is hard to make a strong case that nuclear superiority played a key role in determining the outcome of the Kargil War. The key danger of nuclear use was seen by participants on both sides to be Pakistan’s deliberate first use rather than uncontrolled or unauthorized nuclear use. As mentioned above, a key dynamic of the conflict was India ensuring that its forces did not cross the LoC to avoid provoking Pakistan’s deliberate first use of nuclear weapons. Upon granting the Indian army authority to use Indian air force assets at the end of May, the Indian government stipulated that “the air force refrain from crossing the LoC in pursuit of its goals.” India was clear that the Indian army not enlarge “the theater of operations beyond the Kargil sector or…attack Pakistani forces, staging posts, and lines of communications across the LoC, despite the fact that this…entailed the acceptance of heavier casualties.”[64] This restriction remained in place despite substantial Indian casualties and the fact that it would have been tactically useful for India to enlarge the conflict zone to spread out Pakistani forces.[65] This restraint is especially notable given previous Indian responses to Pakistani incursions in both 1965 and 1971, when Indian forces showed little hesitation in invading Pakistan.[66] Both sides in the war were also able to signal their limited intentions, as our framework would anticipate in a staircase crisis. On the Pakistani side, the military took a number of measures to signal limited intentions: Pakistan withheld reserve forces, refrained from the use of air power across the LoC, and did not attempt to cut off the Indian highway in Kargil on the assumption that taking such action “would have far-reaching strategic effects” and risk Indian escalation.[67] Similarly, Pakistan made clear nuclear threats to signal to India that they should avoid broad retaliation. On the Indian side, policymakers deliberately chose not to open a second front of the war or cross the LoC, signaling their limited political goals and lack of interest in a broader war. Overall, therefore, viewing the Kargil War as a staircase crisis accounts for the key dynamics of the case. Cuban Missile Crisis The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is widely considered the most dangerous crisis of the Cold War. After detecting the movement of Soviet ships toward Cuba and the development of missile sites, President John F. Kennedy called up 150,000 reservists and issued statements on Sept. 4 and Sept. 13, 1962, warning that the United States “would do whatever must be done” to protect its security.[68] On October 22, Kennedy announced that a naval quarantine would be established around Cuba.[69] Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev responded by issuing a stern note to Kennedy and instructing Soviet ships headed for Cuba to run the blockade. By October 26, however, Khrushchev’s resolve had waned. Kennedy received a letter from Khrushchev offering to remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for an end to the blockade and a U.S. assurance that it would not invade Cuba, with a second letter the next day adding a further condition: the removal of U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy publicly accepted the terms of the first letter, while in private agreeing to Khrushchev’s demand to remove the Jupiter missiles.[70] On October 28, Khrushchev notified the United States that he had ordered work on the Cuban missile sites to cease and all equipment shipped back to the Soviet Union. The blockade was lifted on November 20, marking the end of the crisis. Coding the Cuban Missile Crisis We argue that the Cuban Missile Crisis was not characterized by incentives for deliberate first nuclear use, despite the United States possessing significant nuclear superiority. In the early 1960s, the United States could have launched 1,000 to 2,000 nuclear warheads at the Soviet Union, the majority of which would have been delivered by over 500 bombers and 200 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, had only 160 bombers to carry around 260 nuclear warheads, 38 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 48 nuclear-missile-armed submarines.[71] Despite America’s nuclear superiority, it was not clear that either a disarming first strike or politically meaningful damage limitation was possible. The U.S. government did not know where all of the Soviet warheads were located, and there were concerns that U.S. forces were too inaccurate to successfully target the Soviet arsenal. According to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, by 1962 the United States knew that it could not deliver a “splendid first strike,” and that a U.S. first strike “would have led to unacceptably high casualties both in Europe and in the United States” and “destroyed us as well as the Soviets.”[72] McNamara’s recollection is consistent with a briefing that Kennedy received in 1961 from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which assessed that “under any circumstances—even [in the case of] a pre-emptive attack by the U.S.—it would be expected that some portion of the Soviet long-range nuclear force would strike the United States.”[73] [quote id="4"] Whether such advantages were perceived as politically meaningful within the Cuban Missile Crisis itself is debateable. Certainly, several key U.S. leaders believed that nuclear superiority conferred political advantages to the United States within the crisis.[74] However, this superiority was not absolute, and, crucially, the key leader — Kennedy — was skeptical both that U.S. nuclear superiority granted such benefits and that nuclear first use would offer the United States meaningful damage limitation, stating, “What difference does it make? They’ve got enough to blow us up now anyway.”[75] Similarly, the Soviet Union had little incentive to use nuclear weapons first. A first strike by the Soviets aimed at damage limitation was implausible: A speech delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric on Oct. 21, 1961, confirmed that the Soviet Union was behind the United States in the nuclear arms race, and that the United States could endure a Soviet surprise attack and still inflict mass damage on the Soviet Union.[76] U.S. superiority was not, however, sufficient to cast doubt on the Soviets’ own ability to inflict significant destruction on the United States after absorbing a first strike. Moscow was therefore unlikely to face pressures to “use them or lose them” during a crisis. “Missiles are not cucumbers,” Khrushchev quipped, “one cannot eat them and one does not require more than a certain number in order to ward off an attack.”[77] The Cuban Missile Crisis was, however, characterized by low controllability. Indeed, each of our four indicators of this variable suggests low levels of crisis controllability. First, both U.S. and Soviet command and control institutions governing nuclear weapons suffered from significant shortcomings. On the U.S. side, a series of breakdowns of command and communication could have led to accidental nuclear use or other actions that could have triggered escalation. As Scott Sagan concludes, Kennedy “did not…have unchallenged final control over U.S. nuclear weapons.”[78] For example, navigational errors by U.S. pilots led one B-52 to come close to penetrating Soviet airspace and possibly coming within range of Soviet interceptors.[79] Similarly, the U-2 incident at the height of the crisis could easily have led to nuclear escalation: After the American U-2 reconnaissance plane strayed into Soviet airspace, U.S. F-102s armed with nuclear-tipped missiles and possessing the authorization to use them were sent to defend the U-2 from Soviet fighter jets. At that point, the “decision about whether to use a nuclear weapon was in the hands of a pilot.”[80] Beyond these institutional deficiencies, many of the safety features that now exist to prevent accidental explosions had not yet been developed. Benoît Pelopidas notes that in the early 1960s, merely “pull[ing] the arming wires out of a Mark 7 nuclear warhead” would trigger the arming sequence, and that “if the X-Unit charged, a Mark 7 could be detonated by its radar, by its barometric switches, by its timer, or by falling…and landing on a runway.”[81] Moreover, readiness was privileged over safety during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For example, when Strategic Air Command went to DEFCON 2, safety rules had not yet been approved for the B-53 gravity bomb. Strategic Air Command (with the support of the Air Force Chief of Staff) nonetheless requested approval for these non-approved bombs to be loaded onto bombers.[82] Command and control arrangements on the Soviet side also led to the possibility of unauthorized nuclear use. Most notably, Soviet submarines were loaded with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and at least one captain reported that the Cuban Missile Crisis represented his first experience on board a ship carrying nuclear weapons.[83] The authorization to use nuclear weapons appears to have been granted to commanders and included the instructions, “if you get…a hole in your hull… use the nuclear weapons first, and then you will figure out what to do after that.”[84] The Soviets may also have believed that their submarines were less likely to provoke escalation than they really were since the Soviet leadership was unaware that the deployed submarines were the noisier and slower diesel submarines in their fleet that were more likely to be located. Indeed, nuclear launch came close to occurring: The commander of one submarine, which was being targeted with depth charges by U.S. anti-submarine warfare ships, interpreted the explosions of the depth charges as an attack and ordered his officers to ready the submarine’s nuclear torpedoes for use, apparently screaming that “we will die but we will sink them all.”[85] America’s understanding of these risks was limited. The United States was unaware that Soviet submarines were armed with nuclear missiles, and lacked certainty about Soviet command and control more broadly. During a conversation with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara acknowledged not knowing “what kinds of communications the Soviets have with those sites…what kinds of control they have over the warheads.”[86] Second, the U.S. and Soviet red lines for nuclear escalation were unclear to both sides at the outset of the crisis. The Soviet Union misjudged America’s red lines by placing missiles in Cuba in the first place. Khrushchev initially believed that once the missiles were installed in Cuba the United States would be unwilling to risk war to remove them.[87] This belief was overturned, however, as Khrushchev became deeply concerned by U.S. mobilizations and nuclear alerts, writing to Kennedy on October 26 of the tightening “knot of war” and the difficulty of de-escalating hostilities.[88] Khrushchev’s concern increased further on October 27 with news that a Soviet commander in Cuba had shot down an American U-2 plane without his authorization, and that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was advocating a nuclear strike against the United States.[89] Similarly, the United States was unsure what military actions might trigger Soviet escalations: U.S. officials were divided over the significance the Soviets attached to missiles in Cuba, and what the Soviets might be willing to risk to avoid removing them. Similarly, U.S. officials assumed that the Soviet Union would respond if the United States attacked Cuba but were unsure what form those reprisals would take and whether they might lead to general war or a more limited Soviet response. Indeed, officials in the Executive Committee of the National Security Council made a range of arguments regarding the relative likelihood of different Soviet responses should the United States invade Cuba[90] Third, conventional and nuclear forces interacted during the crisis on multiple occasions in ways that reduced the controllability of the crisis and raised the risk of nuclear use. As discussed above, Soviet submarines could have launched nuclear weapons while under pressure from conventional U.S. anti-submarine warfare assets unaware that they were engaging nuclear-armed Soviet submarines. On the U.S. side, the F-102s sent to retrieve and escort the U-2 inadvertently flying into Soviet airspace could have launched their own nuclear weapons while under pressure from Soviet fighters. This interaction between nuclear and conventional forces raised the risk of inadvertent escalation and reduced the controllability of the crisis. Fourth, crisis communication between the United States and Soviet Union was widely recognized to be problematic, leading to the establishment of the U.S.-Soviet “hotline” in 1963. Official messages took six hours to deliver, while unofficial channels were prone to miscommunication. The confusion that resulted from contrasting letters sent by Khrushchev on October 26 and 27 exemplifies the problematic nature of crisis communication. Kennedy received a letter offering to remove the missiles from Cuba and to cease further shipments in exchange for ending the quarantine and a non-invasion pledge. This message took twelve hours to receive and decode. By the time a reply had been drafted, a second letter had arrived in which Khrushchev added a further condition: the removal of Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Puzzled by the shifting demands, Kennedy publicly accepted the terms of the first letter, while privately agreeing to remove the Jupiter missiles.[91] Predictions The Cuban Missile Crisis exhibited few incentives to use nuclear weapons first and low levels of crisis controllability. It is therefore best understood as a “brinkmanship” crisis. What dynamics should we therefore expect to see in this case? First, we should expect the crisis to have been primarily characterized by the manipulation of risk, with the conventional or nuclear balance affecting the crisis outcome in less direct ways. Second, the primary danger of nuclear use should be expected to have come from uncontrolled nuclear escalation rather than deliberate first nuclear use. Third, signaling should have been feasible within the crisis.[92] These predictions are, indeed, confirmed. First, scholars have often been skeptical that U.S. nuclear or conventional military superiority in the region affected the outcome in a direct way, and if it did affect the outcome, that it did so by affecting U.S. resolve and willingness to manipulate risk.[93] There is indeed evidence that some of Kennedy’s advisors believed that U.S. nuclear superiority should factor into their calculations.[94] However, as discussed above, Kennedy himself seems to have been disinclined to draw comfort (or courage) from U.S. nuclear advantages. Historians have largely shared this assessment: Marc Trachtenberg concludes that “there is no evidence that President Kennedy and his advisers counted missiles, bombers, and warheads, and decided on that basis to take a tough line,” while James Cameron shows that, despite Kennedy having come to power railing against the (fictional) missile gap with the Soviet Union, once in office, he viewed U.S. nuclear superiority as largely useless.[95] As veterans of the crisis McNamara, Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, Ted Sorensen, Roswell Gilpatric, and George Ball later commented, “American nuclear superiority was not in our view a critical factor…Not one of us ever reviewed the nuclear balance for comfort in those hard weeks. The Cuban missile crisis illustrates…the insignificance of nuclear superiority.”[96] Although the United States succeeded in achieving its goals once the crisis had begun, and is therefore often (and reasonably) understood to have “won” the crisis,[97] the actual result of the crisis — a quid pro quo that left the Soviets better off than the pre-crisis status quo[98] — seems inconsistent with both American strategic nuclear superiority as well as U.S. conventional superiority in the region. Instead, as Schelling argues, the crisis is best understood as a case of states manipulating risk: “The Cuban Crisis was a contest in risk taking, involving steps that would have made no sense if they led predictably and ineluctably to a major war, yet would also have made no sense if they were completely without danger.”[99] Our argument does not require nuclear superiority to have had no effect during the crisis. For example, as discussed above, nuclear superiority could affect risk tolerance or resolve within the framework of brinkmanship crises. Nonetheless, the brinkmanship model accurately captures the key dynamic — the manipulation of risk — of the Cuban Missile Crisis. [quote id="5"] Second, historians, political scientists, and participants in the crisis agree that the primary danger of the Cuban Missile Crisis was uncontrolled escalation rather than deliberate first nuclear use. As a group of former officials from the Executive Committee of the National Security Council later recalled, “The gravest risk in this crisis was not that either head of government desired to initiate a major escalation but that events would produce actions, reactions, or miscalculations carrying the conflict beyond the control of one or the other or both.”[100] Similarly, scholars have repeatedly emphasized the importance of luck in preventing nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For example, Sagan writes that “good luck [was] involved in avoiding accidental war in October 1962”, while Dean Acheson concluded that the peaceful resolution of the crisis came down to “dumb luck.”[101] Len Scott and Steve Smith write that “the fact that the crisis did not lead to nuclear war was due…to good luck,” while Pelopidas concludes that the “peaceful outcome cannot be reduced to successful, fully informed crisis-management.”[102] The brinkmanship model, by emphasizing the dangers of uncontrolled escalation, sheds light on why luck was required to peacefully negotiate the Cuban Missile Crisis. Third, as anticipated, both sides engaged in signaling and escalation using conventional military forces and the alerting of nuclear forces, behaviors that the brinkmanship model would anticipate. American officials “were willing during the crisis to accept a certain risk of nuclear war; and…the risk of nuclear war was consciously manipulated.”[103] Military deployments and alerts were ordered less because of their narrow military utility but more as measures to signal U.S. intentions and raise the risk of war. For example, McNamara argued that the point of the blockade “was not to shoot Russians but to communicate a political message from President Kennedy to Premier Khrushchev.”[104] Throughout the crisis, the United States used escalatory measures as signaling mechanisms: When Kennedy addressed the nation on October 22, for example, U.S. nuclear forces were placed on DEFCON 3 alert, Polaris submarines moved out of their ports to pre-assigned stations, and U.S. military commands throughout the world increased levels of readiness for war.[105] On October 24, Kennedy made the unprecedented decision to raise the nuclear threat level to DEFCON 2 — one level short of general war.[106] On October 27, Minuteman solid fuel missiles were placed on alert at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.[107] As Gen. David Burchinal, the director of plans on the Air Staff, recalled in an oral history, “All these moves were signals the Soviets could see and we knew they could see them.”[108] Overall, viewing the Cuban Missile Crisis as a brinkmanship crisis accurately captures key dynamics of the case.

Contemporary and Future Crises: Doklam and U.S.-North Korea

Our framework therefore sheds light on prominent historical crises. Accounting for the heterogeneity of nuclear crises allows us to understand key differences between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kargil War better than a single model of nuclear crisis. What, then, does the framework offered here suggest about more contemporary crises? In this section, we briefly use our framework to shed light on the 2017 Doklam crisis between India and China and a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis. The Doklam Crisis The 2017 Doklam crisis between India and China — a standoff over disputed territory where the borders between China, India, and Bhutan intersect — would be classified as a stability-instability crisis according to our framework.[109] First, neither side had strong incentives for first nuclear use: Both India and China had relatively small nuclear arsenals, geographically large territories and dispersed populations, longstanding no-first-use policies, and nuclear postures that are designed to credibly threaten retaliation in the aftermath of a nuclear attack rather than first use.[110] Second, the crisis was characterized by high levels of controllability: Neither sides’ nuclear weapons were close to the conflict zone, both countries’ nuclear postures made unauthorized or accidental nuclear use unlikely, high levels of communication between the two sides existed throughout the crisis, and each country’s declaratory no-first-use policy made it highly unlikely that either side would accidentally stumble over the other’s red lines for nuclear use.[111] Indeed, viewing the crisis as a stability-instability crisis appears to correctly account for key dynamics of this case. Despite the relatively high levels of military escalation — hundreds of troops were deployed to the region — there was little fear by either side that nuclear weapons would be used. Signaling took place using conventional troop deployments but without using nuclear threats. The outcome of the crisis — a return to the status quo desired by India and Bhutan — appears consistent with the conventional balance given India’s “unique hard power advantages in the Himalayan region.”[112] Finally, viewing the Doklam standoff as a stability-instability crisis provides an explanation for why China was prepared to provoke a crisis with another nuclear-armed state over relatively low stakes: Stability-instability crises are relatively “safe” in terms of the risk of nuclear escalation, and states should therefore be willing to provoke them to secure even relatively limited interests. A Possible U.S.-North Korean Crisis Finally, what does our framework suggest about a potential U.S.-North Korea crisis? Both sides in a potential U.S.-North Korea nuclear crisis might be incentivized to use nuclear weapons first.[113] This is both because North Korea appears to be adopting an asymmetric escalation posture and because of the significant disparities between the nuclear capabilities of the two sides, which means that North Korea plausibly lacks a secure second-strike capability. For North Korea, using nuclear weapons early in a conventional conflict might be the only way to prevent a conventional defeat by a far more powerful enemy or to make the United States think twice about pursuing regime change.[114] As Vipin Narang argues, North Korea’s nuclear strategy appears to be one of asymmetric escalation: threatening nuclear first use to degrade a conventional invasion while retaining longer-range nuclear missiles to deter nuclear retaliation by the United States. Narang notes that,
faced with the prospect of a U.S.-led invasion, Pyongyang’s conventional inferiority requires it to degrade the United States’ ability to sustain the attack against it. This means it essentially has no option but to use nuclear weapons first against targets such as Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, which stations American bombers, and a variety of allied bases in Japan and South Korea. North Korea has to use nuclear weapons there because it does not have enough conventional warheads to damage the bases meaningfully; a conventional response would not slow or stop a U.S. onslaught.[115]
The United States may also face temptations for first nuclear use.[116] A nuclear counterforce strike might be crucial to removing North Korea’s ability to retaliate against South Korea or Japan (or the United States): The imperative to destroy North Korean offensive capabilities could thus lead to the temptation to use nuclear weapons first and early in a conflict. As David Barno and Nora Bensahel argue, only a “surprise nuclear strike provides a decisive option. There is simply no other way to destroy North Korea’s nuclear capabilities while minimizing the risk of massive conventional or nuclear retaliation.”[117] Barry Posen, in arguing against a U.S. war with North Korea, acknowledges that “a surprise American nuclear attack would offer the greatest chance of eliminating the North Korean nuclear arsenal and of preventing a conventional counterattack,” making it a potentially attractive option if war was deemed inevitable or necessary by U.S. planners.[118] Moreover, recent scholarship has suggested that some impediments to U.S. nuclear use may be weaker than anticipated. For example, the U.S. public may, in fact, be willing to endorse nuclear use under a wide range of scenarios.[119] Similarly, Daryl Press and Kier Lieber argue that a nuclear counterforce attack against North Korea could potentially be conducted with minimal casualties and limited environmental consequences.[120] In short, both sides in a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis could plausibly perceive incentives for first nuclear use. Furthermore, a crisis between the United States and North Korea would likely have low levels of controllability:[121] The robustness of North Korea’s command and control systems is unknown and would likely be aggressively targeted in the initial stages of any military confrontation; there are few institutionalized avenues for crisis negotiation or communication between the two sides; North Korea’s or America’s red lines for nuclear use are unclear and ambiguous; and while any nuclear use would likely be limited on the U.S. side given the small geographic territory of North Korea, North Korea’s small arsenal makes it more likely that it would have to quickly use all weapons at its disposal in order to try to respond to any U.S. first strike.[122] If our assessment of incentives for first use and controllability are correct, a potential crisis between the two countries would likely unfold according to the logic of the firestorm model — the most volatile and dangerous of the four models and one in which sudden and significant escalation across the nuclear threshold is possible. U.S. policymakers should therefore be under no illusions that a conventional war with North Korea will reliably remain conventional — rapid nuclear escalation is highly possible. Given the costs of such a war, avoiding any crisis with North Korea that could quickly escalate should be a higher priority for U.S. policymakers than if a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis were likely to unfold according to one of the other models of nuclear crisis.

Conclusion

Nuclear crises do not operate according to a single logic. Instead, the presence of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the degree of crisis controllability significantly affect both the way in which nuclear crises unfold and the dynamics that underpin them. Furthermore, historical crises exhibit variation on these dimensions, suggesting that the varieties of nuclear crises we identify above are not merely of hypothetical interest. In our concluding remarks, we highlight some implications and contributions of our argument. First, the framework offered here provides a simple way to assess the relative danger and likely dynamics of a potential nuclear crisis in a way that may be useful for analysts and policymakers. This framework would suggest, for example, that any crisis between the United States and North Korea would be more likely to lead to nuclear escalation and be more volatile than a crisis between the United States and China, in which there would be fewer incentives for either state to use nuclear weapons first and higher levels of controllability. Similarly, nuclear superiority may grant the United States benefits in a crisis with certain opponents, such as North Korea, but offer limited benefits in a crisis with another state, like Russia. Such insights are likely to be more tailored and, therefore, more useful to policymakers than inferences drawn from analyses that do not take into account the variation among nuclear crises. Second, our framework has implications for scholars conducting both theoretical and empirical research on nuclear crises. Theoretically, it demonstrates that seemingly divergent understandings of nuclear crises can be incorporated within a broader framework that specifies the circumstances under which each type of crisis should be expected to occur. This framework also allows scholars to make better sense of the historical diversity of nuclear crises and of conflicting findings by scholars. It makes sense that the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kargil War unfolded according to different logics. Similarly, we should not expect that other events commonly coded as nuclear crises, such as the 1970 Cienfuegos Crisis, the 2001 Indian parliament attack, or the various Berlin crises, should have unfolded in the same way. [quote id="6"] For empirical scholars, the framework may provide a way to make sense of apparently contradictory findings. Conclusions drawn from one or two cases should not necessarily be expected to apply to crises of a different type.[123] For quantitative researchers, because different types of crises may be represented to varying degrees in different datasets, it is not surprising that scholars drawing on different sources reach different conclusions. For example, the disagreement between Kroenig and Sechser and Fuhrmann over the role nuclear weapons play in nuclear crises might be accounted for if the Militarized Compellent Threat dataset that Sechser and Fuhrmann use contains a greater number of stability-instability crises (in which nuclear weapons should be expected to be unrelated to conflict outcomes) and fewer staircase or firestorm crises (in which nuclear superiority may be consequential) than the International Crisis Behavior dataset that Kroenig employs.[124] More broadly, crisis dynamics should differ systematically across different types of crises. Seeking to find, for example, the average effect of variables on crisis outcomes may be unrepresentative of the likely effects in any given crisis. Scholars should therefore be cautious about drawing conclusions about a specific crisis from scholarship that analyzes all nuclear crises without taking this variation into account.[125] Finally, the framework presented above opens up a number of avenues for future research. First, we only offered an initial examination of the utility of our framework using four cases. Future work could more systematically assess the extent to which our variables explain variation across all nuclear crises, and the relative frequency with which different types of crises occur. Second, the framework offered here provides an initial effort to explore the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Further disaggregating nuclear crises could reveal additional insights. For example, it would be useful to incorporate literature on psychological biases and misperceptions into our framework to further problematize policymakers’ perceptions of the concepts we identify.[126] Third, it would be valuable to explore in greater depth how knowledgeable policymakers are about various features of our framework. One could imagine, for example, that some factors, like the conventional balance or an adversary’s nuclear force posture, may be more easily known by decision-makers than others, such as an adversary’s threshold for nuclear use. Similarly, it would be interesting to explore the implications when adversaries lack a common understanding of the features of a nuclear crisis — when “mismatches” emerge in adversaries’ assessments — and whether these beliefs can change over time. There may also be other variables that profoundly affect the dynamics of nuclear crises that could be profitably added to our framework to produce a richer understanding of these cases. Finally, while this paper focuses on the dynamics of nuclear crises rather than the substantive issues that underly them (for example, disputed territory in the Doklam Crisis or Kargil War, or Soviet missiles in Cuba in the Cuban Missile Crisis), it is possible that crises in the nuclear age may occur over different issues than in prior eras. Further research exploring the extent to which nuclear weapons affect the issues that states compete over would be theoretically and empirically useful. Thus, while our study offers an initial framework to allow scholars, analysts, and policymakers to begin incorporating the historical richness of nuclear crises into their analyses, it is far from the last word on the subject. Much more remains to be done to fully understand the complexity and variety of nuclear crises, and the different risks and dangers that they involve.   Acknowledgements: For helpful suggestions and comments, we thank the anonymous reviewers and editors at the Texas National Security Review. We also thank Stephen Biddle, Austin Carson, Cosette Creamer, Fiona Cunningham, Raymond Duvall, Rebecca Hersman, Sumit Ganguly, Francis Gavin, Charlie Glaser, Avery Goldstein, Brendan Green, Sameer Lalwani, Austin Long, Sean Lynn-Jones, Martin Malin, Ronald Krebs, Andrew Kydd, Nicholas Miller, Alex Montgomery, Reid Pauly, Benoît Pelopidas, Joshua Rovner, Elizabeth Saunders, Jennifer Spindel, Stephen Walt, Jessica Weeks, Sharon Weiner, Ketian Zhang, and audiences at George Washington University, Harvard Kennedy School, Princeton University, Sciences Po, the Stimson Center, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, and annual meetings of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association. For excellent research assistance, we thank Sooyeon Kang.   Mark S. Bell is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. Julia Macdonald is an assistant professor of international relations at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.   Image: U.S. Air Force [post_title] => How to Think About Nuclear Crises [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-think-about-nuclear-crises [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:40:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:40:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1253 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => How dangerous are nuclear crises? What dynamics underpin how they unfold? Recent tensions between North Korea and the United States have exposed disagreement among scholars and analysts regarding these questions. We reconcile these apparently contradictory views by showing the circumstances in which different models of nuclear crises should be expected to hold. Nuclear crises should be expected to have different dynamics depending on two variables: the incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the extent to which escalation is controllable by the leaders involved. Variation across these two dimensions generates four types of nuclear crises: “staircase,” “stability-instability,” “brinkmanship,” and “firestorm” crises. These models correspond to well-established ways of thinking about nuclear crises, but no one model is “correct.” Different models should be expected to apply in different cases, and nuclear crises should therefore be interpreted differently according to which model is most appropriate. We demonstrate the utility of our framework using the cases of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, 1999 Kargil War, 2017 Doklam Crisis, and ongoing U.S.-North Korean tensions. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => A crisis can escalate to (and beyond) the nuclear threshold in a controlled fashion, i.e., in a process in which each leader makes a conscious and deliberate strategic calculation to escalate at every stage. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Staircase crises are dangerous and states are therefore unlikely to enter them over trivial matters, although they may be willing to enter them when important national interests are at stake. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Both Pakistani and Indian leaders recognized Pakistan’s incentives for nuclear first use.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => U.S. superiority was not, however, sufficient to cast doubt on the Soviets’ own ability to inflict significant destruction on the United States after absorbing a first strike.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The brinkmanship model, by emphasizing the dangers of uncontrolled escalation, sheds light on why luck was required to peacefully negotiate the Cuban Missile Crisis. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => This framework would suggest, for example, that any crisis between the United States and North Korea would be more likely to lead to nuclear escalation and be more volatile than a crisis between the United States and China... ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1465 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 258 [1] => 259 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang, “Why Trump’s Threat of ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea Is So Dangerous,” The Diplomat, Aug. 11, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/why-trumps-threat-of-fire-and-fury-against-north-korea-is-so-dangerous/. [2] Max Fisher, “Trump’s Threat of War with North Korea May Sound Scarier than It Is,” New York Times, Aug. 9, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/09/world/asia/trump-north-korea-nuclear-war.html. [3] See for example, Marc Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Security 10, no. 1 (Summer 1985): 137–63, doi.org/10.2307/2538793; Richard K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1987); Rosemary J. Foot, “Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict,” International Security 13, no. 3 (1988/1989): 92–112, doi.org/10.2307/2538737; John Mueller, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons: Stability in the Postwar World,” International Security 13, no. 2 (1988): 55–79, doi.org/10.2307/2538971; Kyle Beardsley and Victor Asal, ‘‘Winning with the Bomb,’’ Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, no. 2 (2009), 278–301, doi.org/10.1177/0022002708330386; Matthew Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve: Explaining Nuclear Crisis Outcomes,” International Organization 67, no. 1 (2013): 141–71, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818312000367; Matthew Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail,” International Organization 67, no. 1 (2013): 173–95, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818312000392; Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017). [4] Michael Brecher and Jonathan Wilkenfeld, A Study of Crisis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 4–5. We focus on crises between pairs of nuclear-armed states, although whether the framework we propose also applies to crises between nuclear and non-nuclear states would be an interesting avenue for future research. [5] See, for example, James Fearon, “Selection Effects and Deterrence,” International Interactions 28, no. 1 (2002): 5–29, doi.org/10.1080/03050620210390. [6] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 142. [7] See, for example,, Stanley Hoffman, The State of War: Essays on the Theory and Practice of International Politics (New York: Praeger, 1965), 236; John Lewis Gaddis, The Long Peace: Inquiries Into the History of the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). [8] See, for example, Barry Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence: The Neutrality of Escalation,” Conflict Management and Peace Science 9, no. 2 (1986): 19–30, doi.org/10.1177/073889428600900202; Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; Robert Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship with Two-Sided Incomplete Information,” American Political Science Review 82, no. 1 (March 1988): 156–178, doi.org/10.2307/1958063; Robert Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship, Limited War, and Military Power,” International Organization 69, no. 3 (2015): 589–626, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818315000028; Richard Ned Lebow, Nuclear Crisis Management: A Dangerous Illusion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987); Scott D. Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); Beardsley and Asal, ‘‘Winning with the Bomb,’’ Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail”; Todd S. Sechser and Mattew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Benoît Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck: Three Sources of Overconfidence in the Manageability of Nuclear Crises,” European Journal of International Security 2, no. 2 (2017): 240–62, doi.org/10.1017/eis.2017.6. [9] See, for example, Bernard Brodie, ed., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1946); Robert Jervis, “Why Nuclear Superiority Doesn’t Matter,” Political Science Quarterly 94, no. 4 (1979): 61733, doi.org/10.2307/2149629; Robert Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); Charles L. Glaser, “Why Even Good Defenses May Be Bad,” International Security 9, no. 2 (1984): 92–123, doi.org/10.2307/2538669; Charles L. Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990); Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better, Adelphi Paper no. 171 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981); Kenneth N. Waltz, “Nuclear Myths and Political Realities,” American Political Science Review 84, no. 3 (September 1990): 730–45, doi.org/10.2307/1962764; John J. Mearsheimer, “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence in Europe,” International Security 9, no. 3 (1984): 19–46, doi.org/10.2307/2538586. For recent critiques of the theory of the nuclear revolution, see Daryl G. Press and Kier A. Lieber, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (2017): 9–49, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00273; Brendan R. Green and Austin Long, “The MAD Who Wasn't There: Soviet Reactions to the Late Cold War Nuclear Balance," Security Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 606–41, doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1331639; Mark S. Bell, “Nuclear Opportunism: A Theory of How States Use Nuclear Weapons in International Politics,” Journal of Strategic Studies 42, no. 1 (2019): 3–28, doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1389722. [10] Mearsheimer, “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence in Europe,” 20; John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2001), 129 (emphasis added). [11] Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Glenn Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” in Balance of Power, ed. Paul Seabury (San Francisco, CA: Chandler, 1965). [12] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy; Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail”; Sechser and Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy. These debates echo prior disagreements. See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; Mueller, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons.” [13] Partial exceptions include Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; and Robert Powell, “The Theoretical Foundations of Strategic Nuclear Deterrence,” Political Science Quarterly 100, no. 1 (1985): 75–96, http://doi.org/10.2307/2150861, which distinguish between crises that exhibited different levels of risk and different types of nuclear threat, respectively. [14] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 154. [15] Peter D. Feaver, “Command and Control in Emerging Nuclear Nations,” International Security 17, no. 3 (1992/93): 165, doi.org/10.2307/2539133. For a critique of the concept of “use them or lose them,” see Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 137–42. [16] For recent debates on the feasibility of damage limitation and counterforce, see Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Should the United States Reject MAD? Damage Limitation and U.S. Nuclear Strategy Toward China,” International Security 41, no. 1 (2016): 49–98, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00248; Press and Lieber, “The New Era of Counterforce.” [17] Vipin Narang, “Posturing for Peace? Pakistan’s Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability,” International Security 34, no. 3 (2009/10): 38–78, doi.org/10.1162/isec.2010.34.3.38; Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014). [18] For a critique of the claim that nuclear crises can ever be controllable, see Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck.” [19] Feaver, “Command and Control in Emerging Nuclear Nations;” Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [20] This factor can be hard to observe empirically, since red lines need not be publicly articulated if they are implicitly understood, and publicly articulated red lines are not necessarily clear or may not be believed by other states. For recent work on red lines, see, Daniel W. Altman, Red Lines and Faits Accomplis in Interstate Coercion and Crisis (Ph.D dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015); Daniel W. Altman and Nicholas L. Miller, “Red Lines in Nuclear Nonproliferation,” Nonproliferation Review 24, no. 3-4 (2017): 315–42, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2018.1433575; Dan Altman, “Advancing without Attacking: The Strategic Game Around the Use of Force,” Security Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 58–88, doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1360074. [21] Barry R. Posen, Inadvertent Escalation: Conventional War and Nuclear Risks (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Caitlin Talmadge, “Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States,” International Security 41, no. 4 (2017): 50–92, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00274. [22] See, for example, James G. Blight and Janet Lang, “When Empathy Failed: Using Critical Oral History to Reassess the Collapse of U.S.-Soviet Détente in the Carter-Brezhnev Years,” Journal of Cold War Studies 12, no. 2 (2010): 29–74, doi.org/10.1162/jcws.2010.12.2.29. [23] See Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [24] Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” 198–99. [25] Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy, 31. For an empirical test of the implications of the stability-instability paradox, see Mark S. Bell and Nicholas L. Miller, “Questioning the Effect of Nuclear Weapons on Conflict,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59, no. 1 (2015): 74–92, doi.org/10.1177/0022002713499718. [26] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo. [27] Herman Kahn, On Escalation: Metaphors and Strategies (London: Pall Mall Press, 1965), 45. [28] Kahn, On Escalation, 44. [29] Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960); Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966). For other interpretations of nuclear crises using the brinkmanship framework, see, Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence,” Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy. [30] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [31] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [32] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 104. [33] An extreme version of this argument is offered by Barry Nalebuff, who argues that because nuclear crises involve competitions in risk-taking, and crisis participants will generate as much risk as is required to communicate their political interests and resolve, crisis outcomes are independent of a state’s military or nuclear position or posture. See Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence.” For the argument that nuclear superiority is important within the brinkmanship framework because it affects resolve, see Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve.” [34] Technically, one could see sneak nuclear attacks under the staircase model if the incentives for first use were strong enough to outweigh even high levels of controllability in incentivizing a state to cross the nuclear threshold as a first move in a crisis. We thank an anonymous reviewer for this point. [35] On faits accomplis in international politics, see Schelling, Arms and Influence, 44–45; Alexander L. George and Richard Smoke, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 536–40; Daniel W. Altman, “By Fait Accompli, Not Coercion: How States Wrest Territory from their Adversaries,” International Studies Quarterly 61, no. 4 (2017): 881–91, doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqx049. [36] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–94, 106–113; Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship, Limited War, and Military Power,” 590–91; Sechser and Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy, 147–55, 200–210. [37] On the Kashmir dispute see Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, 1946-1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Lars Blinkenberg, India-Pakistan: The History of Unsolved Conflicts (Odense: Odense University Press, 1997); Robert Wirsing, India and Pakistan, and the Kashmir Dispute: On Regional Conflict and Its Resolution (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998); Sumit Ganguly, Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002). [38] S. Paul Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace: Why Nuclear South Asia is Not Like Cold War Europe,” International Security 30, no. 2 (2005): 137, doi.org/10.1162/016228805775124570; Christopher J. Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox: The Case of the Kargil War,” Nonproliferation Review 24, no. 1–2 (2017): 90–91, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2017.1366623; Sumit Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” International Security 33, no. 2 (2008): 45–70, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2014.1072991. For more details on the war, see P.R. Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, and Stephen P. Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2007), chap. 5; S. Paul Kapur, Dangerous Deterrent: Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and Conflict in South Asia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), chap. 6; Bruce Riedel, American Diplomacy and 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Center for Advanced Study of India, 2002); Ved Prakesh Malik, Kargil: From Surprise to Victory (Delhi: Harper Collins, 2006); Peter R. Lavoy, ed., Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009). [39] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 268–69. [40] S. Paul Kapur, “Ten Years of Instability in a Nuclear South Asia,” International Security 33, no. 2 (2008): 73–74 doi.org/10.1162/isec.2008.33.2.71; Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 121–22. [41] Sumit Ganguly and Harrison Wagner, “India and Pakistan: Bargaining in the Shadow of Nuclear War,” Journal of Strategic Studies 27, no. 3 (2004): 490, doi.org/10.1080/1362369042000282994; Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” 58. [42] As discussed above, only one side in the crisis has to have incentives for nuclear first use for the crisis as a whole to be characterized by incentives for first use. [43] Narang “Posturing for Peace?” 56, 66; Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 259. In 1999, India had an active-duty force double that of Pakistan, enjoyed a 2:1 advantage in combat aircraft, and a 1.7:1 advantage in main battle tanks. Taken at face value, these figures somewhat overstate the degree of India’s conventional military advantage over Pakistan given that India must focus significant military attention on the Sino-Indian border in addition to the India-Pakistan border. Nonetheless, there is little question that India had the capability to assemble a larger conventional military force on the Pakistani border than Pakistan would be able to. Because of this imbalance, even though Pakistan had a local tactical advantage in Kashmir due to the Pakistani military’s early defensive positioning and the region’s difficult terrain, India retained the ability to deploy a superior conventional force to the region. Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace,” 139; “Central and South Asia,” The Military Balance (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1999), 151–70, doi.org/10.1080/04597229908460132; Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh Burke, The India-Pakistan Military Balance (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2002). [44] Narang “Posturing for Peace?” 57. Indeed, Pakistan may have had the ability to deliver nuclear weapons by aircraft as early as 1995. See Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 267; Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox,” 91–92. [45] Quoted in P.R. Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” Strategic Analysis 33, no. 3 (2009): 363, doi.org/10.1080/09700160902790019. See also Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 139–41. [46] Riedel, "American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House," 11. [47] Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 492; Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” 59; Sumit Ganguly and Devin Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), 161. [48] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 272. Malik confirms that Pakistani nuclear weapons ruled out full-scale conventional war with Pakistan. See Kapur, “Ten Years of Instability in a Nuclear South Asia,” 79. [49] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 272. [50] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 270–71. [51] Quoted in Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 363. [52] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 270–71; Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 363; Raj Chengappa, Weapons of Peace (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2000), 437. [53] On the role of the United States in the crisis, see Peter R. Lavoy, “Why Kargil Did Not Produce General War: The Crisis-Management Strategies of Pakistan, India, and the United States,” and Bruce Riedel, “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House,” both in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia, ed. Lavoy. [54] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, chaps. 3, 10. [55] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 101. [56] Quoted in Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 483. [57] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 268. [58] John H. Gill, “Provocation, War and Restraint Under the Nuclear Shadow: The Kargil Conflict 1999,” Journal of Strategic Studies (2019): 701–26, doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2019.1570144; Lavoy, “Why Kargil Did Not Produce General War.” [59] We leave aside assessing the prediction of the model regarding the probability of nuclear use, since this is hard to evaluate within a single case. [60] As discussed previously, Pakistan may have been less willing to enter into the war had it known that the outcome would be determined by the conventional balance. Pakistan may have miscalculated the effects of nuclear signaling on Indian decision-makers and underestimated the number of conventional forces that India would marshal in response. Incorporating these miscalculations into the framework we offer would be a productive avenue for future research. [61] For differing assessments, see David Albright, “India's and Pakistan's Fissile Material and Nuclear Weapons Inventories, End of 1999,” Institute for Science and International Security, Oct. 11, 2000, https://www.isis-online.org/publications/southasia/stocks1000.html; Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, Hans M. Kristensen, and Joshua Handler, “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2002,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 2 (2002): 70–72, doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2002.11460559; Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, Hans M. Kristensen, and Joshua Handler, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces, 2001,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 1 (2002): 70–71, doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2002.11460540; Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945–2013,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 69, no. 5 (2013): 75–81, doi.org/10.1177/0096340213501363. [62] Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 107. [63] Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 108–110. [64] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 271. [65] Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 362; Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 491. [66] Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 139; Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace,” 147. [67] Quoted in Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox,” 97. This restraint presents a puzzle for the stability-instabilty model of nuclear crises, of which the Kargil War is often believed one manifestation. Instead of escalating further, as would be expected by the stability-instability logic, Pakistan chose to acquiesce rather than open additional fronts and divert the superior Indian forces. Under the staircase model, however, this behavior makes more sense. See Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 364. [68] Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002), 189. [69] Michael Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev 1960-63 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), 414, 423–35; Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, ‘One Hell of a Gamble:’ Castro, Kennedy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1958-1964 (London: John Murray, 1997), 206, 227. [70] David Holloway, “Nuclear Weapons and the Escalation of the Cold War, 1945-1962,” in The Cambridge History of the Cold War, volume 1, ed. Odd Arne Westad and Melvin Leffler (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 393–94. [71] Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leads Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 121. [72] McNamara quoted in Press, Calculating Credibility, 124. [73] Quoted in Press, Calculating Credibility, 123–24. At this meeting, Kennedy did raise the possibility of a surprise nuclear strike against the Soviets, commenting that since “the use of nuclear weapons was bound to escalate...we might as well get the advantage by going first.” Quoted in Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 37. In the end, these deliberations amounted to little in terms of U.S. defense planning and by mid-1962 there is little evidence that Kennedy considered a first strike against the Soviet Union feasible. [74] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–106. [75] Quoted in Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 148. See also James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), chap. 1; Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, George W. Ball, Roswell L. Gilpatric, Theodore Sorensen, and McGeorge Bundy, “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Time Magazine, Sept. 27, 1982, 85; Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [76] Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance, 105. [77] Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft, 68. [78] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 72–73. [79] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 74. [80] Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 246; Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 135–38. [81] Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 246–47; Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (London: Penguin, 2013), 261. [82] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 72–73. [83] Svetlana Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Journal of Strategic Studies 28, no. 2 (2005): 238, doi.org/10.1080/01402390500088312; Scott D. Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” International Security 9, no. 4 (1985): 112–18, doi.org/10.2307/2538543. [84] Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines,” 240. [85] Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines,” 247. [86] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 154. [87] Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence (New York: Random House, 1995), 52; Sergei Khrushchev, Creation of a Superpower (Philadelphia, PA: Penn State University Press, 2000), 565; Oleg Troyanovsky, “The Making of Soviet Foreign Policy,” in Nikita Khrushchev, ed. William Taubman, Sergei Khrushchev, and Abbott Gleason (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 236. [88] Within our framework, it is plausible that U.S. alerts and mobilizations may have led Khrushchev to better understand U.S. red lines over the course of the crisis, contributing to its resolution. [89] Fursenko and Naftali, ‘One Hell of a Gamble’, chap. 19; Sheldon M. Stern, The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 157. [90] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 153–54. [91] Holloway, “Nuclear Weapons and the Escalation of the Cold War,” 393–94. [92] Again, we leave aside assessing the prediction of the model regarding the probability of nuclear use, since this is hard to evaluate within a single case. [93] See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; Cameron, The Double Game, chap. 1; Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85; Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. For the argument that U.S. nuclear superiority affected U.S. resolve, see Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51. [94] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–106. [95] Cameron, The Double Game, chap. 1. [96] Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85. These statements should be taken with a grain of salt given the political context in which they were made: by officials from a former Democratic administration opposed to the Reagan administration arms buildup. [97] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve.” [98] In exchange for the removal of missiles from Cuba, the Soviet Union received two new concessions from the United States: the withdrawal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey and a commitment not to invade Cuba. [99] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [100] Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85. [101] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 154. For a thorough examination of the role of luck in the Cuban Missile Crisis, see Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck.” [102] Len Scott and Steve Smith, “Lessons of October: Historians, Political Scientists, Policy-Makers, and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Affairs 70, no. 4 (1994): 683, doi.org/10.2307/2624552; Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 244. [103] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 140. [104] Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” 110. [105] Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 51–52. [106] Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” 109. See also “Strategic Air Command Operations in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962,” Strategic Air Command Headquarters, History and Research Division, Historical Study no. 90, volume 1 (1963), https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/dobbs/SAC_history.pdf. [107] “Strategic Air Command Operations in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 97. [108] Quoted in Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 157. [109] For analyses of various aspects of the Doklam crisis, see Simon Denyer and Annie Gowen, “Who Blinked in the India-China Military Standoff,” Washington Post, Aug. 30, 2017, https://wapo.st/2wRCH4x?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.75e6447451b4; Ankit Panda, “The Political Geography of the India-China Crisis at Doklam,” Diplomat, July 13, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/07/the-political-geography-of-the-india-china-crisis-at-doklam/; Ankit Panda, “Disengagement at Doklam: Why and How Did the India-China Standoff End,” Diplomat, Aug. 29, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/disengagement-at-doklam-why-and-how-did-the-india-china-standoff-end/. [110] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, chaps. 4 and 5. [111] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [112] Panda, “Disengagement at Doklam.” [113] Van Jackson, On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 197. [114] Vipin Narang, “Why Kim Jong Un Wouldn’t be Irrational to Use a Nuclear Bomb First,” Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2017, http://wapo.st/2gRxIdm?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.20ae71c09a9b; Jackson, On the Brink, 158, 197. See also Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The Nukes We Need: Preserving the American Deterrent,” Foreign Affairs 88, no. 6 (November/December 2009): 39–51, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20699714. [115] Narang, “Why Kim Jong Un Wouldn’t be Irrational to Use a Nuclear Bomb First,” [116] On U.S. senior policymakers’ public support for preventive war options, see Jackson, On the Brink, 137, 158–61, 163. [117] David Barno and Nora Bensahel, “The Growing Danger of a U.S. Nuclear First Strike on North Korea,” War on the Rocks, Oct. 10, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/10/the-growing-danger-of-a-u-s-nuclear-first-strike-on-north-korea/. [118] Barry R. Posen, “The Price of War With North Korea,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/06/opinion/north-korea-united-states-war.html. [119] Daryl G. Press, Scott D. Sagan, and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 1 (2013): 188–206, doi.org/10.1017/S0003055412000597; Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think About Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants,” International Security 42, no. 1 (2017): 41–79, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00284. [120] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 31. [121] For example, Jackson notes that a U.S.-North Korea crisis would be “much less controlled” than the Cuban Missile Crisis — a crisis already coded as having low controllability in our framework. Jackson, On the Brink, 159. [122] On these points, see Jackson, On the Brink, 164–65, 197, 207. [123] See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; and Foot, “Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict.” [124] Kroenig “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail.” Kroenig proposes a different explanation for the differences in their findings based on selection effects. See Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy. [125] For a similar point on the literature on the causes of nuclear proliferation, see Mark S. Bell, “Examining Explanations for Nuclear Proliferation,” International Studies Quarterly 60, no. 3 (2016): 527, doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqv007. [126] See, for example, Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976); Robert Jervis, Ned Lebow, and Janice Stein, Psychology and Deterrence (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); Keren Yarhi-Milo, Knowing the Adversary: Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of Intentions in International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 823 [post_author] => 49 [post_date] => 2019-01-08 05:00:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-08 10:00:20 [post_content] => Nuclear weapons, and the role they play in American grand strategy, are an issue of fundamental importance.[1] Any use of these fearsome tools of destruction, whether intentionally or by mistake, would be catastrophic. Nuclear weapons also buttress much of American grand strategy — explicitly and more often implicitly — to a far greater extent than is acknowledged. The mere existence of these weapons shapes strategy, statecraft, and the international system in profound, powerful, and often puzzling ways. Despite the obvious importance of the bomb, its role is largely taken for granted by the American public, even among foreign policy experts. The purpose of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy draws little focused attention, much less probing questions. There are discussions about aspects of U.S. nuclear policy: debates over whether the U.S. nuclear deterrent should be modernized, what the consequences would be if a particular arms-control agreement is signed or abandoned, or worries about the possible nuclearization of a “rogue” state. These discussions, however, are episodic. They tend to fade quickly from headlines and only rarely do they bring to the surface underlying assumptions about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy. Academic discussion of the bomb has its own challenges. Within the most influential school of thought in security studies, nuclear weapons’ effect on foreign policy and international relations is largely understood as a settled question. This is not to suggest that there is consensus among academics: More so than many fields of inquiry, nuclear studies is plagued by intellectual stove-piping, methodological disputes, and disciplinary divides. Within these academic worlds, moreover, much of the debate over nuclear issues focuses on peripheral questions and is often divorced from the realities of policymaking. Most tellingly, discussions of nuclear weapons are rarely connected to larger questions surrounding American politics, policy, and purpose in the world. Most of these disputes center on competing versions of the past. And the academic discipline of history — the field that could arbitrate these disagreements — marginalizes the study of nuclear weapons and rarely contributes to these debates. This article seeks to disturb this complacency about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy to explore important questions: What is the rationale for these weapons, and how do they advance America’s interests in the world? Unfortunately, much of the conventional wisdom surrounding these issues is incomplete, unfalsifiable, and, at times, simply wrong. This is not the result of a lack of effort or intellect in the academy. To be clear, the body of scholarly work on nuclear weapons is enormous and impressive. Rather, the nature of nuclear weapons and the unusual and unexpected role of the bomb in American grand strategy have often been perplexing, hard to measure and assess, and even contradictory. This has led to confusion and unproductive — sometimes sharp — disagreements among scholars of nuclear weapons and international relations. Decision-makers often share this confusion. To better understand the purpose and consequences of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy, this essay interrogates many widely held assumptions and beliefs, with a goal of updating the intellectual architecture undergirding analysis of the role of the bomb. In the process, this article makes five arguments. Argument One: The leading and theoretical approach to nuclear politics — known as the nuclear-revolution school — has failed to predict and explain critical aspects of U.S. nuclear policies, including nuclear strategy and nonproliferation. The most important insight from this approach is correct: that few if any political objectives were worth the extraordinary costs of a thermonuclear war. The theory, however, does not offer much insight into almost eight decades of U.S. “exceptional” behavior with the bomb — or policies at odds with the predictions of the nuclear-revolution framework. Argument Two: Our understanding of the history of U.S. nuclear weapons policies, and the bomb’s role in American grand strategy, is often incomplete, misleading, and even wrong. Much of this stems from a shameful lack of attention to the subject by academic historians, leaving largely unchallenged a decades-old, stylized narrative crafted by participants and scholars of security and strategic studies who lack access to key archival sources. America’s nuclear past is more complex than the conventional wisdom allows. There are at least four complementary and competing strands of U.S. nuclear history — intellectual, rhetorical, operational, and presidential — that should be recognized and reconciled. Furthermore, U.S. nuclear history should be understood as distinct from, if inextricably interwoven with, other powerful streams of world history since 1945, including the Cold War, decolonization, and globalization. Argument Three: The inadequacies of theory and history in explaining the policies of the United States are not surprising, since the nature of nuclear statecraft presents severe methodological and rhetorical challenges to getting the “right” answer. Furthermore, nuclear weapons raise profound moral considerations, making it difficult to distinguish between scholarly arguments and advocacy. These challenges demand intellectual humility and are ignored at great peril. Argument Four: Emerging challenges — technological, geopolitical, and normative — will make questions of nuclear weapons and American grand strategy both more difficult and more consequential in the years and decades to come. Some of these forces make the use of nuclear weapons increasingly unthinkable, while others appear to make the bomb’s use more likely, both with consequences for American grand strategy. The tensions and contradictions in U.S. policy — between nuclear activism and nuclear abstinence — will make an already difficult situation increasingly unsustainable in the future. Argument Five: America’s often puzzling nuclear policies are best understood through a grand-strategic lens. What does such a framework reveal about the United States? While American nuclear policies have often appeared uncertain, ambiguous, and inconsistent, when assessed over time it is clear that the United States has persistently used nuclear weapons to achieve one overriding grand-strategic goal: to “resist” the elements of the “nuclear revolution” that limit America’s freedom of action in the world and expose it to vulnerability. This was true during the Cold War and after the Cold War ended, and it remains true to this day. Washington has sought to eliminate its vulnerability and promote freedom of action through policies and behaviors that often appear to be in tension or even contradictory. Academics have often missed this important point, which is often intuitively understood by American policymakers. How did the United States pursue this grand-strategic goal? At times, the U.S. government pursues nuclear activism by treating nuclear weapons as the most important element of its grand strategy. It did this, for example, by prizing nuclear superiority and by adopting strategies to use these weapons early and first in a crisis. At other times, Washington has pursued policies of nuclear abstinence, highlighting how unusable and even repugnant nuclear weapons are and encouraging other states to eschew their benefits. Many times, American grand strategy has been to pursue both, seemingly incompatible, positions. This split was driven less by strategic ambiguity than real uncertainty about the best path forward and a desire to fully cover its bet. When it comes to activism or abstinence, the United States, like a switch-hitter in baseball choosing between batting left or right, chooses the option with the greatest odds of achieving its grand-strategic goals.

I. The Wrong Revolution?

How should nuclear weapons affect U.S. strategy and statecraft? What does the leading theory — the nuclear-revolution school — say about how American grand strategy should be influenced by the bomb? Under the nuclear-revolution framework, assessing the purpose and consequences of the bomb through a grand-strategic lens can make for an awkward fit. After all, grand strategy is about making choices: what means and instruments, including war, states and their leaders select to achieve desired ends in geopolitical competition in international relations. It reflects “a purposeful and coherent set of ideas about what a nation seeks to accomplish in the world, and how it should go about doing so.”[2] Grand strategies vary enormously over time, location, individuals, and regimes. The United States has pursued a variety of grand strategies since its founding, and debate is fierce over what grand strategy it should pursue today and what means it should employ. The nuclear-revolution school argues that the bomb severely constrains and limits — and at times eliminates — the grand-strategic choices that were available to states and statesmen in the past. Robert Jervis, the leading thinker in the nuclear-revolution school, has argued that “[f]orce and the threat of it cannot support foreign policy in the same way that it did in the past.”[3] Historian Lawrence Freedman agrees, suggesting that the notion of a nuclear strategy “is a contradiction in terms.”[4] What is the “nuclear revolution” framework, and what predictions and explanations does it offer? While scholars differ on some aspects,[5] Stephen Walt has nicely defined its broad outlines:
As refined by scholars like [Bernard] Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Glenn Snyder, Robert Jervis, Kenneth Waltz, and Stephen Van Evera, nuclear weapons are said to provide states with the ability to protect their sovereignty and independence not via direct defense but rather through deterrence.
According to the “logic of the ‘nuclear revolution,’ therefore, states with second-strike capabilities were secure against attack and didn’t need to worry very much about their sovereignty or independence.” The nuclear revolution “means that ‘nuclear superiority’ was a meaningless concept. … A handful of survivable weapons makes it very unlikely that another state will attack you directly or try to invade and take over your country.”[6] According to Jervis, the leading scholar in this tradition, nuclear weapons “can kill but not influence.”[7] Nuclear weapons even “eliminate the security dilemma,” the phenomena that many scholars believe drove international conflict for centuries, making cooperation among states more likely.[8] Nor can they be used for much else besides deterrence. As Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann argue in a recent study, “For all the money spent on atomic bombs, they have bought precious little coercive leverage for states.”[9] [quote id="1"] The nuclear revolution should have had important consequences for proliferation dynamics, nonproliferation policies, and alliances. Joshua Rovner explains that according to the nuclear-revolution view, “if nuclear weapons were great for deterrence but lousy for battle, then Washington should have been sanguine as new countries went nuclear. It might even have been optimistic, since proliferation would, under this theory, lead countries to become cautious.”[10] Even if the United States wanted to stem the spread of nuclear weapons, however, the effort would be futile. According to Kenneth Waltz, “[I]f countries feel insecure and believe that nuclear weapons would make them more secure, America’s policy of opposing the spread of nuclear weapons will not prevail.”[11] Waltz, the most influential international relations theorist of modern times and one of the more extreme advocates of the nuclear-revolution framework, went further still, arguing that nuclear weapons “make alliances obsolete.”[12] The mere presence of the bomb would override the grand-strategic choices made by a particular state or leader. “Nuclear weapons can carry out their deterrent task no matter what other countries do.”[13] The key insight of this framework is that the bomb is a defensive weapon of such powerful force that it transforms strategy and statecraft, constraining the grand-strategic options available to states and leaders before the nuclear age, regardless of a state’s history, geography, culture, or regime type. According to Waltz, “American estimates of what is required for deterrence were absurdly high.” In other words, “not much is required to deter.”[14] Summing up the conventional wisdom among scholars in this tradition, Charles Glaser and Chaim Kauffman argue that the nuclear revolution reveals that “this technology so heavily favors defense that when all the major powers have nuclear weapons variation in other factors becomes relatively unimportant.”[15] According to Stephen Van Evera, “the nuclear revolution gave defenders a large military advantage,” so large that conquest “became virtually impossible.”[16] John Mearsheimer similarly concludes that “there is no question ... the presence of nuclear weapons makes states more cautious about using military force of any kind against each other.”[17] How well did the theory of the nuclear revolution do in predicting American nuclear weapons policy and explaining the role of the bomb in U.S. grand strategy? The framework’s key point — that nuclear weapons made total, thermonuclear war a horrifying absurdity to be avoided at all costs — is of course a profound insight. As the historian John Lewis Gaddis argued during the Cold War, “It seems inescapable that what has really made a difference in inducing this unaccustomed caution has been the workings of the nuclear deterrent.”[18] Yet, the implications of this incontrovertible truth for American grand strategy are both contested and uncertain. Did the United States accept mutual vulnerability with nuclear-armed adversaries, as the theory would have predicted? Was the bomb understood only as a defensive weapon to defend American sovereignty and territorial integrity? Were American leaders nonplussed as other states expressed interest in the bomb, and, even if concerned, did they recognize and accept that there was little they could do to stop proliferation? Did alliances become less important, and was the United States less likely to use force of any kind? Perhaps most critical, did the United States behave like any other state in the system, bowing before the constraints the nuclear revolution imposed on its strategy and statecraft? Taken to its logical end, this school of thought suggests that many states should seek nuclear weapons and that the United States should or could do little to stop other states from pursuing and attaining their own bomb. When building arsenals, the ease of securing a second-strike capability meant that seeking quantitative or qualitative advantages beyond a certain point would be a foolish goal for a state: At best it would be wastefully expensive; at worst, destabilizing and dangerous. According to the theory, strategic stability, both in dyadic competitions and on a broader, horizontal scale, should emerge naturally from the nuclear revolution.[19] Nor should the particular circumstance, history, leadership or regime type, or interests of the nuclearizing state affect the powerful, system-wide effects of these weapons. Or so went the story largely crafted by American academics specializing in security and strategic studies.[20] As Rovner has noted,
If the nuclear revolution affected grand strategy, the United States should have settled for a small arsenal for the sole purpose of deterrence. It would never have sought to integrate nuclear and conventional forces, because nuclear weapons were fundamentally different in that they could never be used. U.S. leaders should have recognized that defenses against nuclear attack were futile, and avoided pouring time and money into such efforts. And they should have managed the process of proliferation so that states, great and regional powers alike, enjoyed the security benefit of a reliable second-strike capability. None of these things happened.[21]
Why not? Exceptional, but Not for the Reasons Many Think The nuclear-revolution framework provides a powerful lens to understand two of the most important aspects of world politics since 1945: the disappearance of great-power war and the non-use of nuclear weapons against adversaries after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945. It is less helpful in explaining other aspects of U.S. grand strategy in the nuclear age. U.S. behavior and policies diverged from expectations of the nuclear-revolution school in at least three ways. The first involves American leaders’ interest in making nuclear weapons such a core element in U.S. grand strategy. According to the nuclear-revolution school, the most powerful role of nuclear weapons is as “invasion insurance,” or to prevent the conquest of sovereign territory. Whatever the fears raised by the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, the United States has faced almost no threat of conquest since the Civil War ended in 1865. A United States without nuclear weapons — in 2019 or in 1955 or 1975 or any other year — faced almost zero threat of conquest. Rarely has a state had less need for the bomb to guarantee its immediate territorial integrity, sovereignty, and security.[22] Yet, no state has invested greater resources in developing and deploying nuclear weapons, nor has any other state relied more heavily on nuclear weapons to implement its grand strategy. The United States has spent astronomical sums on nuclear weapons since 1940, dwarfing the expenditures of other rivals.[23] It plans to spend an additional $1.3 trillion over the next few decades.[24] This is not to suggest that it is surprising the United States pursued and developed the bomb, or even that it pursued a survivable nuclear capability. What is surprising, however, is the central and expensive role that nuclear weapons have played in American grand strategy. Advocates of strategic stability and the nuclear-revolution framework, to say nothing of the historians of American grand strategy before 1950, would likely struggle to explain the United States’ experiments with “nuclear sharing” with its allies, its willingness to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, and pre-delegating authority to launch the bomb to military commanders in the field.[25] Second, extraordinary new scholarship is making it increasingly clear that the United States never permanently abandoned its efforts to achieve nuclear superiority.[26] For a decade and a half after the United States lost its nuclear monopoly, it strove diligently to build far more deliverable nuclear weapons than any other country.[27] It is true that the United States began to accept quantitative equality with its primary adversary, the Soviet Union, by the late 1960s and 1970s. Two points are in order. First, the United States accepted parity only reluctantly. As James Cameron astutely observed, “Nixon hated MAD, believed its logic was defeatist and naïve, yet he signed agreements that enshrined it at the heart of the United States’ relations with the Soviet Union.”[28] Mired in a disastrous war in Southeast Asia and facing both economic and domestic political constraints on military spending, the United States pulled in its horns. Second, while American policymakers accepted quantitative parity, they still sought qualitative primacy over U.S. adversaries. How did the United States seek this superiority? Concurrent to American policymakers negotiating and accepting the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and SALT II) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaties, the U.S. government undertook a massive, extraordinary effort to develop and deploy more sophisticated nuclear weapons and systems to support them. This allowed the United States to exploit its natural advantages over the Soviet Union. As John Mauer has argued,
American leaders raced the Soviets in military technologies where the United States was perceived to enjoy significant advantages, while simultaneously entangling the Soviet Union in an arms control regime that would limit areas of Soviet strength. By combining arms racing and arms control, the United States pursued a holistic offset strategy.[29]
As historians Niccolo Petrelli and Giordana Pulcini reveal, between 1969 and 1976 the Nixon and Ford administrations “actively sought to transcend nuclear parity.”[30] In the years after quantitative parity was accepted, the United States developed and deployed a number of technologically sophisticated and expensive capabilities, including the Pershing II, MX, Trident D-5, as well as cruise missiles. It also invested enormous resources into missile defense; anti-submarine warfare (i.e., targeting and eluding Soviet nuclear submarines); and command, control, communications, and intelligence capabilities.[31] As Austin Long and Brendan Green demonstrate in their path-breaking work, the United States “invested massive resources into intelligence capabilities for a first strike, including successful innovation in tracking submarines and mobile missiles.”[32] These expenditures were oriented toward systems whose characteristics and capabilities, such as speed, stealth, intelligence, and accuracy, were best suited to a nuclear posture that focused on counterforce, damage limitation, and even preemptive uses. In other words, the nuclear forces built in the decades after the SALT and ABM treaties made little sense if the United States had fully embraced the consequences of mutual vulnerability spelled out by the nuclear-revolution school. This is certainly how the Soviet Union perceived these efforts. Because of the “development of American counterforce capabilities,” Soviet leaders “were uncertain they could indefinitely maintain a secure second strike in spite of their strenuous efforts.”[33] [quote id="2"] This interest in maintaining superior nuclear capabilities continued after the Cold War ended.[34] As a 2003 RAND report observed,
The force is larger than it needs to be if deterrence by threat of nuclear retaliation is the sole objective of U.S. nuclear strategy. Even a mildly expanded target base that included selected targets in emerging nuclear powers as well as chemical and biological weapons facilities in a larger set of countries would not necessarily require the sort of force that the United States plans to maintain. What the planned force appears best suited to provide beyond the needs of traditional deterrence is a preemptive counterforce capability against Russia and China. Otherwise, the numbers and the operating procedures simply do not add up.[35]
It has been argued that bureaucratic and organizational politics were the primary drivers of these expensive, risky, and politically polarizing nuclear postures.[36] Organizational and bureaucratic factors no doubt played some role, but the fact that the search for qualitative superiority has spanned decades, encompassing multiple administrations and great shifts in global politics, undermines such interpretations. As Green and Long argue, “In sum, it was international politics, not domestic politics, which killed hopes for nuclear stability.”[37] Why did the United States seek nuclear primacy? This relates to the third point: The United States asked more of its nuclear weapons in its grand strategy than any other nuclear state.[38] Most states seek nuclear weapons to protect themselves from invasion and conquest. This is a scenario the United States has not had to worry about, and even if it did, such protection would not require the massive, sophisticated nuclear forces and related systems the U.S. government built. Instead, the United States employed its nuclear forces to achieve far more ambitious, historically unprecedented goals. From the early 1950s onward, the United States pursued an audacious strategy of relying on its massive nuclear capabilities to both protect far-flung allies from nuclear attack or conventional invasion while also inhibiting the nuclear desires of those same allies. As Green and Long demonstrate, “Successive administrations discovered that the threat of retaliation and the existential risk of nuclear escalation posed by stability doctrines were not a sufficient military solution for their perceived geopolitical challenges.”[39] There has long been a tension between the goal of strategic stability and extending deterrence to America’s allies. As analysts from RAND pointed out in 1989, there was a clash between the “objectives of enhancing first[-]strike stability, on the one hand, and extending deterrence and limiting damage, on the other,” such that the more robust the Soviets believed stability was “the less they might hesitate to precipitate a deep crisis by engaging in serious aggression.”[40] As Earl Ravenal explained in 1982, extending deterrence demanded expensive and potentially destabilizing counterforce capabilities, employed in first-strike strategies. “Such a damage[-]limiting attack, to have its intended effect, must be preemptive.”[41] Permanently extending deterrence while inhibiting proliferation have been cornerstones of American grand strategy for so long it is easy to forget how historically unusual, difficult, and demanding this ambition is. There was, of course, great tension between the goal of a preemptive strategy and strategic stability. Counterforce strategies were not about mutual vulnerability, Ravenal makes clear:
[C]ounterforce and first nuclear strike are mutually dependent. A first strike implies counterforce targeting, since the only initial attack that makes sense is a damage-limiting strike, the destruction of as much of the enemy’s nuclear force as possible. And counterforce targeting, in return, implies a first strike, a preemptive attack, because a second strike against the enemy’s missiles is useless to the extent that one’s missiles would hit empty holes.
As an assistant to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told a reporter in the mid-1960s, “There could be no such thing as primary retaliation against military targets after an enemy attack. If you’re going to shoot at missiles, you’re talking about first strike.”[42] To be clear, this is not to argue that American leaders seriously contemplated a first strike or even made full-out efforts to acquire meaningful first-strike forces.[43] While American presidents refused to accept qualitative parity with the Soviet Union and pursued expensive and arguably dangerous counterforce options, they also shied away from seeking a full-scale, first-strike capability. One of the great unanswered questions of the nuclear age involves what U.S. leaders thought they were getting with this qualified superiority.[44] Strategies of inhibition required strategic forces that went far beyond mutual vulnerability, but such postures might dangerously undermine strategic stability.[45] One promising explanation is Glenn Kent and David Thaler’s idea of “optimum instability” — developing enough counterforce to make the other side think you might go first in a crisis but without making your adversary think you are eager to do so. “Indeed, one might argue that an optimal amount of first-strike instability is possible: that is, enough to deter the Soviets from generating a major crisis (say, by invading Western Europe), but not enough to allow a major crisis to spiral out of control.”[46] This aggressive posture was pursued, in large measure, to inhibit the development of independent nuclear weapons programs among ostensible allies. The United States went to great lengths to prevent what otherwise might have been a natural development in world politics: the emergence of independent, capable states acquiring their own nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons would, after all, effectively guarantee their possessors against invasion and conquest for the first time — ever. Rare was the state in history that turned away from an effective military technology or turned over its security to another state. Washington, however, aggressively pursued a wide range of policies to achieve inhibition, including threats of force or abandonment, forward deployed forces, enacting sanctions, selling arms, and encouraging treaties and norms.[47] To achieve its goals of inhibition, the United States often cooperated with its most bitter ideological and geopolitical adversary, the Soviet Union, at the expense of U.S. partners and allies.[48] It is easy to lose sight of how strange, even radical, these grand-strategic choices were when they were developed in the 1950s and the extent to which they remain so today. There is little in the nuclear-revolution theory that can explain the cost, number, and technological sophistication of America’s nuclear weapons systems, nor the aggressive postures in which they were employed. Imagine explaining in the early 20th century that the United States was going to risk a global war that would kill tens of millions of people to defend a conventionally indefensible portion of a city — West Berlin — 100 miles within enemy territory that had no geostrategic value whatsoever. Imagine that everyone would think this was normal (and call it “extended deterrence”). Imagine the weapons and military strategy necessary to convince an adversary that was far closer, that had superior conventional arms, and that, arguably, had more at stake that this was a credible commitment. Try to imagine a parallel in world history for this situation before 1950. Then think about how the strategists who constructed these theories did so based largely on their view of how this story unfolded between 1958 and 1963. The United States, which had little need for nuclear weapons to prevent an invasion or nuclear attack upon its homeland, built, at great expense, the largest and most sophisticated nuclear forces in the world and placed them within forward-leading and often preemptive strategies, backed by military technologies that potentially undermined strategic stability. American leaders worked feverishly, often with adversaries, to prevent the rise of independent nuclear-weapons states — ally, enemy, or neutral — and this remains a cornerstone of U.S. grand strategy. These strategies were exceptional. In one sense, however, nuclear weapons did revolutionize American grand strategy. Before 1949, the United States had no permanent peacetime alliances. America demobilized during peacetime, and it typically pursued slow strategies of attrition when conflict did arise. Congress was widely perceived as the more powerful foreign policy actor during peacetime, while military leaders were afforded little leeway. All of that changed dramatically after the early 1950s, across administrations and shifts in the structure of the international system.[49] Since then, the United States has developed strategies, on semi-permanent alert status, that escalate quickly — even preemptively — with nuclear weapons, and it has concentrated enormous power to initiate war into the hands of the American presidency, all on behalf of defending a sprawling set of countries around the world. Simply put: There was a (thermo-) nuclear revolution that shaped American grand strategy — but it was a much different revolution than the conventional wisdom puts forward.

II. Missing Histories

What is the history of U.S. nuclear weapons and their role in American grand strategy?  Careful assessment of what is known — and whether these accounts accurately capture the past — is critical. Most theories and policy analysis are based on assumptions and beliefs about what happened in the past. Unfortunately, less is known about U.S. nuclear history and its role in American grand strategy than is presumed, and what many people do know is often overly simplistic, misleading, or otherwise problematic. Why is this the case? The major works that cover the history of U.S. nuclear weapons policy were, for the most part, written some time ago — before many primary documents were released. These works were often penned not by historians but by policy participants, scholars of strategic and security studies, or analysts outside of the academy. Many of these works are excellent first cuts at history.[50] Most, however, are older, do not engage recent archival finds, and often accept the logic of the nuclear-revolution school to explain U.S. policy. [quote id="3"] What of the discipline of academic history? To be sure, impressive international research has been conducted into various elements of global nuclear history, especially the issues surrounding various state decisions about whether to build a bomb.[51] There are also excellent monographs exploring particular aspects of U.S. nuclear history.[52] Writ large, however, treatment of American nuclear weapons history has been episodic rather than systematic. This is part of a larger, and unfortunate, decades-old trend within history departments. As Hal Brands has argued, “The historical profession in the United States has simply deprioritized the study of statecraft and international relations, at least as those subjects were conventionally understood.”[53] This is especially true in nuclear history, where there is almost no participation by scholarly historians on these contested issues. The academic discipline of history
has largely abandoned studying important issues such as international security and nuclear weapons and is in the midst of a four-decade, slow[-]motion act of collective suicide. There simply is not, nor will there be anytime soon, a critical mass of diplomatic and military historians available to research these important questions or make use of these amazing materials.[54]
Even when scholarly historians do focus on issues of foreign policy or international relations, nuclear questions often get short shrift. Large, synthetic accounts of the Cold War either accept the nuclear-revolution framework or do not break new ground on nuclear issues.[55] Arguably far more is known about the development of U.S. human rights policies, for example, or the role of race and gender in American foreign policy, than about how U.S. decision-makers have discussed and debated the purpose and consequences of the bomb in its relations with the world. Given the extraordinary importance and potential consequences of American nuclear weapons policies, and the massive increases in primary documents available to researchers, the failure of the American historical profession to support and undertake this work is shameful. The Challenge of Nuclear History What would a comprehensive history of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and its role in grand strategy look like? To be fair, undertaking historical work on nuclear issues is particularly difficult. There are the methodological challenges that will be laid out in the next section: assessing historical evidence and making causal claims is difficult when the issues at stake — deterrence, assurance, credibility, and resolve — are unobservable. Speeches and written evidence are often hard to interpret. Top-secret deliberations often reveal American presidents taking contradictory approaches or blowing off steam. U.S. officials’ public pronouncements are frequently intended to convey signals to various audiences and may not represent operational policy. Furthermore, the decisions behind nuclear policies and strategies are some of the government’s most carefully guarded activities, and access to top-secret documents is heavily restricted. While the situation has improved considerably in recent years, archival materials on nuclear policy are notoriously difficult to declassify, and even when they are released, they are often heavily redacted. With important pieces of evidence unavailable, constructing an all-inclusive, seamless narrative remains enormously challenging. A larger question looms: What does it mean to talk about nuclear history? The history of nuclear weapons was once told as the history of the Cold War, and vice-versa. It is now understood that they were not the same. Sometimes nuclear history and Cold War history overlapped, while at other times they moved on independent paths, so much so that it is often hard to determine whether nuclear weapons prevented the bipolar competition from breaking out into war or dangerously exacerbated underlying tensions. A history that conflates Cold War and nuclear dynamics could not, for example, fully explain why the United States cooperated with the Soviet Union to deny their respective allies nuclear weapons.[56] Alliances once ascribed solely to Cold War dynamics, in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, have not only persisted since that struggle ended but have broadened and deepened in ways that show that nuclear considerations (among other non-Cold War factors) were always at their root. It is essential to disentangle the interconnected but distinct histories of the nuclear age and the geopolitical and ideological rivalry between the superpowers.[57] The Cold War was not, however, the only powerful historical force interacting with, shaping, and being shaped by nuclear history. Decolonization, whose deep roots in imperialism and resistance date back centuries, had an enormous influence — in many cases, more than the Cold War — shaping nuclear decision-making in Great Britain, France, Israel, South Africa, India, and Pakistan, as well as others that decided not to acquire the bomb. Other factors, such as regional dynamics and the effects of globalization, influenced America's grand strategy and approach to nuclear weapons. Disentangling competing global histories since the end of World War II is a difficult but necessary task when trying to understand how nuclear weapons influence international relations. There is also the question of periodization and chronology. Is the nuclear age one continuous stream, beginning in August 1945 — if not earlier — and continuing to the present? Or are there sharp breaks dictated by key technological advances such as the development of thermonuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles? Important political events had profound consequences for nuclear history: the emergence of Soviet nuclear parity and the negotiation of major arms-control treaties, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Is there such a thing as a second nuclear age, and, if so, how is it different from the first? Defining nuclear history and its scope is difficult; calculating how American grand strategy incorporates and reacts to these shifts even more so. Competing Histories The most important historical challenge is reconciling contending and often contradictory narratives that chronicle the past. This is especially true when trying to understand the American experience with the bomb. There are at least four competing histories of how nuclear weapons influenced U.S. grand strategy and vice-versa: intellectual, rhetorical, operational, and presidential. Assessing which of these strands is most important, and how they interact with each other, is challenging. The first strand is the intellectual history of the United States. For many within the security studies community, the most familiar strand is what might be called the “Wizards of Armageddon” story. In this tale, smart strategists, typically civilians from universities and think tanks like the RAND Corp., wrestled with and explained to the wider world the new realities created by nuclear weapons. In the process, great thinkers such as Bernard Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Albert Wohlstetter, and others made sense of “the unthinkable,” created modern deterrence theory, transformed U.S. policy and grand strategy, and probably prevented World War III. This history is both familiar and comforting — to the extent that nuclear history can be comforting — because it explains the rise of the field of security studies and provides the intellectual architecture for the ideas behind nuclear peace. Because a key part of the stylized telling is how the wizards transformed American policy (and saved the world!), it also suggests that scholarly ideas matter to policymakers. As Marc Trachtenberg points out, however, analysis of the civilian nuclear strategists often suffered from being both “apolitical in substance” and “ahistorical in method.”[58] Bruce Kuklick is even more harsh: The strategists “professed deep understanding” but actually “groped in the dark” and their ideas “had little causal impact.”[59] The problem is that as history, the story of the “Wizards of Armageddon” is, at best, overstated and misleading; at worst, it bears little relation to what actually happened.[60] The second history is rhetorical. Through speeches and published documents, the United States government has used public declarations to indicate its views on nuclear weapons. Prominent examples include Eisenhower administration Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s “massive retaliation” speech given at the Council on Foreign Relations in 1954, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s University of Michigan commencement address in 1962 laying out the flexible-response doctrine and his 1967 doctrine on missile defense, Nixon administration Defense Secretary James Schlesinger’s announcement of a new doctrine in January 1974, or the discussion surrounding President Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Directive 59.[61] Understandably, these public declarations are analyzed to better understand the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Interpreting policy rhetoric is always challenging, however, especially when nuclear strategy is involved. These speeches and documents were often vehicles to send signals to a variety of audiences — domestic, allied, and adversarial — that involved assurance, reassurance, inhibition, and deterrence missions.[62] Cameron notes that American policymakers frequently played a “double game,” struggling to “balance the demands of presenting a front of strategic coherence” when, behind the scenes, things were far more complicated and uncertain.[63] Many public missions and messages of nuclear strategy were at cross purposes. For example, “the rhetoric of flexible response … was convenient to top U.S. policymakers for reasons that had little to do with enhancing deterrence or winning a nuclear war.”[64] And, as will be discussed further, nuclear rhetoric is often imprecise, unrealistic, and easily drained of meaning. [quote id="4"] The third strand is the operational history of the United States and nuclear weapons. The United States devoted enormous resources to develop certain kinds of nuclear weapons systems, deployed in surprising ways and places, as part of often-extraordinary strategies. It is critical to understand what weapons were developed and why, where and how they were deployed and targeted, and in what strategies. This history is closely guarded, but these operational decisions appear to have been driven by a complex brew of technological factors, alliance relations, and geopolitical competition, as well as bureaucratic and organization interests and domestic political considerations. The intellectual history, as told by the “Wizards of Armageddon,” and the rhetorical history laid out by political leaders often bears little resemblance to the acquisition, deployment, and use plans developed as core parts of U.S. grand strategy. As the historian David Alan Rosenberg argues, “nuclear strategy does not, in reality, consist of concepts or even policy statements. It consists of concrete decisions regarding war plans, budgets, forces, and deployments.”[65] The fourth strand of history is both the most important and the most obscure: presidential history. The structure, laws, and customs of war-making in the United States combined with the unique characteristics of nuclear weapons provides the president extraordinary power and singular responsibilities over nuclear weapons.[66] What a president thought about nuclear weapons — whether and under what circumstances he might threaten or even use nuclear weapons — is of fundamental importance. How can scholars get at these beliefs and how they informed decisions?[67] How did such beliefs change over time — both across and within administrations? How did thinking about nuclear use — or avoiding nuclear use — shape particular decisions about larger issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy? Even when the question of using nuclear weapons was not explicit, it no doubt cast a shadow over multiple policies. Understanding and reconstructing this past is extraordinarily difficult.[68] What is one to make, for example, of Nixon’s loose rhetoric about nuclear use in private, when his actions and policies often revealed quite careful and responsible considerations? Or Dean Acheson’s advice to President John F. Kennedy that he never reveal whether or not he would use nuclear weapons? As former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Rosenberg,
nuclear strategy…is determined by the President’s views and intentions, not by policy or planning documents, or even force structures. The President alone determines how nuclear war will be fought, by virtue of his position in a highly centralized command and control structure.[69]
Reconstructing America’s nuclear past and explaining how it both shaped and was shaped by U.S. grand strategy is a daunting task. It demands integrating all four strands of this history, while deconflicting contradictory elements and assessing what forces and factors are most important. It also requires figuring out how nuclear history interacts with, and is distinct from, other powerful historical forces as varied as regional rivalries, decolonization, and the Cold War. This task is made all the more difficult by the challenges laid out in the next section: Ultimately, the past scholars and analysts are exploring is a history that never happened and thus cannot be observed, analyzed, or measured — the history of thermonuclear war.

III. A Loss for Words?

It should not be surprising that neither international relations theory nor history has satisfactorily explained the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Two reasons for this are baked into the nature of the nuclear enterprise. First, nuclear weapons present profound and often unsettling moral challenges that can make discussing their role in grand strategy difficult and divisive. It can also cause scholarship to bleed into advocacy. Second, there are profound methodological challenges in trying to understand the role of nuclear weapons. When scholars analyze the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy, we are most interested in phenomena that have not occurred, such as thermonuclear war, and policy outcomes that are difficult to observe and measure — such as deterrence, assurance, and resolve — or even to prove operative. These challenges pull in different directions. Analysts understandably hold strong views about nuclear weapons, which drives them to speak with authority and passion about the role and purpose of the bomb in American grand strategy. Yet, many of these deep-seated beliefs are difficult, even impossible, to prove with history or with theory. A debate that should be marked by humility and respect is often polarizing and unproductive. Talking About the Unthinkable The moral problem surrounding nuclear weapons is basic and unsettling. How should one speak about and analyze something that is unthinkable: detonating nuclear weapons against another nation? Use of these weapons would be catastrophic. It would reflect a historic failure of policy and, in many cases, would amount to mass murder. Yet, the threat to use these weapons in a variety of scenarios — including many that do not involve an attack upon the United States or an adversary’s use of nuclear weapons — has been the backbone of American grand strategy for decades. The language used to discuss these dilemmas rarely captures the magnitude of nuclear decision-making, and both academic and policy discourse often drift into a world of insider jargon and toothless acronyms that mask the extraordinary potential consequences of this debate. More than 30 years ago, Carol Cohn highlighted “the elaborate use of abstraction and euphemism, of words so bland that they never forced the speaker or enabled the listener to touch the realities of nuclear holocaust that lay behind the words.”[70] As Michael Quinlan wisely recommended, “thinking about nuclear weapons must be constantly on the alert — the more so in the absence of historical experience to anchor and calibrate discussion — to probe behind words and customary expressions so as to recall the underlying realities.”[71] The colorless language used to describe elements of this strategy and the underlying threat of nuclear confrontation that undergirds it — deterrence, credibility, signaling, escalation — is often eerily disconnected from the realities behind the words. Nina Tannenwald observed a “disconnect between how ordinary people” thought about nuclear weapons and how academic deterrence theory discussed these issues. “These game theoretic analyses, I found, had little to say about issues of revulsion and morality.”[72] Reid Pauly has termed this “rhetorical evaporation” — whereby the words policymakers and scholars use to describe U.S. nuclear policies are drained of meaning.[73] This rhetorical evaporation goes to the heart of a grand-strategic problem the United States has faced since the start of the thermonuclear age: The most important goal of American nuclear weapons policy is to guarantee that they are never used. This policy tautology was bound, over time, to undermine the threat needed to project deterrence and arguably has driven the United States to greater and more strenuous actions to demonstrate the credibility of an action no one really believes it would take. The lack of clarity about language and meaning surrounding the purposes of nuclear weapons has consequences for policy. An October 2016 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies connected poor morale and dysfunction among American officials responsible for nuclear weapons to the difficulties of clearly communicating what role the bomb served in American grand strategy. Looking over years of nuclear policies, the report pointed out that “a coherent narrative about the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons has not been sufficiently stated and promulgated” to those in the military responsible for nuclear weapons. The report criticized how U.S. nuclear weapons policy “is described in highly sophisticated strategic logic that is not very accessible to the general public or the junior nuclear personnel.” It is filled with “concepts and jargon that are not routinely defined and explained” and focuses on “what nuclear weapons will not do,” supplemented by “descriptions of decline, reduction, and diminishment.”[74] The inability to connect these fearsome weapons to explicit U. S. interests in a convincing manner arguably plays into a culture burdened by accidents and scandal.[75] The lack of clear language to describe a willingness to do the unthinkable, in order to avoid the unthinkable, is only one challenge. It would be impossible to wrestle with these issues without engaging deep moral considerations, a stance which presents difficulties for a purely “social scientific” approach. The lines between analysis and advocacy are often easily — if understandably — blurred.  Robert Jervis, the father of the nuclear-revolution framework, admirably has acknowledged that mutual second-strike capabilities may not “have been as secure as I and most others believed” in the 1980s. In May 2018, he explained:
Although I stand behind the arguments I made in The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy and The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, and believe that they represent a significant scholarly contribution, they were also interventions in a fierce political debate. … I was trying to persuade as well as analyze.[76]
This moral and rhetorical challenge is especially pointed for the United States. One can imagine, for example, a state using nuclear weapons as a last resort to repel a more powerful enemy that seeks to conquer its territory. The United States, however, fields nuclear weapons to achieve a variety of goals that fall well below the level of existential, including extending deterrence over allies while inhibiting their nuclear ambitions and seeking coercive advantages during crises with adversaries. These goals require more nuclear weapons in far more aggressive strategies than simply deterring invasion or nuclear attack upon the American homeland. Relying on such profoundly powerful instruments to achieve less-than-existential goals inevitably generates credibility issues. How believable are American nuclear policies? The United States has worked hard to ameliorate these credibility concerns over the years using a variety of tactics, including diplomacy and consultation with allies, nuclear sharing, developing and deploying counterforce delivery capabilities, and a willingness to use nuclear weapons first, in addition to foreign policy and military commitments that would, in a non-nuclear world, be puzzling at best.[77] Given nuclear weapons’ fundamental role in American grand strategy, will these words, commitments, weapons, and strategies remain convincing and credible in years to come? Within decades after the close of World War II — a horrendously violent war of savage conquest and genocide — analysts began to doubt that the United States would use nuclear weapons against a bitter ideological and geopolitical rival committed to its downfall. In today’s far different world, marked by relative peace, stability, and the apparent disappearance of war between the great powers, does anyone — ally or foe — know the circumstances that would prompt the United States to use nuclear weapons? Does Russia or China believe that the United States would use nuclear weapons in response to an attack on Estonia or Taiwan, for example? How and in what ways will that matter for the future of American grand strategy? Measuring the Unobservable, Observing the Immeasurable The second, and bigger, challenge to understanding nuclear weapons and U.S. grand strategy is the methodological conundrum. The most important question surrounding nuclear weapons involves a non-event: understanding why there has never been a thermonuclear war and what lessons can be derived from this non-event to keep this streak going, preferably forever. As John Lewis Gaddis pointed out while the Cold War was still ongoing, “Anyone attempting to understand why there has been no third world war confronts a problem not unlike that of Sherlock Holmes and the dog that did not bark in the night: how does one account for something that did not happen?”[78] What factors start or prevent thermonuclear war are arguable since one has never taken place. Nuclear deterrence and assurance, in all their forms, are ultimately connected to estimates about the causes and likelihood of thermonuclear war that are difficult, if not impossible, to calculate. Social science relies on observations and measurements to identify patterns and causal paths in order to generate theories that drive predictions and inform policies. History requires accumulating, sorting, and making sense of evidence about things that happen in the world. How do you generate reliable theories, histories, and policy recommendations about phenomena for which there are few or no observations or measurements? Analysts have used a variety of plausible proxies, such as how nuclear weapons affect state behavior, both in normal circumstances and crises, but the insights of such approaches have limits. It is hard enough for scholars to find consensus on things that actually happened, such as the origins of World War I.[79] Developing a consensus about a non-event one cannot observe, measure, or assess is obviously harder. [quote id="5"] This challenge plagues any assessment of U.S. nuclear postures and their role in grand strategy. Desired outcomes such as deterrence, extended deterrence, assurance, re-assurance, and credibility are elusive and can be proven only ex post, if at all. As Quinlan notes, “We have no further empirical data about how events may run if nuclear weapons are used, or if nuclear powers come seriously to blows with one another without such use.”[80] Even if deterrence and credibility could, somehow, be observed and measured, they are characteristics and phenomena driven by intangible qualities such as fear, uncertainty, and resolve. These psychological factors depend far more on context and circumstance than the material factors that make up much of international politics. Furthermore, these are human characteristics and it is unclear how to aggregate such feelings from the level of individuals to the policies and behaviors of institutions and states. These challenges affect understanding of other important nuclear behavior, such as why states that our theories would have expected to develop nuclear weapons — a wide-ranging group that might have included Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia — never developed the bomb. Decisions against doing things — not to detonate a nuclear device during a war, not to acquire nuclear weapons — are difficult to fully assess.[81] Even though many of these phenomena are elusive, analysts intuit that nuclear weapons cast a powerful shadow over foreign policy and grand strategy. Nuclear weapons obviously matter enormously, even if precisely how cannot always be proven. Consider the heated controversy over whether and how nuclear superiority — if it could be properly measured — is important to outcomes in the world. Perhaps the best that can be done is to acknowledge, as Philip Zelikow writes, that “U.S. nuclear superiority mattered. And, at some level, it also didn’t. At times both of these propositions were, at one and the same time, true.”[82] These challenges — linguistic, moral, and methodological — should not prevent the development of rigorous theories and histories of nuclear weapons and American grand strategy. If anything, they invite working harder to surface underlying assumptions and rigorous examination of both the deductive and inductive foundations of these arguments. What is most important here is to better recognize the challenges and barriers to certainty and proceed with humility in the face of daunting questions that have profound policy consequences. As Quinlan notes, the “limitation in our knowledge ought to instill in all who make predictive statements about these issues a degree of humility not always evident.”[83] American grand strategy with nuclear weapons is based on a variety of deeply held assumptions that have rarely been tested and are difficult to prove.

IV. Worse Before It Gets Better

The incomplete understanding of nuclear history and dynamics has consequences for present and future American grand strategy. If these theories and histories are problematic or questionable, it may affect how to evaluate nuclear policies and grand strategies that are chosen in the future. Even if little changed in the contemporary nuclear landscape, it is critical to have a far better, more comprehensive understanding of the past. The circumstances and environment in which nuclear decisions are made will change enormously in the years to come. Four trends stand to be especially consequential. The Return of Geopolitics The first trend is geopolitical. World politics is changing in at least three ways that might influence how nuclear weapons and U.S. grand strategy interact. First, the structure of world politics has shifted from bipolarity during the Cold War to unipolarity in the years since the demise of the Soviet Union to the possible emergence of multi-polarity or even, as Richard Haass has dubbed it, non-polarity. Contemporary analysts and decision-makers have no experience with nuclear dynamics in such a transformed international system. Will states increase their desire for and efforts to acquire the bomb? Would states be more willing to threaten and even use nuclear weapons in a post-bipolar and post-unipolar world? This relates to the second change: the increased geopolitical assertiveness of America’s primary nuclear-armed competitors, China and Russia.[84] Both countries are modernizing their nuclear forces (albeit at different paces and in different ways), and both have made efforts to reexamine their nuclear doctrines. There are dangerous scenarios — such as a crisis over Taiwan, a clash over disputed territories in the South China Sea, or an attack on a NATO member in the Baltics — in which nuclear weapons might plausibly be engaged, either on purpose or inadvertently. Third, U.S. allies and adversaries, as well as neutral countries, will continue to make their own choices about nuclear capabilities based in part on their beliefs about the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. This can take many forms. Changes in the international environment or American grand strategy, perceptions of declining U.S. credibility or power, intensifying regional rivalries, or technological developments might contribute to shifts in the global nuclear landscape. The use of nuclear weapons by regional adversaries — India and Pakistan, for example — might entangle the United States and its nuclear forces in unforeseen and unwelcome ways. Smaller, arguably less responsible countries such as North Korea or Iran could expand their nuclear programs. Geopolitical shifts are taking place today under a U.S. administration whose policies on nuclear weapons and grand strategies can most generously be described as erratic; meanwhile, America’s role in the world, regardless of who is in the White House, is uncertain. Brave New World The second trend affecting nuclear weapons and American grand strategy is technological. As Keir Lieber and Daryl Press argue in their path-breaking research, “Changes in technology … are eroding the foundations of nuclear deterrence.”[85] Three forces in particular are expected to have important consequences for nuclear weapons’ role in American grand strategy: first, changes in nuclear technology and the systems that support nuclear weapons; second, emerging technologies such as cyber and artificial intelligence; and third, the blurring of the once-stark line between nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities. Changes in nuclear technology have had and will continue to have profound consequences for American grand strategy. The nuclear-revolution school often portrays the bomb in a binary fashion: as a technology that, once achieved, needs little change or improvement. In this thinking, what matters is whether or not one possesses a bomb, not what kind one has, where it is held, or how it is delivered or supported. Analysts often forget, however, three crucial characteristics about nuclear weapons. One, as Michael Horowitz has written, “nuclear weapons and missiles are relatively old technologies,” within the reach of many if not most modern states.[86] Next, nuclear weapons are not a static technology but one that has changed and will continue to shift over time. Finally, nuclear bombs are only one aspect of the technology that affects American grand strategy. Enormous changes to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; command, control, and communications; and the capabilities to deliver nuclear bombs have had and will continue to have profound consequences for nuclear strategy and statecraft. As Lieber and Press point out, synergistic revolutions in computing power and remote sensing make nuclear forces “far more vulnerable than before.”[87] These changes will intensify in the decades to come. The United States has committed to spending more than $1 trillion on modernizing its capabilities — a remarkable commitment in a time of competing demands. Much of this modernization, moreover, focuses on advancing characteristics — accuracy, speed, stealth, and miniaturization — that could make nuclear weapons appear more usable in a crisis. This massive, multi-decade investment began during the previous U.S. administration, despite being seemingly at odds with President Barack Obama’s 2009 pledge “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”[88] [quote id="6"] In addition, technologies are emerging that may influence and potentially shape the future nuclear environment. Cyber, artificial intelligence, robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles, hypersonic and directed energy, nanotechnology, and as-yet-undeveloped technologies will have unknown effects. A recent RAND study, for example, warned that “artificial intelligence (AI) might portend new capabilities that could spur arms races or increase the likelihood of states escalating to nuclear use — either intentionally or accidentally — during a crisis.”[89] Cyber presents similar challenges. As a recent Chatham House report explained,
During peacetime, offensive cyber activities would create a dilemma for a state as it may not know whether its systems have been the subject of a cyberattack. This unknown could have implications for military decision-making, particularly for decisions affecting nuclear weapons deterrence policies. At times of heightened tension, cyberattacks on nuclear weapons systems could cause an escalation, which results in their use.[90]
These capabilities would have direct bearing on the role and use of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Meanwhile, the United States has already developed impressive non-nuclear and non-kinetic weapons capable of carrying out missions that were once the sole provenance of the bomb, including holding an adversary’s nuclear capabilities at risk. This shift has the potential to blur the line between conventional and nuclear war. As Rovner points out, there is an increasing worry that “inadvertent escalation may occur when conventional attacks put the adversary’ s nuclear force at risk.”[91] Caitlin Talmadge argues that American military action could easily be misunderstood by China as a direct threat to its retaliatory capabilities, and so “Chinese nuclear escalation in the event of a conventional war with the United States is a significant risk.”[92] New technologies, combined with how the United States has prosecuted its recent wars, may leave a nuclear adversary uncertain as to whether its nuclear forces are being targeted for elimination, possibly inciting “use it or lose it” pressures. Michael Kofman controversially suggests that, “The Pentagon remains wholly committed to the fantasy of having conventional wars with nuclear states, where they will let us win, accepting defeat without a nuclear exchange.”[93] How should one think about conventional capabilities — or non-kinetic tools — that potentially blunt or eliminate a country’s ability to use its nuclear weapons? How to define and respond to a cyberattack that undermines a country’s secure deterrent yet did not kill or injure a single person? Much existing analysis of the role of nuclear weapons assumes a stark divide between nuclear and non-nuclear conflict, a distinction that may become dangerously cloudy over time. According to Andrew Krepinevich, “The firebreak between conventional and nuclear war is slowly disappearing.”[94] As a recent study explained,
The future of nuclear deterrence is complicated further by the proliferation of conventional military technologies that may undermine traditional modes of escalation management, and as a consequence, nuclear stability. Much attention has already been given to the possible effects of several such technologies, to include stealthy unattended ground sensors, uninhabited aerial vehicles, micro-satellites, and ballistic missile defenses. Comparatively little attention, however, has been given to the possible implications of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence for nuclear stability.[95]
As James Acton perceptively notes, the “emerging interactions between nuclear and nonnuclear weapons … may prove to be a defining risk of the current nuclear age.”[96] Un-usability and Its Consequences The third trend is global public opinion. While the major nuclear powers are modernizing their forces, much of the rest of the world has been clamoring for a reduction — indeed elimination — of nuclear weapons. As Nina Tannenwald explained in her magisterial study, The Nuclear Taboo, outside of the nuclear powers, “nuclear deterrence has not been viewed as a legitimate practice for most of the other states of the world.”[97] This is not new. Since the start of the nuclear age, many non-state actors and governments have lobbied fiercely for nuclear reductions and disarmament. Nearly three decades after the Cold War ended, however, much of the non-nuclear world questions why more progress has not been made toward ridding the world of the bomb. As Heather Williams, Patricia Lewis, and Sasan Aghlani make clear, “civil society groups and the majority of states have not yet given up on nuclear disarmament.”[98] Pope Francis has declared that “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.”[99] In 2017, the U.N. General Assembly passed a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This emerged in large part from the popular global campaign to highlight the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Conversations about nuclear weapons take a much different form in Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, or Vienna than they do in Washington, D.C. It is hard to assess how and to what extent emerging global norms will shape U.S. policies in the years to come. Tannenwald has identified the power of the nuclear taboo on state behavior, and John Mueller has highlighted the rise of powerful norms on issues such as slavery and dueling that could eventually affect not simply nuclear use but also nuclear possession. Norms and public opinion may not be determinative, but they also cannot be ignored. Tannenwald’s work suggests that even in states with nuclear weapons “national leaders do take the notion of world opinion seriously.”[100] There may come a time when the majority of the world sees merely possessing nuclear weapons, let alone using them, as wrongheaded and immoral. This relates to a fourth trend: the consequences for American grand strategy of the decreasing credibility of threats of nuclear use that undergird nuclear deterrence. Short of a “bolt from the blue” nuclear attack by an adversary — and possibly even then — how does one evaluate and assess the credibility of U.S. threats to use nuclear weapons? The probability of an invasion of the United States has not increased. The credibility issues surrounding U.S. nuclear guarantees to allies — a deep challenge even during the Cold War — may increase over time. Tannenwald captures this dynamic well:
Even though US leaders came to believe that nuclear weapons should not really be used, they were not willing to give up nuclear deterrence. But they were caught in the paradox recognized early on by nuclear strategists: making deterrence credible (especially in the face of the threat of mutual assured destruction) required convincing the adversary that the United States would actually use such weapons. As such threats became less credible over time for both deterrence and normative reasons, more numerous and more elaborate strategies were sought in an effort to bolster credibility.[101]
There is conflicting evidence about Americans’ willingness to support the use of nuclear weapons. A report chaired by the former commander of America’s strategic nuclear forces posited that “There is no conceivable situation in the contemporary world” where it would be in either Russia’s or the United States’ “national security interest to initiate a nuclear attack against the other side.”[102] Important studies suggest that Americans would support nuclear use under certain circumstances,[103] while other evidence suggests that in simulated crises it has always been difficult to get approval to use nuclear weapons.[104] If elite wargames designed and played by Thomas Schelling, Henry Kissinger, and others in the 1960s found it extremely difficult to get players to initiate a nuclear war, even when the games were rigged to make nuclear use easier, how likely are scholars today to get anyone to think about using nuclear weapons? That nuclear use is becoming increasingly unthinkable is obviously a good thing. If the bomb is unusable, however, an American grand strategy that relies heavily upon nuclear weapons to achieve many of its key missions may be increasingly untenable. Collectively, these trends should make understanding the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy even more difficult in the years to come — and more critical.

V. Resisting the Revolution, or Revolution à la carte

Why is a grand-strategic lens the best way to understand nuclear weapons and their consequences, especially in the case of the United States? And how best to understand the role and purpose of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy? There are two criticisms of using a grand-strategic approach to America’s nuclear weapons policies. First, some are skeptical of the concept of grand strategy, arguing that it falsely conveys a picture of policy coherence.[105] This lack of coherence marks U.S. policy in particular.[106] Second, as discussed above, many believe the transformative power of nuclear weapons reduces and even eliminates the choices that leaders and states can make. The power of nuclear deterrence and the reality of mutual vulnerability remove many of the grand-strategic options and maneuvers available to states in nuclear competition, tying the hands of leaders. While there is some merit to these critiques, they are not ultimately convincing. Although it is unable to overcome all of the methodological, linguistic, and normative challenges surrounding nuclear behavior, grand strategy does recognize an obvious, but often overlooked, point: that nuclear weapons are, first and foremost, tools for states to accomplish their goals in the world. These goals, and the capabilities to achieve them, vary significantly across time, countries, leaders, and circumstance. A grand-strategic frame best captures such variance, as well as the radical uncertainty, risk profiles, trade-offs, moral challenges, and unintended consequences that policymakers face when deciding about an unknowable future.[107] Grand strategy recognizes the “crucible of uncertainty and risk” where decisions are made.[108] [quote id="7"] What insights might a grand-strategic lens provide about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policies? Considered broadly, the most important observation is that the United States never fully accepted the consequences of the nuclear revolution. In fact, the United States has, from the start of the nuclear age, worked eagerly to resist and overcome many of the revolutionary consequences of the bomb. It has done so with one overriding goal: to escape vulnerability — to the extent possible — and to obtain and maintain the greatest freedom of action it could to pursue its grand-strategic interests in the world.[109] This should not surprise anyone. Since 1945, the United States has been the leading power in the international system, at times possessing conventional military, economic, and cultural-ideological capabilities far in excess of any other state. Creating strategic stability, maintaining the international status quo, and avoiding war were not the only goals of American grand strategy since 1945, nor were they always the most important objectives. Many times, the United States wanted to avoid being deterred and constrained by the bomb.[110] Nuclear deterrence, remember, looks one way to a status quo, medium-size state that lacks global ambitions and whose primary concern is to avoid being invaded, conquered, or intimidated. It looks different to the most powerful state in the system, one facing no risk of invasion or conquest and whose conventional military and economic strength, absent nuclear deterrence, would allow it great freedom of action (and far less vulnerability) in the world. It is natural that the United States would seek to resist deterrence and get around the constrictions the bomb effectively places on its freedom of action. It was not always obvious, however, how this extremely ambitious goal could be achieved. American policymakers faced fateful choices, and few actions were pre-ordained. In the years after World War II, for example, American leaders could have invested their enormous political capital in pursuing nuclear disarmament or international control of the bomb.[111] At the other extreme, the United States might have launched preventive attacks against the Soviet Union and its nascent nuclear capabilities, while threatening to do the same to any other country that attempted to develop nuclear weapons.[112] Both options were at least discussed and ultimately dismissed. In later years, American leaders could have developed policies that relied less on extended nuclear deterrence by building up conventional forces that matched those of the Soviet Union in Central Europe. Or U.S. policymakers might have encouraged Western European and Asian allies to acquire and develop their own nuclear capabilities, which would have guaranteed their security without an expensive American military commitment that exposed the United States to attack. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States could have abandoned arms-control efforts and engaged in a quantitative arms race with the Soviet Union; or American presidents might have avoided massive investments in qualitative improvements in nuclear capabilities and simply embraced parity and mutual vulnerability. These were plausible options available to U.S. presidents for how nuclear weapons would be incorporated into grand strategy. How were these choices made, and how should the alternatives be evaluated? This question should be the focus of renewed research by historians and international relations scholars attempting to understand and evaluate America’s choices with the bomb. While one purpose of America’s grand strategy is to overcome the constraints of nuclear deterrence, this goal was pursued in ways that often appear to be in tension, even contradiction, with each other. At times, U.S. leaders pursued what might be labeled “nuclear activism” — the idea that nuclear weapons are crucial instruments of statecraft and that advantages in capabilities versus adversaries were both achievable and would translate into important policy outcomes in the world. This can be seen in America’s persistent and expensive efforts over the past eight decades to develop and deploy sophisticated nuclear systems in forward-leaning strategies on behalf of expansive grand missions like extended deterrence. It can also be seen in the extraordinary U.S. efforts to prevent other states from acquiring nuclear weapons. At other times, the U.S. government advocated forms of “nuclear abstinence.” Strategic stability, mutual vulnerability, and both vertical and horizontal arms control were actively encouraged. The United States went further at points, denigrating the political utility of nuclear weapons and suggesting that the burdens, costs, and dangers of the bomb were not worth it and that the world might be better off free of all nuclear weapons. For much of its nuclear history, however, the United States has put forward both nuclear activism and abstinence, as it does when it seeks strategic nuclear advantages in order to limit the spread of nuclear weapons to its friends and allies. What explains this apparent contradiction? Perhaps the best way to understand these tensions and contradictions — seeking both nuclear primacy and non-proliferation, embracing the first use of nuclear weapons while advocating a world free of them — is to imagine American policymaking as akin to the choice of a switch-hitter in baseball, deciding whether to bat right-handed or left-handed. In the end, it simply chooses the side that offers the best chance for success, defined as reducing U.S. vulnerability and increasing its freedom of action in the world. Sometimes, the choice of whether to bat left or right is obvious, whereas, at other times it has not always been clear which side — nuclear activism or abstinence — would provide the best outcomes for the United States. On the one hand, nuclear weapons provided American leaders with certain advantages. The United States developed nuclear weapons first, and for most of the nuclear age it has possessed superiority, often enormous superiority, in qualitative capabilities — if not always quantity — over any of its competitors, an advantage that is likely to persist. Nuclear weapons have, arguably, allowed the United States to pursue strategies that may have otherwise been too difficult or expensive, such as the defense of Western Europe against the Soviet Union’s large and close armies after World War II. On the other hand, the risks of a nuclearized environment are terrifying. In an international system based on deterrence, the bomb could be used by others to constrain the United States and dilute the effect of other forms of American power. As Jervis pointed out, “One could argue that it is only nuclear weapons that stand between the US and world domination, at least as far as the use and threat of force are concerned.”[113] The United States, obviously, does not reject every aspect of the nuclear revolution. After almost a half-century of murderous conflict and world war during the first half of the 20th century, the stabilizing and peace-inducing qualities of nuclear deterrence were no doubt welcome, including by American leaders. Rather, American policymakers often reject and try to overcome those aspects of nuclear weapons power that they don’t like, while maintaining those that advance their interests. Through nuclear activism and abstinence and everything in between, the United States takes an à la carte view of the nuclear revolution. Did these choices make for wise grand strategy? As explained above, it is difficult to identify and assess the causal effects of nuclear weapons on important outcomes in American foreign policy and world politics. Answering these and similar questions requires engaging counterfactual reasoning while at the same time making assumptions about the purpose and effects of nuclear weapons.[114] These conjectures are almost impossible to test and verify. Perhaps great-power war would have decreased, if not disappeared, in a non-nuclear world, driven out by the increased lethality of war, demographics and interdependence, or shifting norms.[115] Maybe in a non-nuclear world, Berlin’s political status would have been easily resolved or would have been the cause of a third world war.[116] Perhaps it was the expense of the arms race that accelerated Soviet decline, or perhaps the communist state would have collapsed from its internal rot regardless of what nuclear weapons system or strategies the United States did or did not deploy. In a postwar world with a less engaged, more restrained United States, more independent nuclear-weapons states may have emerged, with uncertain consequences. [quote id="8"] The nuclear revolution — and America’s responses to it — also may have transformed other elements of U.S. grand strategy in ways that are underappreciated. The power of nuclear deterrence and the dangers of escalation in the nuclear age may have shifted by who, how, and for how long the United States prepares to fight with conventional weapons. American leaders have been obsessed with demonstrating resolve and credibility since 1945, including pursuing military action in areas of the world where it was difficult to identify vital U.S. interests. Would the United States invest blood and treasure in Southeast Asia, for example, in a world without nuclear weapons? Would it still have fought two costly wars in Iraq? Even where nuclear weapons are not explicitly engaged, they cast a long shadow over grand-strategic decisions. Even with all these caveats, and recognizing numerous self-inflicted wounds and disastrous military interventions, one can imagine grand-strategic choices surrounding nuclear weapons with far worse outcomes. After all, the United States prevailed in its Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union without a nuclear exchange or great-power war. It maintains extraordinary power and influence in a world where the streak on nuclear non-use has continued and where, despite dire predictions to the contrary, the number of nuclear-weapons states remains in the single digits. It is not hard to construct plausible alternative histories with far graver outcomes. That said, it is right to ask whether the United States’ heavy reliance on the bomb in its grand strategy has outlived its utility.

Conclusion

The cover of a recent Foreign Affairs asked, “Do nuclear weapons matter?” As the introduction to the issue explained, “[T]hey are purchased, deployed, and discussed on separate tracks from the rest of the foreign policy agenda, and they are largely ignored, with little apparent consequence.”[117] This essay makes clear that this lack of scrutiny courts trouble. There is much we do not know about the purpose and effects of America’s nuclear posture, and much of what we think we know deserves rigorous interrogation. Without a doubt, many other pressing and significant issues confront American policymakers, world leaders, and scholars. Nevertheless, no discussion or debate about United States grand strategy — to say nothing of the future prospects for and the shape of world order — can proceed without coming to terms with the nuclear question. As Beatrice Fihn pointed out, “if there’s nuclear war, there’s no other agenda to talk about.”[118] What is the future role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy? Significant changes in technology, geopolitics, and global public opinion present American decision-makers with crucial questions. Should the United States continue to rely so heavily on nuclear weapons to underwrite grand-strategic missions beyond defending the homeland? Will the United States be forced to overcome its “credibility gap” by continuing to massively invest in capabilities and postures, nuclear and non-nuclear, that decrease American vulnerability to nuclear attack, while increasing U.S. abilities to preempt threats? Or should the United States encourage nuclear abstinence in an effort to remove the constraining effects on its own freedom of action while inhibiting new, independent nuclear programs? Will other capabilities — conventional, space, or cyber — augment or replace the role of nuclear weapons? In all likelihood, the answer will continue to be “all of the above,” as American grand strategy retains its confusing, frustrating balance between relying heavily on nuclear deterrence while trying mightily to overcome its constraints. In shaking our complacency about American grand strategy and the bomb, we need a vigorous debate and discussion that interrogates many of our deeply held assumptions and convictions. For example, perhaps it is worth considering whether a grand strategy that seeks a world with fewer nuclear weapons, or even none at all, might advance U.S. interests the most. Can the United States find a way to retain the advantages that nuclear weapons have provided in the past, while limiting and even eliminating the challenges of a grand strategy centered upon the bomb in the future? As farfetched as that may seem, the United States has long reveled in opposing constraints imposed from the outside, while pushing its own revolutionary ideas on the world. Few could have predicted that the United States would have resisted the nuclear revolution as successfully as it has. Might a far-sighted United States grand strategy accomplish what is often seen as both impossible and irresponsible: eliminating the role of nuclear weapons in international relations, while advancing American interests in the world? Francis J. Gavin is the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Texas National Security Review. He is the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University. His writings include Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958–1971 (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Cornell University Press, 2012). Image: U.S. Department of Energy [post_title] => Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => rethinking-the-bomb-nuclear-weapons-and-american-grand-strategy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-04-10 13:36:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-04-10 17:36:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=823 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Nuclear weapons have long played a central but often unappreciated role in American grand strategy. In spite of the unimaginable consequences of their use in war, we know far less about how the bomb shapes U.S. national security and world politics than we should. Both our leading theories and histories have failed to fully explain important choices American leaders have made about the bomb over the past eight decades. This is less a failing of scholarship and more a reflection of the steep methodological, linguistic, and normative barriers to understanding nuclear strategy and statecraft. This challenge will only deepen, as new geopolitical and technological forces return the critical question of the purpose and consequences of nuclear weapons to the heart of the debate about the future of America’s grand strategy. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The nuclear-revolution school argues that the bomb severely constrains and limits — and at times eliminates — the grand-strategic choices that were available to states and statesmen in the past. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Rarely has a state had less need for the bomb to guarantee its immediate territorial integrity, sovereignty, and security. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Unfortunately, less is known about U.S. nuclear history and its role in American grand strategy than is presumed, and what many people do know is often overly simplistic, misleading, or otherwise problematic. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The intellectual history, as told by the “Wizards of Armageddon,” and the rhetorical history laid out by political leaders often bears little resemblance to the acquisition, deployment, and use plans developed as core parts of U.S. grand strategy.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => How do you generate reliable theories, histories, and policy recommendations about phenomena for which there are few or no observations or measurements?  ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The nuclear-revolution school often portrays the bomb in a binary fashion: as a technology that, once achieved, needs little change or improvement.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Considered broadly, the most important observation is that the United States never fully accepted the consequences of the nuclear revolution.  ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Even where nuclear weapons are not explicitly engaged, they cast a long shadow over grand-strategic decisions. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1288 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 49 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] The ideas for this paper were first discussed at the September 2017 Nuclear Studies Research Initiative workshop in Greenbriar, West Virginia. I am grateful to all the participants for their feedback and especially grateful to Janne Nolan for hosting the event. I would also like to thank Hal Brands, Natalie Britton, Ryan Evans, Austin Long, Joshua Rovner, Philip Zelikow, and four anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions. [2] Hal Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy? Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 3. [3] Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 8. [4] Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 458. [5] While there are a range of perspectives within the nuclear-revolution framework, most derive and share the assumptions of defensive realism, which may be the most predominant theoretical approach to international relations within the field of American political science. For an interesting take on efforts by different realist camps to understand the effects of nuclear weapons on world politics, see Zanvyl Krieger and Ariel Ilan Roth, “Nuclear Weapons in Neo-Realist Theory,” International Studies Review 9, no. 3 (Autumn 2007): 369–84, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4621831. [6] Stephen M. Walt, “Rethinking the ‘Nuclear Revolution,’” Foreign Policy, Aug. 3, 2010, https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/08/03/rethinking-the-nuclear-revolution/. [7] Robert Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Statecraft, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press),12. [8] Charles L. Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 95. [9] Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 6. The classic work arguing that nuclear weapons are ineffective for coercion is by Richard K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1987). [10] Joshua Rovner, “Was There a Nuclear Revolution? Strategy, Grand Strategy, and the Ultimate Weapon,” War on the Rocks, March 6, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/03/was-there-a-nuclear-revolution-strategy-grand-strategy-and-the-ultimate-weapon/. [11] Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), 37. [12] Kenneth N. Waltz, “The Emerging Structure of International Politics,” International Security 18, no. 2 (Fall 1993): 73, https://doi.org/10.2307/2539097. [13] Kenneth N. Waltz, “Nuclear Myths and Political Realities,” American Political Science Review 84, no. 3 (September 1990): 732, https://doi.org/10.2307/1962764. [14] Sagan and Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, 21–22. [15] Charles L. Glaser and Chaim Kauffman, “What Is the Offense-Defense Balance and Can We Measure It?” International Security 22, no. 4 (Spring 1998): 5–6, https://doi.org/10.2307/2539240. Italics added. [16] Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 178. [17] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 129. [18] John Lewis Gaddis, “The Long Peace: Elements of Stability in the Postwar International System,” International Security 10, no. 4 (Spring 1986): 121, https://doi.org/10.2307/2538951. [19] Highlighting an irony: If the nuclear revolution was so obvious, powerful, and irresistible, why do analysts have to spend so much time telling policymakers to pursue the policy (or not fight against it) if it was the natural consequence of the revolution? [20] There were, of course, exceptions to this view. Among the original strategists, Albert Wohlstetter was often critical of the focus on mutual assured destruction, as was Herman Kahn. For an overview of the early debates, see Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983). Later critics of this view included Colin Gray and Keith Payne. See especially Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne, “Victory Is Possible,” Foreign Policy, no. 39 (Summer 1980): 14–27, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1148409. [21] Rovner, “Was There a Nuclear Revolution?” [22] Protecting the territorial sovereignty of the homeland is obviously not the only U.S. national interest. The United States fought two world wars, in large part to prevent any state from consolidating Europe and using it as a base to threaten the Americas. The United States has been obsessed with expelling great-power influences from its hemisphere and guaranteeing that conflict takes place far away from its homeland. Historically, however, that is a rare luxury for a great power — even Britain and Japan, as well as the continental great powers, have had to worry far more about invasion of the homeland. And the United States developed nuclear weapons during World War II because of fears that Nazi Germany was developing the bomb. [23] Between 1940 and 1996, the United States spent $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons. Stephen I. Schwartz, “The Hidden Costs of Our Nuclear Arsenal: Overview of Project Findings,” Brookings Institution, June 30, 1998, https://www.brookings.edu/the-hidden-costs-of-our-nuclear-arsenal-overview-of-project-findings/. [24] The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of operating and modernizing U.S. nuclear security forces at more than $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years. See: Congressional Budget Office, Approaches for Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046, October 2017, https://www.cbo.gov/system/files?file=115th-congress-2017-2018/reports/53211-nuclearforces.pdf. [25] On nuclear sharing, see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1949–1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), passim. The best work on pre-delegation remains Peter Feaver, Guarding the Guardians: Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons in the United States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992). [26] See the path-breaking scholarship of Keir Lieber, Daryl Press, Brendan Green, Austin Long, Niccolo Petrelli, and Giordana Pulcini, among others, cited throughout this essay. Two excellent forthcoming works will also provide comprehensive insight on this history: Brendan Green, “The Meaning of the Nuclear Counterrevolution: Arms Racing and Arms Control After MAD” (book manuscript in progress); and Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present” (PhD diss., MIT, 2018). [27] David Alan Rosenberg, “The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945–1960,” International Security 7, no. 4 (Spring 1983): 3–71, https://doi.org/10.2307/2626731. [28] James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 5. [29] John D. Maurer, “The Forgotten Side of Arms Control: Enhancing U.S. Competitive Advantage, Offsetting Enemy Strengths,” War on the Rocks, June 27, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/06/the-forgotten-side-of-arms-control-enhancing-u-s-competitive-advantage-offsetting-enemy-strengths/. [30] Niccolo Petrelli and Giordana Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity: US Planning, Intelligence Analysis, Weapons Innovation and the Search for a Qualitative Edge, 1969–1976,” International History Review 40, no. 5 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/07075332.2017.1420675. [31] For excellent details on the characteristics of these systems and their influence on the strategic balance, see especially Austin Long and Brendan Rittenhouse Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike: Intelligence, Counterforce and Nuclear Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 1–2 (2015), https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.958150; Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, “How Much is Enough? Testing Theories of Nuclear Deterrence,” unpublished manuscript, found at http://politics.virginia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Lieber-Press-VISC.pdf, cited with permission of author; and Petrelli and Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity.” The best work on U.S. efforts on antisubmarine capabilities remains Owen R. Cote Jr.’s The Third Battle: Innovation in the US Navy’s Silent Cold War Struggle with Soviet Submarines (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 2003). [32] Long and Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike,” 41. [33] Brendan R. Green and Austin Long, “The MAD Who Wasn’t There: Soviet Reactions to the Late Cold War Nuclear Balance,” Security Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 608, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1331639. [34] Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (Spring 2017), https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00273. [35] Glenn Buchan, David M. Matonick, Calvin Shipbaugh, and Richard Mesic, Future Roles of U.S. Nuclear Forces: Implications for U.S. Strategy (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2003), 92, https://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1231.html. Italics in original. [36] For a thorough exploration and ultimate rejection of the argument that an overly aggressive nuclear strategy was driven by “Pentagon bureaucrats and military officers pursuing organizational or service agendas, rather than national interest” — or what he calls “‘pathological posture’ theory” — see Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present” (PhD diss., MIT, 2019). [37] Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long, “The Geopolitical Origins of US Hard-Target-Kill Counterforce Capabilities and MIRVS,” in The Lure and Pitfalls of MIRVs: From the First to the Second Nuclear Age, ed. Michael Krepon, Travis Wheeler, and Shane Mason (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2016), https://www.stimson.org/sites/default/files/file-attachments/Lure_and_Pitfalls_of_MIRVs.pdf; and Petrelli and Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity.” [38] This is not to say there is not variation in the nuclear strategies, as Vipin Narang lays out brilliantly in his book about regional nuclear strategies. In addition to assured-retaliation postures, regional nuclear powers can choose catalytic or asymmetric escalation postures, both of which imply first use. See Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). [39] Green and Long, “The Geopolitical Origins of US Hard-Target-Kill Counterforce Capabilities and MIRVs,” 21. [40] Glenn A. Kent and David E. Thaler, First Strike Stability: A Methodology for Evaluating Strategic Forces (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1989) 5, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/reports/2008/R3765.pdf. [41] Earl C. Ravenal, “Counterforce and Alliance: The Ultimate Connection,” International Security 6, no. 4 (Spring 1982): 26–43, https://doi.org/10.2307/2538676. [42] Henry L. Trewhitt, McNamara: His Ordeal in the Pentagon (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 115. [43] For insight on how American policymakers explored and assessed pre-emptive nuclear options, see Francis J. Gavin and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Copenhagen Temptation: Rethinking Prevention and Proliferation in the Age of Deterrence Dominance,” unpublished paper, available at https://www.tobinproject.org/sites/tobinproject.org/files/assets/Gavin%26Rapp-Hooper_US_Preventive_War_Thinking.pdf. [44] Logically, it would seem debatable that possessing increased potential for damage limitation well short of perfect first-strike capabilities would increase U.S. willingness to risk nuclear war to protect allies and enhance extended deterrence and even coercive leverage. Yet, the historical record demonstrates that American leaders were willing to pay quite a bit — financially, politically, and in terms of risk — to acquire these capabilities and, perhaps more important, that the Soviet Union and U.S. allies took these efforts seriously. [45] Francis J. Gavin, “Beyond Deterrence: U.S. Nuclear Statecraft Since 1945,” in Linton Brooks, Francis J. Gavin, and Alexei Arbatov, Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age: U.S. and Russian Nuclear Concepts, Past and Present (Cambridge, MS: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2018), https://www.amacad.org/content/publications/pubContent.aspx?d=43051. [46] Kent and Thaler, First Strike Stability, 5. See also Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long, “Correspondence: The Limits of Damage Limitation,” International Security 42, no. 1 (Summer 2017), https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_c_00279. [47] Francis J. Gavin, “Strategies of Inhibition: U.S. Grand Strategy, the Nuclear Revolution, and Nonproliferation,” International Security 40, no. 1 (Summer 2015): 9–46, https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/ISEC_a_00205. [48] Andrew J. Coe and Jane Vaynman, “Collusion and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime,” Journal of Politics 77, no. 4 (2015): 983–97, https://doi.org/10.1086/682080. [49] For excellent insight on the challenges this new environment presented to traditional constitutional practices in United States national security decision-making, see Matthew Waxman, “NATO and War Powers: Remembering the ‘Great Debate’ of the 1950s," Lawfare, July 11, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/nato-and-war-powers-remembering-great-debate-1950s; Matthew C. Waxman, “The Power to Threaten War,” Yale Law Journal, no. 123 (2014), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2316777. [50] Exemplary works in this category include McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988); George Bunn, Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992); Gregg Herken Counsels of War (New York: Knopf, 1985); Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon; Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007). Specialists in security studies and strategic studies demonstrate great appreciation for history, though they rarely pursue exhaustive, multi-archival work on their own and do not claim to do scholarly history. The best works in this tradition include the following: Richard Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1987);  Lawrence Freedman, Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 4th edition, 2019); Charles Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990); Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Scott Sagan, Moving Targets: Nuclear Strategy and National Security (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990). It is no overstatement to say that those in security and strategic studies would be thrilled if the scholarly history profession in the United States would devote more intellectual resources to mine the extraordinary increases in archival materials made available in recent years. That said, some of the best work with primary materials has been done by scholars in this field, including Brendan Green, Keir Lieber, Austin Long, and Daryl Press. [51] What follows is just a sample of this excellent new work on national nuclear programs, much of it supported by the path-breaking Nuclear Proliferation International History Project: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/program/nuclear-proliferation-international-history-project. On Australia, see Christine M. Leah, Australia and the Bomb (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014); on Brazil, see Carlo Patti, “Origins and Evolution of the Brazilian Nuclear Program (1947–2011),” Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, Nov. 15, 2012, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/origins-and-evolution-the-brazilian-nuclear-program-1947-2011; Avner Cohen, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); on Italy, see Leopoldo Nuti, “Italy’s Nuclear Choices,” UNISCI Discussion Papers, no. 25 (January 2011), https://revistas.ucm.es/index.php/UNIS/article/viewFile/UNIS1111130167A/26876; on Japan, see Fintan Hoey Sato, America and the Cold War: U.S.–Japanese Relations, 1964–72 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015); on Pakistan, see Feroz Khan, Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012); on Romania, see Eliza Gheorghe, “Atomic Maverick: Romania’s Negotiations for Nuclear Technology, 1964–1970,” Cold War History 13, no. 3 (2013), https://doi.org/10.1080/14682745.2013.776542; on South Korea, see Se Young Jang, “Dealing with Allies’ Nuclear Ambitions: U.S. Nuclear Non-proliferation Policy toward South Korea and Taiwan, 1969–1981” (PhD diss., Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, 2015); on Sweden, see Thomas Jonter, “The Swedish Plans to Acquire Nuclear Weapons, 1945–1968: An Analysis of the Technical Preparations,” Science & Global Security, no. 18 (2010): 61–86, http://scienceandglobalsecurity.org/archive/sgs18jonter.pdf; on West Germany, see Andreas Lutsch, “The Persistent Legacy: Germany’s Place in the Nuclear Order,” Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP), Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, NPIHP Working Paper no. 5, May 19, 2015, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/the-persistent-legacy. [52] To give three examples: For an excellent history of U.S. arms-control policy during the Nixon presidency, see Cameron, The Double Game; for an excellent study of America’s early nuclear strategies, see Edward Kaplan, American Strategy in the Air-Atomic Age and the Rise of Mutually Assured Destruction (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015); for an excellent history of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policies, see Shane Maddock, Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). [53] Hal Brands, “The Triumph and Tragedy of Diplomatic History,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 1 (December 2017), https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/63939/Vol-1-Issue-1-Brands.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y. Even when there are diplomatic historians, there is almost no incentive for them to work on U.S. nuclear weapons policy. “Yet the turn toward diplomatic history as cultural, social, or gender history often pulled the field in a very different direction, one that dramatically deemphasized matters of foreign policy as it was traditionally understood?” See also Hal Brands and Francis J. Gavin, “The Historical Profession is Committing Slow-Motion Suicide,” War on the Rocks, Dec. 10, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/12/the-historical-profession-is-committing-slow-motion-suicide/. [54] Francis J. Gavin, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Nuclear Weapons: A Review Essay,” H-Diplo Roundtable, June 15, 2014, https://networks.h-net.org/node/28443/discussions/31776/h-diploissf-forum-“what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-nuclear. [55] The exception is Marc Trachtenberg’s path-breaking account of the first decades of the Cold War, which brilliantly integrates nuclear strategy into an understanding of U.S. grand strategy. Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1949–1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999). [56] Gavin, “Strategies of Inhibition.” [57] For one excellent example that reveals the deep interconnections between Cold War geopolitics, imperialism and decolonization, international economics and globalization, and nationalism and regional rivalries, see Philip Zelikow and Ernest May, Suez Deconstructed: An Interactive Study in Crisis, War, and Peacemaking (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018). [58] Trachtenberg, History and Strategy, 46. [59] Bruce Kuklick, Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 15–16. “Yet my philosophers in government knew and understood little, and had little influence qua intellectuals, except to perform feats of ventriloquy.” [60] For an excellent analysis, see Janne Nolan, Guardians of the Arsenal: The Politics of Nuclear Strategy (New York: Basic Books, 1989). [61] John Foster Dulles, “The Strategy of Massive Retaliation,” speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, Jan. 12, 1954, http://msthorarinson.weebly.com/uploads/4/1/4/5/41452777/dulles_address.pdf; Robert McNamara, “No Cities” commencement address in Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 9, 1962, http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Deterrence/Nocities.shtml; Robert McNamara, speech on anti-China missile defense and U.S. nuclear strategy, Sept. 19, 1967, https://www.nytimes.com/1967/09/19/archives/text-of-mcnamara-speech-on-antichina-missile-defense-and-us-nuclear.html; “Nixon’s Nuclear Doctrine,” New York Times, Jan. 15, 1974, https://www.nytimes.com/1974/01/15/archives/nixons-nuclear-doctrine.html; “The Carter Transformation of Our Strategic Doctrine,” memo from National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to President Jimmy Carter, Aug. 26, 1980, https://www.archives.gov/files/declassification/iscap/pdf/2011-064-doc33.pdf. [62] For an excellent synthesis of how policymakers wrestle with domestic politics in nuclear decision-making, see Elizabeth N. Saunders, “The Domestic Politics of Nuclear Choices: What Have We Learned?” (unpublished paper). [63] Cameron, The Double Game, 7. [64] Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 31. [65] David Alan Rosenberg, “Reality and Responsibility: Power and Process in the Making of United States Nuclear Strategy, 1945–68,” Journal of Strategic Studies 9, no. 1 (1986): 35, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402398608437247. [66] For a recent overview — with recommendations for how these procedures should be changed — see Richard K. Betts and Matthew C. Waxman, “The President and the Bomb: Reforming the Nuclear Launch Process, Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (March/April 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-02-13/president-and-bomb. [67] As Timothy McDonnell argues, “presidents, defense secretaries and other members of the president’s civilian executive team drive US nuclear posture, making posture decisions that they believe will advance American interests. At the same time, nuclear policy is a tough business, fraught with uncertainty and existential risk.” Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present,” (PhD diss., MIT, in progress). [68] For an excellent effort to make sense of the often contradictory policies and rhetoric of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on nuclear weapons, see Andrew P.N. Erdmann, “‘War no longer has any logic whatever’: Eisenhower and the Thermonuclear Revolution,” in Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb, ed. John Lewis Gaddis, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 87­–119. [69] Rosenberg, “Reality and Responsibility,” 48. McNamara’s view is obviously in slight tension with Rosenberg’s argument. [70] Carol Cohn, “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals,” Signs 12, no. 4 (Summer 1987): 490, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3174209. [71] Michael Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall Paper 41, online edition 2005, http://fisherp.scripts.mit.edu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Thinking-about-Nuclear-Weapons-RUSI-WHP41_QUINLAN1.pdf. [72] Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), ix. [73] Reid Pauly, “Stop or I’ll Shoot, Comply and I Won’t: The Dilemma of Coercive Assurance in International Politics” (PhD diss., MIT, in progress). [74] Rebecca K.C. Hersman, Clark Murdock, and Shanelle Van, The Evolving U.S. Nuclear Narrative: Communicating the Rationale for the Role and Value of U.S. Nuclear Weapons, Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 2016, http://nuclearnarrative.csis.org/report/. [75] See, for example, Patrick Malone, “Repeated Safety Lapses Hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Work on the Cores of U.S. Nuclear Warheads,” The Center for Public Integrity, June 18, 2017, https://apps.publicintegrity.org/nuclear-negligence/near-disaster/; Editorial, “What the Air Force Can Learn from the Nuclear Cheating Scandal,” Washington Post, April 6, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-the-air-force-can-learn-from-the-nuclear-cheating-scandal/2014/04/06/e1a24a0e-bba5-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.96d83a6d39a4. [77] Of course, the United States has also tried to demonstrate credibility by fighting wars that otherwise make little geostrategic sense from a narrow, traditional, non-nuclear “self-interest” perspective, such as in Korea in the early 1950s and in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. One might ask how U.S. decision-making toward limited wars would have proceeded in a world without nuclear weapons, where the demands of credibility are, presumably, smaller. [78] Gaddis, “The Long Peace,” 100. [79] Francis J. Gavin, “History, Security Studies, and the July Crisis,” Journal of Strategic Studies 37, no. 2 (2014): 319–33, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.912916. [80] “Even propositions about the achievement of nuclear weapons in deterrence lack hard evidence, since such propositions are essentially about alternative history — about what would have happened had matters been other than they were.” Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” 5. [81] The nuclear-revolution framework would have predicted that these states would acquire nuclear weapons. Some excellent work exists on states that decided not to go nuclear. On Sweden, for example, see Thomas Jonter, The Key to Nuclear Restraint: The Swedish Plans to Acquire Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). On Australia, for example, see Leah, Australia and the Bomb. [82] Philip Zelikow, “Review,” HF-Diplo Roundtable Reviews XV, no. 1 (2013), https://issforum.org/roundtables/PDF/Roundtable-XV-1.pdf. [83] Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” 5. [84] The Trump administration focused on the return of great-power geopolitical competition in both its National Security Strategy and its National Defense Strategy: National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington, DC: White House, 2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf; Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018),  https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. [85] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 9. [86] Michael Horowitz, “How Surprising Is North Korea’s Nuclear Success? Picking Up Where Proliferation Theories Leave Off,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 6, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/how-surprising-is-north-koreas-nuclear-success-picking-up-where-proliferation-theories-leave-off/. [87] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 10. [88] Ian Traynor, “Barack Obama Launches Doctrine for Nuclear-Free World,” Guardian, April 5, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/apr/05/nuclear-weapons-barack-obama. [89] Edward Geist and Andrew J. Lohn, How Might Artificial Intelligence Affect the Risk of Nuclear War? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2018), 1, https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE296.html. [90] Beyza Unal and Patricia Lewis, Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences, Chatham House, January 2018, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/2018-01-11-cybersecurity-nuclear-weapons-unal-lewis-final.pdf. [91] Joshua Rovner, “Two Kinds of Catastrophe: Nuclear Escalation and Protracted War in Asia,” Journal of Strategic Studies 40, no. 5 (2017), http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1293532 [92] Caitlin Talmadge, “Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States,” International Security 40, no. 4 (Spring 2017): 90, https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00274. [93] Michael Kofman, “Searching for Strategy in Washington’s Competition with Russia,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 30, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/01/searching-strategy-washingtons-competition-russia/. [94] Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., “The Eroding Balance of Terror: The Decline of Deterrence,” Foreign Affairs 98, no. 1 (January/February 2019): 66. [95] Michael C. Horowitz, Paul Scharre, and Alex Velez-Green, A Stable Nuclear Future? The Impact of Automation, Autonomy, and Artificial Intelligence, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2017). [96] James M. Acton, “Technology, Doctrine, and the Risk of Nuclear War,” American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2018, https://www.amacad.org/content/publications/pubContent.aspx?d=43140. [97] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 19. [98] Heather Williams, Patricia Lewis, and Sasan Aghlani, “The Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative: The ‘Big Tent’ in Disarmament,” Chatham House, March 2015, 17, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/field/field_document/20150331nuclear.pdf. [99] Quote from Williams, Lewis, and Aghlani, "The Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative," 13. [100] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 49. [101] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 370. [102] Gen. (Ret.) James Cartwright, chair, “Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Report: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture,” Global Zero, May 2012, 2, https://www.princeton.edu/sgs/faculty-staff/bruce-blair/gz_us_nuclear_policy_report.pdf. [103] Daryl G. Press, Scott D. Sagan, and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 1 (February 2013): 188-206, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055412000597. [104] Reid Pauly, “Elite Aversion to the Use of Nuclear Weapons: Evidence from Wargames,” International Security (forthcoming). [105] For a summary of this critique of grand strategy, see Francis J. Gavin’s review of Hal Brands, What Good is Grand Strategy: Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush for H-Diplo, Oct. 17, 2014, https://issforum.org/roundtables/7-2-what-good-is-grand-strategy#Review_by_Francis_J_Gavin_MIT. [106] Walter A. McDougall, “Can the United States Do Grand Strategy,” Telegram: Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 13, 2010, https://www.fpri.org/article/2010/04/can-the-united-states-do-grand-strategy/. [107] Francis J. Gavin and James B. Steinberg, “Mind the Gap: Why Policymakers and Scholars Ignore Each Other, and What Should Be Done About It?” Carnegie Reporter 6, no. 4 (Spring 2012). [108] Steve Coll, “Comment: Table Talk,” New Yorker, Feb. 6, 2012, https://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2012/02/06/120206taco_talk_coll. [109] Matthew Kroenig argues that nuclear states seek freedom of action in Exporting the Bomb: Technology Transfers and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010). For an excellent overview of how U.S. grand strategy has, since the earliest days of the republic, unilaterally gone on the offensive in an effort to eliminate vulnerability, see John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). [110] As Richard K. Betts has pointed out, what may be good for the “system” — stability — may not be what the United States prefers. “If nuclear spread enhances stability, this is not entirely good news for the United States, since it has been accustomed to attacking small countries with impunity when it felt justified and provoked.” See Betts, “Universal Deterrence or Conceptual Collapse? Liberal Pessimism and Utopian Realism,” in The Coming Crisis: Nuclear Proliferation, U.S. Interests, and World Order, ed. Victor A. Utgoff (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 65. [111] “The Acheson-Lilienthal & Baruch Plans, 1946,” State Department Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/baruch-plans. [112] “If we were ruthlessly realistic, we would not permit any foreign power with which we are not firmly allied, and in which we do not have absolute confidence, to make or possess atomic weapons. If such a country started to make atomic weapons we would destroy its capacity to make them before it had progressed far enough to threaten us.” Memo from Gen. Leslie Groves, wartime commander of the Manhattan Project, in January 1946, cited in Marc Trachtenberg, “A Wasting Asset: American Strategy and the Shifting Nuclear Balance, 1949–1954," International Security 3, no. 3 (Winter 1988/1989): 5, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538735. [113] Robert Jervis, “Foreword,” in Global Nuclear Disarmament: Strategic, Political, and Regional Perspectives, ed. Nik Hynek and Michal Smetana (London: Routledge, 2016), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304989752_Global_Nuclear_Disarmament_Strategic_Political_and_Regional_Perspectives_-_FOREWORD_by_Robert_Jervis. [114] For the importance of counterfactuals for hypothesis testing, see James D. Fearon, “Counterfactuals and Hypothesis Testing in Political Science,” World Politics 43, no. 2 (January 1991): 169–95, https://doi.org/10.2307/2010470; Francis J. Gavin, “What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (2015): 425–30, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070610. [115] The most convincing version of this argument was made by John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989). [116] I explore these possibilities in Nuclear Statecraft, 57–74. [117] Gideon Rose, “Introduction,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 6, (November/December 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2018-10-15/do-nuclear-weapons-matter. [118] Joshua Keating, “The ‘Toxic Masculinity’ of Nuclear Weapons: An interview with Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize–winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons,” Slate, Nov. 12, 2018, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/11/ican-beatrice-fihn-nuclear-weapons-prohibition-treaty-interview.html. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 606 [post_author] => 180 [post_date] => 2018-05-05 14:26:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-05 18:26:43 [post_content] =>

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. –Heraclitus

  "Here we go again." "It’s Groundhog Day with North Korea." "We’ve seen this script before." These sorts of refrains have been common among North Korea watchers — and those who play them on TV — ahead of the summit slated for June 12 in Singapore between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and President Donald Trump. After significant brinkmanship over whether the meeting would take place, the on-again, off-again summit looks likely to be held as originally planned. The United States has engaged North Korea in two major denuclearization processes, not to mention separate inter-Korean and multilateral efforts, over the past quarter-century. All have failed to produce the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization that the United States has sought on the Korean Peninsula.[1] Some skeptical of the bilateral summit charge that this history of failure is likely to repeat itself. Meanwhile, optimists suggest that something new in the upcoming process has opened the possibility of a different outcome.[2] History can be a useful guide to avoid repeating mistakes, but events are rarely as neat and tidy as a sound bite seems to suggest. The history of nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, as well as multilateral discussions such as the six-party talks, is far more complex than most voices in the media and policy circles acknowledge. This history offers cause for pessimism, optimism, and caution about current prospects for denuclearization.[3]

Pessimism: Denuclearization Is Harder Now Than During Past Efforts

Many of those who are pessimistic about the Trump-Kim summit point to failed efforts to achieve complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization and ask why this time should be any different. In one sense, the pessimists are not pessimistic enough. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly since the last major diplomatic efforts at denuclearization. In the intervening years, the possibility of denuclearization has become even more distant. This section contrasts the situation today with the state of the North Korean nuclear threat when the 1994 Agreed Framework and the joint statement of the 2005 six-party talks were reached. Seen through that lens, contentions that history may repeat itself underestimate the current challenge. In Brief: The Agreed Framework and Six-Party Talks There have been two major diplomatic efforts to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program. In the early 1990s, North Korea initiated an international crisis by taking provocative steps toward developing a nuclear bomb: removing fuel rods from its five-megawatt plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and initiating its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which North Korea had legally pledged to forego nuclear weapons. The United States engaged Pyongyang in an effort to resolve the crisis, and the two sides signed the Agreed Framework in 1994. In short, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy and economic assistance, security guarantees, and political promises, including specific efforts toward the normalization of bilateral relations.[4] The Agreed Framework faced challenges in implementation, however, and collapsed in late 2002 and early 2003. The United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia initiated the six-party talks later in 2003.[5] Seeking to distinguish between the 1994 framework’s temporary freeze on nuclear production and a more comprehensive and lasting goal, the six countries announced, after two years and four rounds of negotiations, that they “unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”[6] The 2005 joint statement of those talks laid out the basic principles of a nuclear deal that would be refined more specifically in a pair of implementation agreements two years later. In late 2008, however, the participating countries reached an impasse over important technical verification issues. Whereas in 1994 North Korea had pledged to freeze its nuclear program, in 2005 Pyongyang promised to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs in exchange for energy and economic assistance, security guarantees, normalized diplomatic relations, and negotiations toward a “permanent peace regime.”[7] Although the two sets of negotiations were different in important ways, the broad structure was consistent: North Korea promised to move away from nuclear weapons in exchange for a similar basket of incentives. Denuclearization Today The North Korean nuclear program of 2018 is not the nuclear program of 1994, when Washington and Pyongyang negotiated the Agreed Framework. It is not even the nuclear program of 2005, when the six-party talks produced its joint statement. Since these diplomatic milestones, Pyongyang’s nuclear development and long-range missiles have advanced in major ways, crossing a series of critical technical barriers. These programs have grown significantly more difficult to reverse since earlier denuclearization efforts were underway. Since the 1990s, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has grown from a theoretical capability to an actual one. North Korea’s first nuclear test occurred in 2006, a year after the joint statement of the six-party talks was released. Before this, the North Korean leadership could not be confident that their efforts to build a nuclear bomb would actually work. Indeed, the North’s first nuclear test produced more of a whimper than a bang. The explosion yielded less than one kiloton, prompting a variety of theories about why it had been a low-yield test. As such, the fundamental challenge for these earlier negotiations was to prevent North Korea from building a nuclear weapon and to persuade Pyongyang to roll back its attendant programs. These efforts resembled something like the more recent nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany in the sense that American negotiators and their allies could capitalize on North Korea’s uncertainty about whether it could succeed in building a bomb and crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold. Today, by contrast, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un controls a nuclear arsenal that has benefited from six tests. His is not a start-up business seeking proof of concept but, rather, an established enterprise with a demonstrated ability to detonate increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. After the 2006 nuclear test produced a lower-than-expected yield, then-leader Kim Jong Il ordered a second test, in 2009, that erased any doubt about North Korea’s basic ability to build and detonate a nuclear weapon.[8] North Korea’s third nuclear test, in 2013, came amid Pyongyang’s pronouncements that the test provided critical information that would help the regime’s effort to miniaturize a nuclear weapon in order to mount it on a missile. The third test may also have utilized uranium in its bomb design. The regime’s previous tests used plutonium, thus, testing weapons using this second path to the bomb expanded its capabilities. North Korea’s fourth test, in 2016, demonstrated the country’s thermonuclear capability for the first time.[9] The fifth and sixth tests, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, sought bigger yields still.[10] Rather than preventing North Korea from crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold, the denuclearization challenge has become much harder: Somehow, the genie must be put back in the bottle. [quote id="1"] Meanwhile, North Korea has steadily advanced its ability to develop, test, and field operational ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons. Critically, the regime has diversified its ballistic missile force to create a survivable second-strike capability, thereby securing an essential element to deter its primary adversary, the United States.[11] In 1994, North Korea was capable of striking some American bases and allies but not the U.S. homeland. That year — the same year Washington and Pyongyang signed the Agreed Framework — North Korea began producing its Nodong medium-range ballistic missile and fielded the missile the following year. The Nodong could strike South Korea and most of Japan but still not the United States.[12] In 1998, North Korea flight-tested its Taepo Dong-1 prototype, which flew over Japan, rattling the Japanese government in particular and accelerating Tokyo’s cooperation with Washington on missile defense. The flight test ushered in a new round of missile diplomacy between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang maintained a unilateral moratorium on long-range-missile flight tests for six years, refraining from launching another Taepo Dong rocket until 2006.[13] As the two sides negotiated the Agreed Framework and, later, the joint statement of the six-party talks, North Korea did not have the capability to hit the United States with its missiles. Today, however, North Korea is perilously close to having a demonstrated delivery vehicle to strike the continental United States with nuclear weapons. Since coming to power in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has ordered scores of missile launches, including long- and short-range ballistic missiles. Both long- and short-range ballistic missiles can test technologies used in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).[14] In 2017, North Korea conducted three ICBM flight tests. After the third test, Kim Jong Un declared his nuclear deterrent complete.[15] While this claim was probably premature,[16] Kim expressed confidence that his country had attained a complete package of miniaturized nuclear weapons and survivable delivery vehicles that could reach the continental United States.[17] The main components of North Korea’s fissile material production have also shifted significantly. In the leadup to the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea had only one fissile material production site: the plutonium program at Yongbyon. The site was known, surveilled, and, in theory, could have been verifiably frozen with reasonable confidence. By the time of the six-party talks, the United States was aware of a nascent and covert North Korean uranium enrichment program that violated its Agreed Framework pledges. The CIA publicly disclosed to Congress its judgment that North Korea had started this program in 2000.[18] Other assessments date the origins of Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment as early as 1996.[19] Regardless of whether Pyongyang started its uranium enrichment program then or in 2000, plutonium production was North Korea’s sole route to the bomb in 1994 and its primary but not exclusive nuclear production capability in 2005. Today, North Korea acquires substantially more fissile material for weapons from its well-established uranium enrichment facilities than it does from its plutonium program. Pyongyang’s uranium program also has more growth potential than its plutonium program in absolute terms. One unclassified research project estimated that by 2020, North Korea’s only five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon could produce 14 nuclear weapons from plutonium, while two centrifuge plants could produce about 56 weapons from uranium.[20] Put another way, the North Korean uranium enrichment program produces far more fissile material for nuclear weapons today, and its higher annual output is central to the growth of Pyongyang’s arsenal over time. When it comes to trying to negotiate verifiable denuclearization, the distinction between the plutonium and uranium routes to the bomb is critical. In 2010, North Korean officials showed the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon to a prominent U.S. nongovernmental delegation. The manner and speed of the facility’s construction suggested strongly that this was not the country’s first enrichment facility.[21] Commercial satellite imagery and other publicly available sources offer no proof of a third enrichment facility, but that should not provide much comfort. It is not clear how many uranium enrichment sites North Korea has because they are easier to hide than their plutonium counterparts. [quote id="2"] This should concern American policymakers as verification was the shoal upon which the six-party talks foundered.[22] During those talks, Washington wanted to conduct soil and nuclear waste samples to verify North Korea’s claims; Pyongyang refused. The “Second Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement,” agreed to on Oct. 3, 2007, outlined what would be required of North Korea to disable its five-megawatt reactor. The agreement did not explicitly require North Korea to allow these samples to be taken but stipulated that disablement would proceed in a “verifiable” manner.[23] Washington interpreted this to mean it could use sampling to verify Pyongyang’s actions under the second-phase agreement before it proceeded. Pyongyang, however, saw things differently: It wanted to save the issue of sampling for a “third phase” agreement, at which point it could either demand additional concessions and use the sampling issue as a bargaining chip, or not agree to sampling at all.[24] Verification is, of course, central to any sustainable agreement. And the devil is in the details. These kinds of technocratic aspects, which political leaders tend not to ponder, have derailed high-level, multiyear diplomatic initiatives. Diplomatic efforts could again sink over critical technical details if negotiators do not learn from the past. While Kim Jong Il may have hoped during negotiations in the 1990s and again during the six-party talks that his and his father’s decades-long efforts to develop nuclear weapons would someday provide a deterrent against U.S. invasion, his son, Kim Jong Un, has this capability. In the past, North Korea’s nuclear program was aspirational. Today, it is an active part of the country’s national defense. Before, verifying a deal focused primarily on a plutonium program was difficult. Now, the prominence of the uranium program in addition to the plutonium program makes the challenge even greater. It is not the same river.

Caution: New Leaders on Both Sides

In addition to the technical advancements in Pyongyang’s nuclear program since the last two major diplomatic efforts, important political changes have taken place in North Korea and the United States. During the Agreed Framework negotiations and the six-party talks, Kim Jong Il was effectively at the helm. Although North Korea’s founder and charismatic leader, Kim Il Sung, was in power until his death in 1994, and famously held important roles such as receiving former President Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang amid the crisis, Kim Il Sung told a Western reporter that by 1992 his son was running the country.[25] Kim Il Sung tapped his son as his successor in 1980 and gradually shifted power to him. As such, the Agreed Framework and six-party talks were, for North Korea, essentially a Kim Jong Il production. Today, Kim Jong Un is in charge and his personal stamp can be seen on nuclear diplomacy. Kim the youngest differs substantially in ruling style and approach from his father, something that matters greatly for the current round of summits. Kim Jong Il was an introverted micro-manager. Living in the shadow of his larger-than-life father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il closely controlled process and avoided public appearances. While Kim Il Sung was known for his charisma, Kim Jong Il could not even manage to give the annual new year’s day address. Instead, he instituted a policy of publishing the annual statement as an editorial in three newspapers.[26] Imagine if an American president decided to forego the annual State of the Union address and instead published his views on the White House website. That would be less of a break from past precedent than Kim Jong Il’s decision. Kim Jong Il gave one — or possibly two — extremely short speeches in his entire tenure. He was also absent from public view during the first three years of his formal reign, citing the traditional mourning period after his father’s death. Kim Jong Un is a different kind of leader. He has explicitly modeled himself after his still-revered grandfather rather than his relatively unpopular father.[27] He has brought back the annual new year’s day address. He appears in public with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, something Kim Jong Il had avoided. Kim Jong Un has also resurrected the Korean Workers’ Party, restarting the long-defunct party congresses. Tapes smuggled out of North Korea in the 1980s showed Kim Jong Il privately expressing insecure views of his personal stature that are consistent with his psychological profile.[28] In contrast, Kim Jong Un exudes confidence and has shown himself ready to personally lead the current round of nuclear diplomacy through a series of summits with South Korea, China, and the United States. It is natural and appropriate to look to the history of U.S.-North Korean and multilateral denuclearization efforts for insights into the upcoming talks. First, however, one must consider whether Kim Jong Un is following his father’s playbook. On the critical issue of his ruling style, Kim Jong Un has parted ways with his father. It stands to reason, then,[29] that his priorities and methods concerning nuclear diplomacy may not be a carbon copy of his father’s approach. Kim Jong Un proposed summit diplomacy with Trump, rather than having lower-level officials work toward a possible capstone summit by hashing out the details first. The younger Kim has taken the political risk upon himself and made it more difficult to blame subordinates for possible diplomatic failure. Leaders are always important in high-stakes diplomacy, but the summit approach makes their personality and predilections even more central to the outcome. The United States is only at the head of a long trail of diplomacy, and it is not at all clear that previous journeys foreshadow the current one. On the American side, there is also a new sheriff in town. The United States negotiated the Agreed Framework and the joint statement of the six-party talks under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively. Their administrations had different views on diplomacy with North Korea. Senior members of the Bush administration criticized the Agreed Framework negotiated under Clinton, which suffered a number of implementation challenges, including — but not limited to — the revelation of North Korea’s nascent uranium enrichment program.[30] The differences between the two U.S. administrations were stark enough that some insiders dubbed the Bush administration’s approach “ABC — Anything But Clinton.”[31] The Bush administration, however, quickly shifted to its own diplomatic effort with the North Koreans after the final collapse of the Agreed Framework. This time around, there were more seats at the table, different areas of emphasis, and intra-government intrigue,[32] but two things remained constant: the basic parameters of seeking a complete and permanent denuclearization of North Korea, and recognition that this would require some reciprocal and unpopular concessions. With a few notable exceptions, the two U.S. administrations operated — at the most general level — alike. [quote id="3"] Donald Trump fashions himself a new kind of political leader. His engagement in tit-for-tat rhetorical barbs in 2017 — such as when he threatened to bring down “fire and fury”[33] on North Korea, or when he called Kim Jong Un “little rocket man”[34] — marked an outlier for American presidential behavior. Trump’s public comments about military options — including limited military strikes that could not denuclearize North Korea by force but, it was hoped, would push Kim Jong Un back to the negotiating table — prompted substantial criticism about the wisdom of such an approach.[35] Trump quickly shifted gears in 2018, however, by accepting Kim Jong Un’s summit invitation, conveyed through the South Korean president. He has sent Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang twice — first as director of the CIA and secretary of state-designate and then as secretary of state — to advance the summit and secure the release of three unjustly imprisoned Americans.[36] Trump’s policy tools, including carrots, such as peace regime negotiations and sanctions relief, and sticks, including renewed sanctions and military moves, remain roughly the same as those available to his predecessors. But his willingness to meet Kim Jong Un early, to call off the summit, and to recommit to it within days demonstrates the greater element of uncertainty as to how the United States will begin and sustain a diplomatic process with the North Koreans. The men entering the river are different.

Optimism: Allies, Peace Regime, and Learning

Achieving complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a tall order. Getting it on the cheap or for free is taller still. If success is framed in these terms alone, there is little room for optimism. If, however, progress is defined as concretely minimizing the North Korean nuclear threat and moving toward an ultimate goal of denuclearization in such a way that the benefits to national interests outweigh the costs of concessions, then there is room to be optimistic. In short, optimists can argue that a successful agreement is one that leaves the United States and its allies better off than they are in the current situation and on the current trajectory. The U.S.-South Korean combined approach, serious consideration of creating a peace regime, and the real possibility of learning from past agreements together provide reason to be cautiously optimistic about the way forward in U.S.-North Korean diplomacy. The U.S.-South Korean Combined Approach North Korea gains tactical advantage when it can split the United States from its Northeast Asian allies, specifically South Korea. The United States, South Korea, and Japan have many more shared interests and values than differences, but North Korea knows where to find natural cleavages and has traditionally sought to exploit them. North Korea has long favored bilateral diplomacy with the United States in hopes of sidelining South Korea and Japan. Tensions in the U.S.-South Korean alliance have also challenged previous efforts to maintain a united front against North Korea. Han Sung-joo, who served as South Korea’s foreign minister during the Agreed Framework negotiations, noted that then-South Korean President Kim Young-sam wanted to ensure the Americans were not “too soft” on the North Koreans. At the same time, the South Korean president did not want to raise the risk of military conflict that threatened to destroy his capital. The conservative South Korean president, worried about his domestic political support, also needed to assure his people that the United States was closely consulting him at every turn.[37] He wanted to make sure the American approach was neither too hot nor too cold at each stage of negotiations and sought to communicate this to South Koreans. The United States and South Korea were not in lockstep during the Agreed Framework, and Seoul worried about not having direct access to the North Koreans on a matter central to its national security. Kim Young-sam’s successor, Kim Dae-jung, came from the opposite end of the South Korean political spectrum and wholeheartedly endorsed engaging North Korea. Kim Dae-jung made history with the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 — just five months before the election of George W. Bush. Kim Dae-jung’s “Sunshine Policy” sought to change North Korean behavior through unconditional engagement, while Bush settled on a more confrontational approach to North Korea’s objectionable actions. Alliance managers sought to keep the two sides linked, but it remained an ongoing challenge.[38] Differences among allies are inevitable, but the combined approach provides reasons for optimism that this time may be different. Never before has an inter-Korean summit, let alone two, been explicitly set up ahead of a U.S.-North Korea summit. The South Korean presidential office recognizes that it cannot push North Korean denuclearization alone and has sought to influence U.S. engagement with the North Koreans as well as its own. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has met early success with balancing his policy of engaging North Korea while keeping the United States firmly invested in the process. The road is long, and it will become even more difficult. The two sides will face tough choices and trade-offs as the North Koreans begin to articulate their core demands. Nevertheless, Washington and Seoul have gotten off to a solid start. Peace Regime In contrast to previous diplomatic rounds, North Korea’s long-held demand to negotiate a peace treaty to replace the armistice and formally end the Korean War seems to be on the table. The Agreed Framework did not mention a peace regime or peace-treaty negotiations, but it opened the door to four-party talks —among the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and China — on these topics.[39] The Agreed Framework contained U.S. security guarantees to Pyongyang but lacked a specific and concrete quid pro quo on denuclearization and a peace regime. The 2005 joint statement promised to “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.”[40] The Russians convened the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism Working Group in Moscow three times. It was one of the five working groups of the six-party talks, but it did not produce concrete outcomes. The United States favored discussing a peace regime after North Korea denuclearized, and Pyongyang did not want to wait.[41] The six-party talks, in practice, produced an agreement for denuclearization in exchange for sanctions relief and aid. Demanding that North Korea denuclearize amounts to asking it to voluntarily relinquish the world’s most powerful weapons. And reminders that its nuclear development violates international law do not move Pyongyang. Likewise, sanctions relief and aid can contribute to North Korea’s economy but would not supplant the security that it believes nuclear weapons provide. Declassified documents from Pyongyang’s socialist-bloc allies demonstrate that, in the 1970s, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung saw peace-treaty negotiations as a means to try to reduce and ultimately end the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula. One of his senior party officials told a friendly foreign delegation in 1972,
The international public sees as just and honest our proposal to conclude a peace treaty between the two Koreas, to withdraw American forces and to reduce the militaries. If we conclude a peace treaty, the Americans would have no reason to stay there.[42]
The intervening four decades have produced varying assessments of North Korea’s intentions and objectives regarding peace regime negotiations. The United States will have to wait for Kim Jong Un’s articulation of his specific demands to adjudicate between competing assessments. One thing, however, is fairly certain: North Korea will seek to supplant its perceived security losses from denuclearization with phased and reciprocal adjustments to the U.S. military presence on and around the Korean Peninsula. How is this good news? Most analysts say that North Korean denuclearization is simply impossible.[43] Kim Jong Un does not want to go the way of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, who, lacking a nuclear deterrent, met their violent deaths after U.S.-led or -supported military operations. The peace regime issue brings to the fore difficult trade-offs and options for the highest-level decisions by elected U.S. leaders and American allies. After hearing the North Korean demands, seeking to negotiate them down, and considering the verifiable implementation measures, the United States and its allies will face a basic decision: Is the trade-off worth it at any stage? Elected leaders may have to consider difficult adjustments to the U.S. military presence on the peninsula, such as the size and scope of military exercises, strategic asset deployment, and the nature of the permanent presence in exchange for verified, late-stage steps toward denuclearization. They may decide that whatever deal is on the table with North Korea is not worth the cost, but an acceptable deal might be laid out as well. Having North Korea’s demands communicated directly from its leader to America’s is superior to wading through the many contrasting assessments of what North Korea really wants. Learning The Trump administration has the benefit of being able to learn from the past. Secretary of State Pompeo has noted repeatedly that he has read the CIA’s history of negotiations with North Korea and vowed not to repeat past mistakes. Unlike the Agreed Framework negotiators, Pompeo has historical points of reference on negotiating with North Korea about its nuclear program. One lesson is the importance of blocking North Korea from pocketing concessions. If Pyongyang can reverse its concessions, the United States and its allies must be able to do the same. This simple lesson has not been followed in earlier negotiations. In 2007, the six parties agreed to “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement,” which laid out in specific terms the first round of reciprocal steps to implement the 2005 agreement. North Korea pledged to disable its Yongbyon reactor, allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to monitor the disablement, and issue a “list of all of its nuclear programs as described in the Joint Statement.” The “parallel” action from the United States included removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, lifting sanctions imposed through the Trading with the Enemy Act, and providing an initial tranche of heavy fuel oil as energy assistance.[44] North Korea’s disablement procedures were temporary, reversible, and intended to elicit further implementation protocols that did indeed come. When the six-party talks failed in 2008 over verification issues, North Korea was in a position to expel IAEA inspectors and move to restart the Yongbyon reactor immediately, though it delayed the restart for several years. After North Korea expelled the inspectors, the United States quickly reimposed by executive order the same authorities found in the Trading with the Enemy Act,[45] and North Korea lost out on deliveries of heavy fuel oil. The United States could not, however, reinstate North Korea on the terrorism list immediately. Once removed, relisting legally required North Korea to commit another terrorist act, and the United States did not reimpose this designation until 2017.[46] While some have argued that the United States could have relisted North Korea earlier under certain legal interpretations, the sort of “snapback” sanctions like those embedded in the Iran nuclear agreement did not exist to discourage North Korea from trying to pocket concessions in the first place. In the absence of an external enforcement mechanism or a broader relationship that keeps other international agreements on track, carefully crafted quid pro quos that have equal degrees of reversibility and importance can help sustain lasting agreements by maintaining the same incentive structure for both sides to continue abiding by the terms. [quote id="4"] Learning from history also requires a balanced understanding of past events. Since writing history is the practice of selecting which past events are significant enough to merit recording, there is always room for author bias. A one-sentence history of North Korea-related nuclear negotiations could simply note that no effort has achieved North Korea’s complete denuclearization. At this most basic level, American and allied negotiators failed to meet their core objective. If one delves more deeply, however, the history quickly becomes more complex. Both nuclear agreements delayed and degraded North Korea’s nuclear program — and a reciprocal price was paid for these concessions. The Agreed Framework verifiably froze for eight years North Korea’s plutonium program, which was its only fissile material production facility at the time of the negotiations. North Korea had three plutonium reactors under construction ahead of the Agreed Framework — one five megawatts, one 50 megawatts, and one 200 megawatts. The smallest of the three was the most developed, but the Agreed Framework effectively put the nail in the coffin of the other two.[47] Some point to a counterfactual to highlight the value of this nuclear agreement: “Experts estimate that without the Agreed Framework, North Korea could have hundreds of nuclear weapons at this point.”[48] But the Agreed Framework was a nuclear agreement, not a plutonium agreement, and North Korea cheated by initiating a uranium enrichment path to the bomb during the framework’s shaky years of implementation. The United States provided North Korea with more than $400 million in energy assistance. South Korea and Japan contributed additional significant sums through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).[49] Concurrently, the United States and its international partners provided humanitarian assistance to North Korea during its late 1990s famine, which was never explicitly linked to the nuclear agreement. Critics charged that the aid propped up the regime amid its greatest existential crisis since the Korean War.[50] Likewise, the six-party talks verifiably shut down North Korea’s plutonium reactor for six years. It did not concretely address, however, the nascent but growing uranium enrichment threat. North Korea also received sanctions relief, some of which was not reversed until last year. Pyongyang was returned its unfrozen assets from a Macau bank and, more significantly, changed its banking practices to limit America’s ability to impose the same type of financial pain using the same tool.[51] Proponents and opponents of engagement argue about what would have happened without these agreements. But counterfactuals are a dangerous analytical tool. It is impossible to know what would have happened if one historical variable had shifted. Would North Korea have more than 100 nuclear weapons today with three functioning plutonium reactors had there been no Agreed Framework? Or would the regime have collapsed under its own weight without the Western aid? It is impossible to say. Everyone has preconceived ideas and biases, but critical readers of this history who seek to genuinely learn from the past should be equally wary of counterfactuals that support or oppose preconceived ideas.

Conclusion

History is messy. Neither proponents nor opponents of the Trump-Kim summit should feel confident that history is on their side. History reveals reasons for pessimism, optimism, and caution. Attempting to critically engage the history of these nuclear negotiations can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one transpire, and perhaps learn some tactical lessons. Given the paucity of concrete data on Kim Jong Un and his decision-making, humility in analysis is warranted. Confident statements about what the North Korean leader seeks before he tells us are misplaced. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly since the last nuclear deals, but the two sides seem to be getting closer to a formula for a possible deal. Any deal — if one is indeed possible — is likely to involve difficult trade-offs for both sides. Experts can help illuminate public debate on the merits of these trade-offs, but elected leaders will ultimately need wisdom for the hard decisions ahead. Patrick McEachern is an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is co-author of North Korea, Iran, and the Challenge to International Order (Routledge: 2018). The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. government. ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: Roman Harak [post_title] => Marching Toward a U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Historical Case for Optimism, Pessimism, and Caution [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => marching-toward-a-u-s-north-korea-summit-the-historical-case-for-optimism-pessimism-and-caution [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 14:17:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 19:17:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=606 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => The history of denuclearization efforts on the Korean peninsula gives reason for pessimism, caution, and optimism. Attempting to critically engage that history can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one transpire, and perhaps learn some tactical lessons. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 3 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => His is not a start-up business seeking proof of concept but, rather, an established enterprise with a demonstrated ability to detonate increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => It is not clear how many uranium enrichment sites North Korea has because they are easier to hide than their plutonium counterparts. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => It is natural and appropriate to look to the history of U.S.-North Korean and multilateral denuclearization efforts for insights into the upcoming talks. First, however, one must consider whether Kim Jong Un is following his father’s playbook. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The United States, South Korea, and Japan have many more shared interests and values than differences, but North Korea knows where to find natural cleavages and has traditionally sought to exploit them. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 639 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 180 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] The effort toward complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization is known as CVID. [2] The South Korean government has been at the forefront of the optimists, arguing that this round of summits could portend a different outcome than past attempts. See its website dedicated to the series of summits — called Peace, A New Start — and articles such as that by Xu Aiying and Sohn JiAe, “Inter-Korean Summit Makes Headlines Around the World,” Peace, A New Start: 2018 Inter-Korean Summit, May 1, 2018, http://www.korea.net/Government/Current-Affairs/National-Affairs/view?affairId=656&subId=640&articleId=158382. For a critique arguing that history suggests greater pessimism around the summits, see Bruce Klingner, “Nice Try, North Korea and South Korea, But Your Pledges Are Airy, Empty Confections,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-klingner-north-korea-declaration-is-mostly-empty-promises-20180501-story.html. [3] “Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is standard language that has been used throughout post-Cold War diplomacy with North Korea on its nuclear program. It is in the 1992 “Joint Declaration of South And North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the 1994 Agreed Framework, the 2005 “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” and the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, among other agreements. As operationalized in these agreements and pursued in practice, the phrase refers to the elimination of North Korean facilities that can produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons and verified removal of any nuclear weapons on the peninsula. [4] For a more thorough overview of the 1994 Agreed Framework, see Kelsey Davenport, “The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, August 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/agreedframework. [5] For an overview of the six-party talks, see Kelsey Davenport, “The Six-Party Talks at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, July 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/6partytalks. [6] Department of State, “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” Sept. 19, 2005, https://www.state.gov/p/eap/regional/c15455.htm. [7] “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks.” [8] For more on North Korea’s first nuclear test, see Emma Chanlett-Avery and Sharon Squassoni, North Korea’s Nuclear Test: Motivations, Implications, and U.S. Options (Washington: Congressional Research Service, Oct. 24, 2006), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL33709.pdf. [9] Thermonuclear weapons, also known as hydrogen bombs, utilize fusion and can produce a more powerful blast, while atomic weapons utilize fission. For a short and readable article on the difference and its application to North Korea, see Stephanie Pappas, “Hydrogen Bomb vs. Atomic Bomb: What’s the Difference?” Live Science, Sept. 22, 2017, https://www.livescience.com/53280-hydrogen-bomb-vs-atomic-bomb.html. [10] “North Korea Nuclear Tests: What Did They Achieve?” BBC, Sept. 3, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-17823706. [11] Patrick McEachern, “North Korea’s Nuclear Doctrine Under Kim Jong Un,” APLN Policy Brief, Dec. 21, 2017, http://www.a-pln.org/_mobile/briefings/briefings_view.html?seq=1030. [12] “No Dong 1,” Center for Strategic and International Studies Missile Defense Project, accessed June 1, 2018, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/no-dong/. [13] Alex Wagner, “Albright Visits North Korea; Progress Made on Missile Front,” Arms Control Association, November 2000, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2000_11/albrighttalks. “North Korea Test-Fires Several Missiles,” New York Times, July 4, 2006, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/04/world/asia/04cnd-korea.html. [14] The U.N. Security Council has criticized North Korea’s ballistic missile development and demanded the suspension of “all ballistic missile related activity” in a series of resolutions since North Korea’s 2006 Taepo Dong-2 launch. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695, adopted in 2006, demands that North Korea suspend “all ballistic missile related activity.” The Security Council’s demand is not limited to missiles of a certain range given the ability to test components of long-range missiles using short-range launches. Likewise, the resolutions’ wording effectively demands the cessation of rocket launches configured as a space launch for satellites as these launches also can be used to test and refine technologies for long-range ballistic missiles. [15] Korean Central News Agency, “Kim Jong Un Guides Test Fire of ICBM Hwasong 15,” Nov. 29, 2017. [16] Kim’s claim is probably premature given some additional technical hurdles and unfinished business on some systems such as the GORAE-class ballistic missile submarine. [17] Korean Central News Agency, “Kim Jong Un Guides Test Fire of ICBM Hwasong 15,” Nov. 29, 2017. [18] CIA, Untitled Unclassified Estimate, Nov. 19, 2002, GALE Document Number KQUSOP990053924. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf later noted that Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan delivered centrifuges to North Korea in 2000, as recounted by Sigfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Siegfried S. Hecker, “What I Found in North Korea: Pyongyang’s Plutonium Is No Longer the Only Problem,” Foreign Affairs, Dec. 9, 2010, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/northeast-asia/2010-12-09/what-i-found-north-korea?page=show. [19] A prominent North Korean defector claimed that a decision to enrich may have been made as early as 1996, and the South Korean foreign minister asserted the same. North Korean imports of the critical components followed in subsequent years. Kim Yong Hun, “North Korea Obtained HEU from Pakistan,” DailyNK, Aug. 11, 2010, http://english.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk02200&num=6680. Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Started Uranium Program in 1990s, South Says,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/world/asia/07korea.html. [20] For an excellent technical discussion, see David Albright, “North Korea’s Nuclear Capabilities: A Fresh Look,” Aug. 9, 2017, http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/north-koreas-nuclear-capabilities-a-fresh-look-power-point-slides/10. Albright cautions that these estimates are “rough” and require a variety of informed assumptions about North Korea’s nuclear operations, bomb design, and other variables. Numbers cited here are rounded to the nearest whole nuclear weapon and reflect median estimates for “weapons equivalents.” [21] Siegfried S. Hecker, “Nuclear Developments in North Korea,” (Stanford University: Center for International Security and Cooperation, Mar. 20, 2012), https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/HeckerPBNCfinal.pdf. [22] Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor (New York: Crown Publishers, 2011). [23] Department of State, “Second-Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement,” Oct. 3, 2007, https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/oct/93217.htm. [24] Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Limits Tests of Nuclear Site,” New York Times, Nov. 12, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/13/world/asia/13korea.html. [25] Kim Hakjoon, Dynasty: The Hereditary Succession Politics of North Korea (Stanford, CA: Walter Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2015), 101. [26] Patrick McEachern, Inside the Red Box: North Korea’s Post-Totalitarian Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 43–44. [27] Andrei Lankov, “NK’s Founding Father, Kim Il-Sung,” Korea Times, Apr. 17, 2016, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2016/04/638_202760.html. [28] Barbara Demick, “Secret Tape Recordings of Kim Jong Il Provide Rare Insight into the Psyche of his North Korean Regime,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-kimtapes-snap-20161026-story.html. [29] For a more in-depth discussion of differences in ruling style and approach between Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, see Patrick McEachern, “Centralizing North Korean Policymaking Under Kim Jong Un,” Asian Perspective (forthcoming). [30] Charles Kartman, Robert Carlin, and Joel Wit, “Policy in Context: A History of KEDO, 1994–2006” (Stanford, CA: Center for International Security Cooperation and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, June 2012), https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/A_History_of_KEDO-1.pdf. [31] James B. Steinberg, “The Bush Foreign Policy Revolution,” Brookings Institution, June 1, 2003, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-bush-foreign-policy-revolution/. [32] Mike Chinoy, Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008). [33] Noah Bierman, “Trump Warns North Korea of ‘Fire and Fury,’” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 8, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-trump-warns-north-korea-of-fire-and-1502220642-htmlstory.html. [34] “Trump Calls Kim Jong Un ‘Little Rocket Man’ on Twitter,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-updates-everything-president-trump-calls-kim-jong-un-little-rocket-1512093131-htmlstory.html. [35] For the most comprehensive and succinct criticism of the idea of limited military strikes, see Abraham M. Denmark, “The Myth of the Limited Strike on North Korea,” Foreign Affairs, Jan. 9, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-korea/2018-01-09/myth-limited-strike-north-korea. [36] Carol Morello, Anna Fifield, and David Nakamura, “North Korea Frees 3 American Prisoners Ahead of a Planned Trump-Kim Summit,” Washington Post, May 9, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pompeo-north-korea-can-haverichly-deserved-opportunities-in-return-for-peace/2018/05/09/b51febfa-51a4-11e8-b00a-17f9fda3859b_story.html. [37] “Living History with Former ROK Foreign Minister Han Sung-joo,” Beyond Parallel, Dec. 5, 2016, https://beyondparallel.csis.org/living-history-han-sung-joo/. Choe Sang-hun, “Korean Crisis Is Different This Time,” New York Times, Aug. 3, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/world/asia/04iht-letter.html. [38] Charles L. Pritchard, Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2007). [39] James L. Schoff and Yaron Eisenberg, Peace Regime Building on the Korean Peninsula: What’s Next? (Cambridge, MA: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, May 2009), 3, http://www.ifpa.org/pdf/PeaceRegimeInterimMay09.pdf. [40] “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” https://www.state.gov/p/eap/regional/c15455.htm. [41] R. Michael Schiffer, “Envisioning a Northeast Asian Peace and Security Mechanism,” in Understanding New Political Realities in Seoul, ed. L. Gordon Flake and Park Ro-byug (Washington: Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, 2008), 59–78. [42] P. Urjinlhundev, “Protocols of the Talks between Mongolian and North Korean Government Delegations,” Mar. 17, 1972. [43] For a sophisticated statement of this position and its implications for policy, see Sung Chull Kim and Michael D. Cohen, eds., North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Entering the New Era of Deterrence (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2017). [44] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement,” Feb. 13, 2007, http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/n_korea/6party/action0702.html. [45] The White House, “Letter – Imposing Additional Sanctions with Respect to North Korea,” Jan. 2, 2015, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/02/letter-imposing-additional-sanctions-respect-north-korea. [46] Michael D. Shear and David E. Sanger, “Trump Returns North Korea to List of State Sponsors of Terrorism,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/20/us/politics/north-korea-trump-terror.html. [47] Federation of American Scientists, “Yongbyon,” Mar. 4, 2000, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/dprk/facility/yongbyon.htm. [48] Davenport, “The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance.” [49] Mark E. Manyin and Mary Beth D. Nikitin, Foreign Assistance to North Korea (Washington: Congressional Research Service, April 2014), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R40095.pdf. [50] For a succinct and contemporary review of competing arguments for and against aid, among other considerations, see Robert A. Manning and James Przystup, “Starve North Korea — Or Save It? Right Now We’re Doing Both,” Washington Post, June 23, 1996, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1996/06/23/starve-north-korea-or-save-it-right-now-were-doing-both/97ea3f5d-511b-4286-b743-be7e6ef1efa9/. [51] John Park and Jim Walsh, Stopping North Korea, Inc.: Sanctions Effectiveness and Unintended Consequences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Security Studies Program, August 2016), 16, https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/Stopping%20North%20Korea%20Inc%20Park%20and%20Walsh%20.pdf. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 468 [post_author] => 137 [post_date] => 2018-02-13 04:00:33 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-13 09:00:33 [post_content] => According to most theories of nuclear proliferation, North Korea did not stand much of a chance of successfully acquiring nuclear weapons. As an economically backward, neopatrimonial regime subject to the threat of preventive strikes and war, North Korea should have failed. Few theories gave it a sporting chance of successfully nuclearizing. Yet here we are, staring down an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-sized barrel of the world’s 10th nuclear weapons power.[1] 2017 was a banner year for the North Korean nuclear weapons program, as Kim Jong Un sprinted to develop a range of missile capabilities — including a credible ICBM capability — and a thermonuclear weapon. A program that was once derided as a joke, especially after its first purported nuclear test in 2006, is now anything but that. Why did academic theories of nuclear proliferation so seriously underestimate North Korea, and how should we adjust our theories to better account for future nuclear proliferators, so that we do not repeat that mistake? Understanding why academic theories failed to forecast North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is important for reasons of both policy and scholarship. From a policy perspective, theories of proliferation ideally would help governments forecast the most probable future proliferators, such that decision makers could design effective policy interventions ahead of time, either to help forestall acquisition or prepare for its consequences. The fact that academic theories generally failed to predict North Korean acquisition calls into question whether they can reliably serve this sort of role. From a more parochial scholarly perspective, identifying why academic theories failed to forecast North Korean acquisition of nuclear technology is important, particularly in the context of the recent “renaissance” of nuclear security studies.[2] Given the large sums of money and human effort that have gone into studying nuclear proliferation in the last decade, the academic community needs to be clear and accountable in identifying not only our advances, but also our failures and blind-spots. We begin this article by tracing North Korea’s nuclear program through time, discussing the various moments when it began, halted, and could have been potentially stopped, and then, finally, taking a look at its final sprint to the nuclear weapons finish line. We then take stock of how various theories of nuclear proliferation fared in predicting North Korea’s success in acquiring nuclear weapons. Few fare well, particularly those theories that focused on North Korea’s security environment, access to technology and foreign supplies, and regime type. Theories examining North Korea’s orientation toward the international economy and the United States fare better, but even these do not provide full explanations for North Korean behavior. Next, we discuss how to move forward as a research program, given that nuclear proliferation is both a rare event and not a fully predictable process. This is not a call to abandon current theories of proliferation by any means, but is instead intended as a wake-up call — academic theories underestimated North Korea, and they therefore need to be adjusted to take into account what we have learned from this failure. Specifically, we argue that academic theories should reconsider the role of threats of military force, economic development, foreign technological support, and regime type, and place greater emphasis on the ability of proliferators to prevent or withstand the pressure of coercive nonproliferation measures. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for nonproliferation policy, arguing that the North Korea case underlines the limits of export control policies and unilateral sanctions, the importance of timely policy intervention and inducements, and the fragility of nonproliferation bargains to domestic political dynamics.

A Brief History of North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program

The Early Years: January 1960-January 1992 North Korea’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons began in the early 1960s, when it requested Soviet and Chinese help with developing a nuclear weapons program. Both declined, but Moscow agreed to train North Korean nuclear scientists and help Pyongyang develop a peaceful nuclear program. After China tested its first nuclear device in October 1964, North Korea approached Beijing with another request for aid in nuclear weapons development, which was again refused. Over the next decade and a half, North Korea continued unsuccessfully to seek nuclear assistance from abroad, including from East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and, again, from the Soviet Union and China. By the end of the 1970s, North Korea decided to pursue a program on its own, with Kim Il Sung ordering the development of a gas-graphite reactor at Yongbyon, which could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.[3] North Korea deliberately chose a reactor design that used natural uranium and did not require heavy water, thus minimizing dependence on external supplies.[4] Indeed, in describing North Korea’s program more than a decade later, a U.S. official observed, “Of all the nuclear weapons programs in the Third World, this is the most indigenous.”[5] By the mid-1980s, the reactor at Yongbyon was complete. Meanwhile, the United States and Soviet Union began to take notice of North Korea’s suspicious nuclear activities. In 1985, at Washington’s urging, Moscow convinced North Korea to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in exchange for a Soviet agreement to provide power reactors.[6] In September 1986, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report concluded that, “whether [or not] the current nuclear developments in North Korea reflect a nuclear weapons program, they represent a considerable developing capability.” However, the same report noted, “If North Korea intends to pursue a nuclear weapons program, it has made its job much more difficult by signing the NPT.”[7] By 1988, despite having signed the NPT, North Korea still had not reached a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Meanwhile, signs emerged that Pyongyang might be building a reprocessing facility, which could be used to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel. This combination of red flags led the CIA to observe that “close scrutiny of the North’s nuclear effort is in order,” even though it admitted, “we have no evidence that North Korea is pursuing a nuclear weapon option.”[8] The following year, after a Washington Post story drew attention to North Korea’s reprocessing facility and potential nuclear weapons program, North Korea publicly denied that it was seeking nuclear weapons.[9] Around this time, the U.S. government concluded that North Korea was indeed pursuing nuclear weapons.[10] That conclusion was bolstered by evidence that North Korea was testing sophisticated conventional explosives at Yongbyon, indicating that Pyongyang could be developing an implosion-type nuclear weapon.[11] Over the next two years, North Korea’s sense of insecurity sharpened, as its Soviet ally collapsed and both Russia and China sought to improve relations with Seoul. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia worked to convince North Korea to accept IAEA safeguards. But Pyongyang demanded the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the peninsula along with a negative security assurance as a precondition for accepting any such safeguards.[12] When the IAEA Board passed a resolution in September 1991 calling on North Korea to implement a safeguards agreement, a North Korean official suggested his government would only do so if the U.S. “nuclear threat” dissipated and “if the pressure put upon us is removed.”[13] [quote id="1"] A few weeks later, as part of an initiative to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal globally as the Cold War wound down, President George H.W. Bush announced that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons would be withdrawn from foreign bases. This led the North Korean government to announce, “If the United States really withdraws its nuclear weapons from South Korea, the way of our signing the nuclear safeguards accord will be opened.”[14] U.S. government officials around this time also were considering an initiative whereby both South and North Korea would be asked to commit to not reprocess spent nuclear fuel, which would help address proliferation risks but would go beyond North Korea’s obligations under the NPT.[15] U.S. nonproliferation efforts finally bore fruit in late 1991, when North Korea agreed to accept IAEA safeguards and reached an agreement with Seoul under which the two countries pledged not to develop nuclear weapons.[16] The leaders of North and South Korea also agreed to a nonaggression pact.[17] The nuclear agreement, formally concluded in January 1992, additionally required the two Koreas to refrain from enrichment, reprocessing, and hosting nuclear weapons, to be verified by bilateral inspections.[18] In the same month, as a gesture of good will toward Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul announced that they would cancel their joint military exercises for the year, leading North Korea to finally sign an IAEA safeguards agreement.[19] The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis: February 1992-May 1994 The momentum toward nonproliferation and improved relations on the Korean Peninsula did not last long. In February of 1992, as North Korea stalled on ratifying the safeguards agreement, U.S. officials warned that Pyongyang might only be a few months away from a rudimentary weapons capability.[20] Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence suggested that North Korea was continuing construction on its reprocessing facility, hardening it against potential attack, and perhaps removing equipment prior to inspections.[21] In the spring of 1992, North Korea finally ratified the safeguards agreement, submitted its declaration of nuclear activities to the IAEA, and allowed inspections, but this only roused further concerns. Inspectors uncovered several inconsistencies in the North Korean declaration, found evidence that equipment had been removed from the reprocessing plant (which North Korea had previously denied existed), and were refused access to several undeclared sites suspected of storing nuclear waste. IAEA analysts also determined that North Korea had likely produced more than the small amounts of plutonium to which it had admitted.[22] Over the course of that summer, the United States, Russia, China, and Europe all pressured North Korea to comply more fully with the IAEA. Meanwhile, China restored diplomatic relations with South Korea and Russia began to loosen ties with Pyongyang.[23] As an October 1992 U.S. Defense Department memo observed, “What is becoming clear is that North Korean non-cooperation is more evident as IAEA becomes more aggressive in its inspections.”[24] In early 1993, with the Clinton administration now in office, the United States and South Korea announced that they would hold their annual military exercise — which had been canceled the year before — making reference to North Korea’s lack of full compliance with the IAEA and North Korea’s failure to agree to a bilateral inspection regime with South Korea. For its part, the IAEA demanded that North Korea allow special inspections of its suspected nuclear waste storage sites, giving Pyongyang 30 days before it would refer the issue to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).[25] In March, as the military exercise began, North Korea declared it would withdraw from the NPT in 90 days, leading the IAEA Board of Governors to turn over the issue to the UNSC. After China signaled it would not support sanctions against North Korea, the United States again turned to diplomacy, offering to hold talks with Pyongyang on a range of issues — including military exercises, security assurances, and nuclear inspections — if it would be accommodating on the nonproliferation issue.[26] Although China opposed North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, it feared that strong sanctions might cause the regime to collapse, leading to a refugee crisis on its borders.[27] Over the summer of 1993, talks with the United States led North Korea to suspend its NPT withdrawal. The United States agreed to help North Korea acquire light-water power reactors in exchange for North Korea’s cooperation with inspections.[28] By the end of the year, however, North Korea was again dragging its feet on inspections, seeking a broader grand bargain with the United States as its price for cooperation.[29] At the same time, U.S. officials concluded that North Korea may have already acquired enough plutonium for a nuclear device,[30] causing the United States to try to line up support for sanctions at the United Nations, an effort again obstructed by China.[31] After North Korea agreed to allow new IAEA inspections in March 1994, the United States and South Korea announced that they would suspend their joint military exercises and hold additional talks with Pyongyang.[32] But North Korea blocked inspectors from visiting parts of its reprocessing facility at Yongbyon, leading the IAEA to pull out its team.[33] This, in turn, led Washington to cancel scheduled talks with North Korea, announce that it would indeed hold its military exercise with South Korea, and begin reinforcing its military posture in the region, including moving Patriot missile batteries to South Korea.[34] With North Korea warning that the peninsula was “on the brink of war,” China again signaled opposition to U.N. sanctions.[35] Soon thereafter, Secretary of Defense William Perry publicly stated that a military strike was a possibility if diplomacy and sanctions failed.[36] After another U.S. negotiation attempt failed, North Korea began unloading spent fuel rods from its Yongbyon reactor,  laying the groundwork for the separation of additional plutonium. In June, IAEA Director Hans Blix declared that the agency had permanently lost the capability to verify whether North Korea had diverted nuclear materials for use in a weapons program. As tensions continued to rise, the United States proposed an arms embargo against North Korea at the United Nations, while both South and North Korea prepared for possible military conflict.[37] The Agreed Framework and its Demise: June 1994-March 2003 The North Korean nuclear crisis was only defused when former President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea in June and met with Kim Il Sung. Carter identified a potential bargain that would involve the United States agreeing to hold high-level talks with Pyongyang in exchange for a North Korean commitment to allow IAEA inspections, to not refuel its reactor, and to refrain from further reprocessing of spent fuel.[38] A few weeks later, Kim Il Sung died and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il, who finished the nuclear negotiations his father had started.[39] In October 1994, after several months of negotiations, the United States and North Korea concluded the Agreed Framework. The deal required Pyongyang to freeze operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, agree to inspections, remain in the NPT, move toward implementation of the 1992 denuclearization pact with South Korea, and not reprocess any more spent fuel. In exchange, Washington agreed to provide North Korea with heavy oil, to help it acquire two light-water power reactors, and to move toward broader improvements in relations, including increased diplomatic contacts, removal of sanctions, a negative security assurance, and, ultimately, normalization of relations.[40] By the late 1990s, however, the Agreed Framework had run into difficulties. Partly due to congressional opposition, the United States was behind in delivering the promised benefits to North Korea.[41] In particular, the United States was late in starting construction on the light-water reactors and had been repeatedly late in providing oil. It also had lifted few sanctions and had maintained North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terror. Meanwhile, there were no substantial moves toward normalization.[42] Then, in 1998, the United States detected the construction of a large underground complex in North Korea, which officials worried might be a covert nuclear site.[43] That same year, North Korea tested a new medium-range ballistic missile, the Taepodong-1, firing it over Japan and into the sea.[44] The test was especially concerning because it indicated that North Korea would soon have the ability to target all of Japan.[45] Washington responded by threatening to scuttle the Agreed Framework, leading North Korea to allow an inspection of the underground site in question. Although no evidence of nuclear activity was found, U.S. intelligence soon began to notice indications that North Korea was procuring components for an enrichment program, possibly with aid from Pakistan.[46] Indeed, around this time, North Korea began receiving assistance in enrichment from the AQ Khan network.[47] Despite these challenges, a few signs of cooperation emerged at the tail end of the Clinton administration. Clinton put former Secretary of Defense William Perry in charge of coordinating North Korea policy, who worked toward renewed cooperation.[48] Instead of confronting North Korea over its rudimentary enrichment program and threatening to pull out of the Agreed Framework, the Clinton administration decided to pursue additional negotiated agreements. After all, North Korea had technically been complying with its obligations under the Agreed Framework, which focused on its plutonium program — a far bigger proliferation threat than its nascent enrichment program at the time.[49] In late 1999, Pyongyang agreed to a missile test moratorium in exchange for the easing of U.S. economic sanctions,[50] and in late 2000, the United States and Pyongyang held a series of high-level meetings, including a trip by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to North Korea to discuss the missile issue.[51] In December 2000, with his administration’s time running short, President Clinton decided to pause the negotiations, putting the ball in the court of the incoming George W. Bush administration.[52] [quote id="2"] The Bush administration, opposed to a policy of accommodation toward North Korea, initially halted negotiations and insisted on harsher terms, including broader inspection rights and limits on North Korea’s conventional force posture.[53] In October 2002, after the 9/11 attacks and North Korea’s inclusion in the Bush administration’s “Axis of Evil,” the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium enrichment program. Recriminations and threats between the two sides soon caused the Agreed Framework to break down, leading North Korea to kick out inspectors, withdraw from the NPT, and restart nuclear activities at Yongbyon.[54] The Bush administration, for its part, cut off oil shipments and suspended construction on light-water reactors in North Korea.[55] North Korean officials began citing U.S. military actions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq as justifying their need to develop nuclear weapons. Indeed, there are indications that Kim Jong Il was seriously concerned about the prospect of U.S. military action in 2003.[56] Why did the Agreed Framework break down? It seems reasonable to conclude that both sides bear some of the fault. Although North Korea clearly violated at least the spirit of the agreement by starting a secret enrichment program, it is also clear that the United States was not following through on its own obligations. The key problem, as Siegfried Hecker points out, was that “Washington saw the Agreed Framework primarily as a nonproliferation agreement,” while North Korea “viewed the political provisions of the Agreed Framework, which called for both sides to move toward full normalization of political and economic relations, to be the heart of the pact.”[57] This fundamental asymmetry in how the Agreed Framework was understood may help explain both the failure of the United States to pursue broader improvements in relations in a timely fashion, as well as the North Korean decision to pursue an enrichment capability when the Agreed Framework was not playing out as it had envisioned. It also suggests that a desire for improved relations with Washington has been an important motivation for North Korean decision-makers, which perhaps implies that “carrots” are as or more important than “sticks,” in dealing with Pyongyang, a point we return to below. Crossing the Finish Line: April 2003-December 2017 Despite withdrawing from the NPT, North Korea continued to seek economic, diplomatic, and security benefits in exchange for limiting its program, threatening to test a nuclear device or export nuclear materials if its demands were not met.[58] While the Bush administration would not agree to these demands, it did begin negotiations with Pyongyang in the context of the Six-Party Talks, beginning in August 2003 and continuing until 2009. These talks were organized and hosted by China and also included South Korea, Japan, and Russia.[59] At the end of 2004, the IAEA Director concluded that North Korea likely possessed enough plutonium for four to six bombs.[60] The following year, U.S. intelligence detected the construction of a tunnel that could be used for a nuclear test, while Pyongyang continued to demand concessions from the United States, including the provision of power reactors, which had been promised in the Agreed Framework.[61] In September 2005, during the fourth round of the Six-Party Talks, North Korea committed in principle to denuclearization in exchange for political and economic concessions.[62] Nevertheless, despite this progress, the United States imposed sanctions on entities involved in North Korean weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and levied an array of financial sanctions intended to cut down on Pyongyang’s illicit economic activities.[63] In July of 2006, with the Six-Party Talks on hold due to North Korean opposition to America’s sanctions policy, Pyongyang tested six missiles, leading the UNSC to impose sanctions banning missile-related trade with North Korea.[64] In early October, North Korea warned it would soon conduct its first nuclear test, citing U.S. hostility and sanctions as justification.[65] A few days later, despite international warnings, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, although the low yield suggests the device did not work as intended, measuring less than one kiloton.[66] The UNSC responded by imposing new sanctions on North Korea, covering trade in armaments and luxury goods, although provisions allowing for the inspection of North Korean cargo were weakened by Russian and Chinese opposition.[67] Soon thereafter, at Chinese prodding, Pyongyang announced it would return to the negotiating table.[68] In February 2007, an agreement was reached by the six negotiating parties, which called on North Korea to freeze its plutonium program and accept inspections at Yongbyon in exchange for the lifting of certain U.S. sanctions, the provision of fuel oil, economic aid, Washington taking North Korea off its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and movement toward normalization of relations with the United States.[69] After North Korea began to receive sanctions relief, it started to implement its side of the deal in the summer of 2007. The following summer, the Bush administration further eased sanctions, but stalled on removing North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.[70] In September, North Korea blocked IAEA inspectors from monitoring Yongbyon, displeased that the United States had not yet delivered some of the promised benefits.[71] After a deal was struck on verification measures the following month in exchange for North Korea’s removal from the state-sponsor-of-terrorism list, Pyongyang backtracked on the agreement, leading the United States to suspend the provision of fuel.[72] [quote id="6"] Tensions continued after the Obama administration entered the White House in 2009, with North Korea testing a Taepodong-2 missile in April of that year, which led the UNSC to tighten the enforcement of missile sanctions. North Korea responded by escalating the situation further, kicking out inspectors, pulling out of negotiations, and warning it would resume its nuclear program.[73] On May 25, 2009, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test, with a yield estimated between two and eight kilotons, leading the UNSC to pass additional sanctions, including a wider arms embargo and tighter financial restrictions.[74] The following year, Pyongyang revealed a centrifuge enrichment plant at Yongbyon, which could allow it to produce highly-enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.[75] North Korea also committed two armed provocations in 2010, sinking a South Korean vessel and shelling the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.[76] For the duration of its time in office, the Obama administration adopted a policy of “strategic patience” toward Pyongyang, increasing the diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea in an effort to convince the regime to return to the negotiating table while hoping for a change in regime orientation. After Kim Jong Un succeeded his father in December 2011, the United States and North Korea reached the short-lived Leap Day Agreement in February 2012, whereby North Korea temporarily limited its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for economic aid, a deal that Pyongyang soon violated. From this point onward, North Korea declined to seriously negotiate, focusing instead on building up its nuclear and missile capabilities.[77] This uncompromising North Korean posture has continued under the Trump administration, which has adopted a strategy of both sanctions and threats of preventive military force.[78] Between 2010 and 2017, North Korea conducted four nuclear tests (one in 2013, two in 2016, and one in 2017). The most recent test, in September 2017, is estimated to have well exceeded 100 kilotons in yield, suggesting North Korea has developed a thermonuclear or boosted fission device.[79] During the same period, North Korea conducted more than 80 missile tests, including several that demonstrate the country’s ICBM capability, putting the U.S. homeland within striking distance.[80] In 2017, the Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that North Korea may possess as many as 60 nuclear weapons.[81] North Korea achieved this impressive progress in its nuclear and missile programs despite steadily increasing international sanctions pressure, including six rounds of U.N. sanctions and gradually escalating U.S. sanctions.[82] The most recent U.N. sanctions, passed in August and September 2017, prohibited the import of North Korean coal, iron, lead, seafood, and textiles, and limited North Korea’s ability to buy oil and refined petroleum.[83]  Yet these stronger measures have almost certainly come too late — no country has ever given up an indigenously developed nuclear arsenal of this size and sophistication.

How Did Academic Theories Perform?

Why North Korea pursued nuclear weapons is hardly a puzzle. The country finds itself in one of the most dangerous security environments in the world, facing a conventionally superior, nuclear-armed American-South Korean alliance on its borders. Since the end of the Korean War, which ended in armistice and not a peace agreement, both the North and the South have openly called for reunification. The pursuit of nuclear weapons — if it were successful — would provide North Korea with, at the very least, invasion insurance. This is not to say that there are not reinforcing domestic political motivations. Nuclear weapons have become a symbol of the Kim regime’s legitimacy and power. North Korea’s nuclear program also makes it far more relevant in global affairs than it otherwise would be, giving it a kind of status. But the primary motivation is security, to deter against a conventional invasion by the United States and efforts by South Korea to reunify the Korean Peninsula on Western terms. [84] It is somewhat surprising, then, that North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons only popped on the radar screen of the United States intelligence community in the late 1980s. In 1982, a CIA report analyzing the next decade of nuclear proliferation concluded that, despite interest in reactors, “we have no basis for believing that the North Koreans have either the facilities or materials necessary to develop and test nuclear weapons.”[85] By the mid-1980s, however, North Korea’s development of a nuclear reactor started raising concern that Pyongyang might be pursuing nuclear weapons, though the intelligence community still doubted that North Korea would risk nuclear pursuit given its vulnerability and the prospect of reactive South Korean proliferation.[86] Twenty years later, North Korea would test its first fission device. Thirty years later, North Korea would undeniably become the world’s 10th nuclear weapons power. Few theories of nuclear proliferation, if any, gave North Korea a chance of reaching that milestone. Below, we catalog how academic theories fare in predicting North Korea’s chances of successfully acquiring nuclear weapons. To be clear, we focus on theories that purport to explain the acquisition of nuclear weapons (or lack thereof), as opposed to the related literature on why states pursue nuclear weapons. Moreover, we limit our discussion to theories that are intended to apply generally to all countries, as well as theories that are intended to apply to specifically to countries like North Korea. In other words, these are fair tests of the theories under consideration; we are applying the theories to a case in which they are intended to apply. [quote id="3"] Realist theories on nuclear proliferation assume that states acquire nuclear weapons for security purposes. Indeed, quantitative studies have found that states in enduring rivalries and with more military disputes are more likely to acquire nuclear weapons.[87] In their most extreme form, realist theories argue that if a state has a strong enough security imperative, nothing can stop them from acquiring the bomb. According to Kenneth Waltz, for example, “no country has been able to prevent other countries from going nuclear if they were determined to do so.”[88] Yet there is something fundamentally unsatisfying about this argument, since it is impossible to measure a state’s level of determination with any degree of certainty, thus rendering the theory tautological. If a state does acquire nuclear capabilities, it was really determined; if it does not, it must not have been very motivated. Moreover, there are many countries in highly threatening security environments that have pursued and not acquired the bomb, including South Korea, Taiwan, West Germany, Iraq, and Iran. The most complete realist model for what states might successfully acquire nuclear weapons is offered by Alexandre Debs and Nuno Monteiro.[89] They argue that states must have both a willingness and opportunity to proliferate — that means they need a security motivation to proliferate, but the breathing room to do so without facing preventive war (or the credible threat of war) from an adversary. States without reliable allies will, therefore, be more willing to pursue nuclear weapons. This is where Debs and Monteiro place North Korea. They write:
Taking stock, our strategic theory of proliferation accounts for North Korea’s nuclearization. Pyongyang’s security concerns vis-à-vis the South and the United States, combined with the absence of a reliable ally since at least the end of the Cold War, account for Korea’s willingness to proliferate. Its ability to inflict high costs on its adversaries using conventional weaponry deterred counterproliferation military action, granting North Korea the opportunity to become, as of this date, the latest state to have built the bomb.[90]
At first glance, this appears to be a compelling argument; North Korea was strongly motivated by its security predicament to pursue nuclear weapons and was able to do so because it could deter counterproliferation efforts with its conventional threat to Seoul. Yet there are a couple problems with this argument. First, there are a variety of states with similar security motivations, but which failed to successfully acquire the bomb, for example Iran and Iraq. Both countries could hold valuable American allies or assets at risk conventionally, or even worse, with chemical weapons, if the United States attempted a preventive strike. Iraq and Iran (thus far) have failed to successfully acquire nuclear weapons, yet North Korea did. Second, when applied to North Korea, the argument relies on an almost circular claim that the U.S. was deterred from taking military action against North Korea because it never carried out a military attack. Yet the United States seriously considered ordering a military strike on the Yongbyon Reactor in 1994.[91] As Van Jackson demonstrates, North Korea perceived this as a credible threat due to a combination of factors, including U.S. military exercises with South Korea and the recent use of force in the Gulf War. Indeed, according to the testimony of defectors, Kim Jong Il (then head of North Korean military forces) “spent much of March 1993 in a military bunker, issuing commands to field units, a curious action if North Korea did not anticipate the possibility of conflict.”[92] The threat of military force, combined with Jimmy Carter’s intervention and the subsequent offer of inducements, led to the Agreed Framework, which successfully froze North Korea’s plutonium program. Certainly the potential for retaliation against Seoul induced caution in American decisionmakers, yet this is beside the point, since Debs and Monteiro’s theory requires only that the proliferator perceive a credible threat of force. North Korea also likely perceived a credible threat of force in 2003, as noted above, but persisted with its nuclear program anyway. Even this more complete security model does not explain how North Korea defied the odds, when other similarly vulnerable states — all of whom had the ability to lash out conventionally or with chemical weapons — failed to acquire nuclear weapons. A strict test of the preventive war mechanism would underestimate North Korea’s probability of acquiring nuclear weapons. A second family of theories focuses on the ability of authoritarian states to successfully manage a nuclear weapons program. In short, none of these models gave North Korea a fighting chance of succeeding. The most prominent example of this theory is Jacques Hymans’s work in Achieving Nuclear Ambitions.[93] Hymans argues that authoritarian regimes, especially neopatrimonial regimes — where networks based on personal ties make up the regime and its power base — are particularly bad at managing complex projects such as nuclear weapons programs that require cooperation and coordination between scientists, industrial and engineering organizations, and the military. Dictatorships are often too paranoid and incompetent to successfully manage such projects, according to Hymans. [quote id="4"] North Korea is the poster boy for this theory. Hymans argues that North Korea “is the ideal-typical case of neopatrimonialism,” where top-down meddling in programs makes it ripe for spectacular failure in projects as complex as nuclear weapons.[94]At the time his book was published, in 2012, Hymans denied that North Korea was actually a nuclear weapons power. He wrote that the October 2006 nuclear test “was an embarrassing technical failure”[95] and the second one in 2009 “was at best only the most minimal of successes.”[96] Hymans further argued that “it remains unclear if North Korea does or does not yet have an operational nuclear arsenal that it could use in battle.”[97] However, tests are only failures if nothing is learned from them. It is clear that North Korea learned a lot from each of these tests and, in its subsequent nuclear and missile tests, has demonstrated an ability to reach thermonuclear yields in the hundreds of kilotons. It also likely has the capacity to deliver its nuclear weapons to regional targets if not the continental United States. Hymans’ theory predicts, at best, “the project’s snail’s pace of progress,” arguing that “it seems reasonable to assume that maintaining the snail’s pace would be the most North Korea could hope for. Moreover, Pyongyang has proved such an inveterate bluffer in the past that we should stop gasping in fear every time it threatens the world with yet another technological ‘breakthrough.’”[98] And yet, history has proven this argument wrong. The 2017 summer sprint in North Korea’s nuclear and missile program was a clear breakthrough — one cannot bluff intercontinental ranges and thermonuclear yields, which speak a universal language. To his admirable credit, however, Hymans develops a falsifiable and testable theory and is willing to make predictions based on it. Unfortunately, North Korea is clearly an outlier for his theory — the pathologies of the Kim regime may have stymied food production, but not the nuclear weapons program — which once again defied the theoretical odds. A second theory in this family of models is Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer’s work on Iraq and Libya, which similarly focuses on authoritarian regimes’ inability to manage nuclear weapons programs.[99] However, Braut-Hegghammer’s argument focuses not on interference in such programs, but on neglect by weak states with personalist regimes, where power is primarily invested in the hands of one leader rather than a political party or other large group. According to her theory, the capacity of weak states is often restricted by constant efforts to prevent the next coup, which leads to the neglect of projects as complex as nuclear weapons. She argues that Saddam and Gaddafi “lacked the capability even to pay close attention to the performance of these programs because they had weakened their states to strengthen their own hold on power.”[100] Drawing on principal-agent theory, Braut-Hegghammer argues that, rather than meddling in their nuclear programs as Hymans suggests, Saddam and Gaddafi failed to monitor it closely enough, allowing scientists to run their own fiefdoms and sell snake oil to these leaders, which in turn resulted in both countries’ failure to successfully develop nuclear weapons. She writes:
weak states often lack the institutional resources to set up and operate nuclear weapons programs. This is particularly problematic in so-called personalist regimes, such as Iraq and Libya, whose leaders undermine formal state institutions and seek to govern through informal structures of patronage and control.[101]
Although the Kim dynasty is clearly dominated by one-man rule and invests a lot of energy in  preventing coups,[102] Braut-Hegghammer in fact argues that her theory does not apply to North Korea, which she classifies as a “strong state.”[103] This is debatable. Certainly, the North Korean regime is stronger than many observers believed, given that it has, for decades, defied predictions that it would collapse.[104] Yet if North Korea is truly a strong state, it is puzzling that it was not able to prevent hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) of its citizens from dying from famine in the 1990s.[105] As David Kang argued in 2012, the evidence suggests that “North Korea is both strong and weak,” and that the state has weakened further in recent decades, stating, “Largely as a result of weakened state control, the economy has experienced increases in commercialization and marketization in recent years.” This, in turn, has “shriveled the central government’s control over the periphery.”[106] Yet, precisely as the North Korean state has weakened, it has made the most dramatic strides in its nuclear weapons program. At the very least, this trend would seem to contradict the pattern expected by Braut-Hegghammer’s theory. The theories described above, which base predictions of the likelihood of acquisition on either security imperatives or regime type, in fact vastly underpredict North Korea’s probability of acquiring nuclear weapons. Similarly, supply-side or diffusion theories also fail at providing a satisfying explanation of North Korea’s nuclear accomplishments. For example, quantitative studies have found that wealthy (or at least moderately wealthy) countries are significantly more likely to acquire nuclear weapons,[107] yet North Korea acquired these weapons despite being one of the poorest countries in the world. Matthew Fuhrmann’s more nuanced supply-side argument focuses on foreign technical support, contending that North Korea “further underscore[s] the significance of the technical base resulting from atomic assistance,” with the North Koreans receiving Soviet assistance in the 1950s and 1960s.[108] The first problem with this argument is that while it might predict that North Korea would succeed, it should also predict that other countries in threatening security environments that received foreign assistance would acquire nuclear weapons, for example Germany, Japan,  South Korea, and Egypt. The second issue is that North Korea did not in fact receive an especially large amount of foreign assistance. Indeed, according to the main metric Fuhrmann uses to measure foreign support — the number of nuclear cooperation agreements — North Korea received far less foreign assistance than the aforementioned countries, and also received significantly less than countries like Ireland, Portugal, and Indonesia, as well as recent proliferators like India, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. Matthew Kroenig’s supply-side theory emphasizes the role of sensitive nuclear assistance in facilitating nuclear acquisition, which he defines as the transfer of enrichment or reprocessing technology or bomb designs.[109] While North Korea did receive aid in uranium enrichment technology from the AQ Khan network, this does not explain North Korea’s initial acquisition of nuclear weapons, which relied on plutonium [not highly enriched uranium (HEU)] from an indigenously built reactor and reprocessing facility. Indeed, starting in the 1970s, Pyongyang had “minimal foreign assistance” to its nuclear program, using publicly available information to mimic the designs of British reactors and a Belgian reprocessing facility.[110] A related theory by Michael Horowitz argues that the diffusion of 1950s-era military technology to a state like North Korea should not be surprising.[111] Horowitz writes: “How hard is it actually for a determined proliferator to acquire nuclear weapons? The answer? Not as hard as you might expect. And this becomes clearer when you think about the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the context of other military technologies.”[112] Horowitz himself admirably concedes, however, that the diffusion argument suffers the same problem as supply-side explanations: It overpredicts success. He goes on to point out that “simply importing ‘normal’ military technology diffusion models, while helping us understand North Korea, would probably overpredict proliferation in general, particularly in light of international efforts to make weapons acquisition harder. States such as Iraq and Libya tried but failed to acquire nuclear weapons.”[113] It is not as if we, the authors of this article, were right about North Korea either. Co-author Vipin Narang, in his 2014 book on nuclear strategy, essentially punts on North Korea by claiming it was unclear what its nuclear strategy — if any — was at the time of writing.[114] In his work on strategies of nuclear proliferation, Narang argues that North Korea’s probability of success was heightened because it was able to avail itself of a “sheltered pursuit” strategy, enjoying protection first from the Soviet Union and then China. This in turn enabled Pyongyang to proliferate under the cover of its allies — developing the plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons—before shifting to a “hiding” strategy, exemplified when it cheated on the Agreed Framework to develop a secret uranium enrichment pathway.[115] Here, Narang argues that it was the protection from China that helped stave off a United States attack, not just the threat North Korea posed to Seoul. But even this argument likely underpredicts North Korea’s probability of success, because while sheltered pursuit can often succeed, North Korea’s relationship with China has been peculiar in the post-Cold War era, forcing the Kim regime to at times pursue a hiding strategy. Hiding strategies are very risky if discovered, and North Korea’s hidden program was discovered before it even tested its first fission device. What seems to have deterred the United States from attacking North Korea after the 2002 discovery of the hidden enrichment program was the fear that the North had reprocessed enough plutonium from its sheltered pursuit days for several nuclear bombs — not just the conventional threat to South Korea. Essentially, North Korea’s hidden enrichment program was discovered too late to prevent it. While this framework gets some features of North Korea’s behavior correct, the North Korean case is again unique and defies most theoretical predictions. In general, academic theories of nuclear proliferation sorely missed the mark when it comes to North Korea. It is only one case, to be sure, but it is clearly an important one. However, this sober assessment is not meant to suggest that we should abandon our efforts to theorize about the causes and process of nuclear proliferation. Of the 30 or so states that have begun nuclear weapons programs, 10 succeeded in acquiring them. In other words, it is still a relatively uncommon event, and our theories are necessarily probabilistic. Nevertheless, it is notable how few theories gave North Korea a good chance of acquiring the bomb. [quote id="5"] So what can we learn from this outlier? It is important to note here that an outlier case does not disconfirm any theory. All of the theories discussed above make significant contributions toward explaining and predicting certain cases of nuclear proliferation. With that said, it is useful to examine what adjustments to our theories might be advisable based on the North Korean case. We believe the North Korean case illustrates several dynamics worth incorporating into academic theories of proliferation. First, it shows that the threat of preventive war, even when perceived as credible, has limits as a counterproliferation tool. At several points, North Korea viewed the threat of an American attack as credible, and yet it continued its nuclear program, or else only agreed to limits on that program after receiving significant inducements (in the case of the Agreed Framework). Second, it shows that states can still successfully play a cat-and-mouse game of plausible deniability with hidden programs — as South Africa and Pakistan once did with enrichment programs, and North Korea did with both its reactor and its uranium enrichment program. Third, states that can avail themselves of a “sheltered pursuit” strategy — finding a great power patron, although not necessarily an ally, that is willing to essentially underwrite its illicit behavior and protect it from coercive nonproliferation efforts, have a higher chance of succeeding. It is hard to imagine North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons absent Soviet and then Chinese shelter. While China does not relish a nuclear-armed North Korea, and has become increasingly more disturbed by North Korean behavior over time, it has, for the most part, not been willing to use intense pressure against North Korea over this issue. China fears a North Korean regime collapse that would result in large refugee inflows and the possible stationing of U.S. troops along its border following Korean reunification.[116] The states that enjoy such shelter are few and far between, but there will undoubtedly be others. Fourth, even poor states with domestic political pathologies do not need substantial foreign assistance to successfully acquire nuclear weapons. While impoverished and/or authoritarian countries have acquired nuclear weapons before — India, Pakistan, and China, for instance — they all did so with substantially greater foreign support than North Korea received. The point of this exercise is not to dismiss any theories of nuclear proliferation, but rather to take stock of how to adjust these theories in systematic ways to account for how North Korea succeeded, while fully conceding that the proliferation process is unpredictable and probabilistic and that outliers will always exist. It is a worthwhile endeavor to see how the academic community could have better predicted North Korean nuclearization — because there will likely be other proliferators like North Korea in the future. When taken in combination with Mark Bell’s recent work showing that many of the quantitative correlates of nuclear proliferation are not reliable predictors,[117] our examination of the North Korea case suggests that we, as scholars, should be more modest about our theories’ predictive capacities.

Implications for Nonproliferation Policy

In addition to its implications for academic theory, North Korea’s acquisition of a sophisticated nuclear weapons capability has important implications for nonproliferation policy. For one thing, the North Korea case demonstrates that supply-side measures like export controls are insufficient, even against countries with poor economies. Nuclear technology is 70 years old, and North Korea has demonstrated it is possible to construct the facilities needed to produce fissile material indigenously, based on open-source information. This is true not just for the gas centrifuge, as Kemp has demonstrated,[118] but also for the plutonium path to the bomb that North Korea followed. Indeed, North Korea’s focus on domestic development of nuclear weapons, consistent with its self-reliant, or Juche philosophy, likely made it better able to adapt to technical challenges when compared to countries like Libya and Iraq, which relied more heavily on foreign imports. Moreover, the fact that North Korea indigenously developed a nuclear reactor and reprocessing facility in secret, rather than publicly constructing them under the guise of a nuclear energy program, allowed its nuclear program to make greater progress before the international community could react effectively.[119] A second policy implication is that early detection and policy intervention are crucial if nonproliferation success is to be achieved. Compared to other proliferators, North Korea was relatively successful at concealing its nuclear capabilities and intentions. Partly for this reason, strong international pressure was only mobilized in the early 1990s, when North Korea was quite close to acquiring fissile material for nuclear weapons. Indeed, one could argue that even the Agreed Framework came too late, in that North Korea may have already obtained enough plutonium for a couple nuclear devices. The failure of early detection gave policymakers little margin for error, making it easier for North Korea to succeed in its nuclear quest. Third, international sanctions have important limitations when dealing with extremely isolated countries like North Korea. Unilateral U.S. measures, or even joint measures with allies, only go so far when dealing with a country like North Korea, whose political and economic system is designed on the principle of self-reliance. This is consistent with research on nonproliferation by Etel Solingen and Nicholas Miller, whose theories predict North Korean resilience to economic and political pressure, although they focus on outcomes rather than the acquisition of nuclear weapons.[120] As an inward looking regime, Solingen correctly argues that “North Korea has defied political and economic sanctions from great powers and international institutions, allowing state agencies and industries responsible for productive and distributive functions to benefit from international closure.”[121] Relatively insulated from the international economy to begin with, North Korean leaders were willing to sacrifice the well-being of their population while the regime devoted extraordinary resources to its nuclear weapons program. Miller likewise argues that North Korea was relatively invulnerable to sanctions, although he attributes this primarily to Pyongyang’s lack of dependence on the United States, the main enforcer of the nonproliferation regime. Miller’s argument also identifies a scenario where sanctions might have worked against North Korea: namely if they had been multilateral and stronger in scope. However, U.N. nuclear sanctions were not even imposed until North Korea already acquired nuclear weapons in 2006. Moreover, despite its recent cooperation at the United Nations, China has repeatedly dragged its feet on implementing sanctions over the years, dramatically increasing its trade with North Korea between 2006 and 2014.[122] Akin to the notion of “sheltered pursuit,” sanctions face long odds of success if a proliferator is insulated from the international economy and if its primary ally refuses to implement sanctions until it’s too late and then violates the spirit of those sanctions. Fourth, if export controls and sanctions are unlikely to succeed against isolated adversaries like North Korea, and if credible threats of force have been insufficient in the past, more attention should be given to inducements and diplomacy as possible solutions. Although it is politically challenging, both internationally and domestically, to be seen as “rewarding” proliferators by offering inducements, the history of the North Korea case shows that the greatest restraints on its nuclear program were in fact achieved when Washington offered substantial inducements, i.e., the 1994 Agreed Framework. Although North Korea violated the spirit of this agreement by starting a secret enrichment program, the United States also failed to fully live up to its end of the bargain by repeatedly delaying delivery of the promised inducements. Fifth, and relatedly, the North Korea case highlights the fragility of nonproliferation bargains due to changes in the domestic and international political landscape, a dynamic that makes such bargains hard to reach in the first place. The Agreed Framework — the closest the international community came to preventing North Korea from acquiring a credible deterrent — ultimately was hampered by domestic opposition in the United States by Republicans, who opposed the agreement and later slowed its implementation.[123] This case has obvious parallels to the Iran deal, a nonproliferation bargain whose future is in jeopardy due to consistent Republican opposition, which, as in the case of North Korea, is inflamed by missile tests and extraneous bilateral issues. The fate of the Agreed Framework, along with the U.S. decisions to topple regimes in Iraq and Libya despite their WMD disarmament, raises real questions about the viability of nonproliferation deals with adversaries in the future. This leaves us, unfortunately, with an unhappy conclusion: The sort of diplomatic bargains that are needed to deal with proliferators like North Korea will be increasingly difficult to reach and sustain.

Conclusion

The fact that academic theories mostly underestimated North Korea’s chance of successfully acquiring nuclear weapons gives us an opportunity to audit our theories and adjust them based on lessons from this important case. The biggest theoretical lessons from the North Korean example are the following: 1) that our theories may overestimate the power of preventive war threats in deterring states from pursuing nuclear weapons, 2) that determined leaders, even in dysfunctional authoritarian regimes, are not always doomed to fail in this pursuit, and 3) that even poor countries can succeed at acquiring nuclear weapons based on indigenously developed technology. The policy implications are equally grim. Given enough breathing room, even a poor a state that wants nuclear weapons badly enough can acquire them, defying sanctions and threats of force — particularly if it has an ally to shelter it from a strong multilateral coalition. While offering inducements to adversary proliferators may stand a better chance of success, this is politically challenging for countries like the United States; moreover, the credibility of American diplomatic assurances is increasingly shaky. Given the various pathways to the bomb and the geopolitical fractures that proliferators can exploit, we should not assume that what has so far been a rare event — nuclear proliferation — will always continue to be so.
Nicholas L. Miller is assistant professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College. His book, Stopping the Bomb: The Sources and Effectiveness of U.S. Nonproliferation Policy, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press.
 
Vipin Narang is associate professor of political science and member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153
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[post_title] => North Korea Defied the Theoretical Odds: What Can We Learn from its Successful Nuclearization? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => north-korea-defied-theoretical-odds-can-learn-successful-nuclearization [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 14:05:12 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 19:05:12 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=468 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => How well do the existing theories about nuclear proliferation predict North Korea's successful nuclearization? [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The United States and Russia worked to convince North Korea to accept IAEA safeguards. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Perhaps “carrots” are as or more important than “sticks,” in dealing with Pyongyang. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Few theories of nuclear proliferation, if any, gave North Korea a chance of reaching that milestone. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The pathologies of the Kim regime may have stymied food production, but not the nuclear weapons program. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => In general, academic theories of nuclear proliferation sorely missed the mark when it comes to North Korea. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The Bush administration further eased sanctions, but stalled on removing North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 555 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 137 [2] => 71 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Although there are only nine nuclear-armed states today, North Korea is the tenth to acquire. South Africa acquired nuclear weapons in the late 1970s and gave them up in the early 1990s. [2] See Stephen Walt, “A Renaissance in Nuclear Security Studies?” Foreign Policy, Jan. 21, 2010, http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/01/21/a-renaissance-in-nuclear-security-studies; and Scott Sagan, “Two Renaissances in Nuclear Security Studies,” H-Diplo/ISSF Forum on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Nuclear Weapons, June 14, 2014, https://networks.h-net.org/node/28443/discussions/31776/h-diploissf-forum-%E2%80%9Cwhat-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-nuclear. [3] Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 127-128. [4] Jeffrey Richelson, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007), 333; Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain Their Nuclear Capabilities (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995), 234. [5] Don Oberdorfer, “N. Korea Seen Closer to A-Bomb; U.S. Officials Say Weapon Capability May Come in Months,” Washington Post, Feb. 23, 1992, A1. [6] Joel S. Wit, Daniel B. Poneman, and Robert L. Gallucci, Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), 3. Also see Jonathan Pollack, No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), 94. [7] Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), “North Korea: Potential for Nuclear Weapon Development,” Sept. 1986, in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, National Security Archive (hereafter NSA), Electronic Briefing Book (EBB) no. 87, doc. 7. [8] CIA, “North Korea’s Expanding Nuclear Efforts,” May 3, 1988, in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 87, doc. 10. [9] Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS)/CIA, “Trends,” Aug. 9, 1989, in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 87, doc. 14. Also see Don Oberdorfer, “North Koreans Pursue Nuclear Arms; U.S Team Briefs South Korea on New Satellite Intelligence,” Washington Post, July 29, 1989, A9. [10] William Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons and North Korea: Who’s Coercing Whom?,” In The United States and Coercive Diplomacy, eds. Robert Art and Patrick Cronin (Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 2003), 164-5. [11] Wit, Poneman, and Gallucci, Going Critical, 6. [12] Reiss, Ambition, 230-237. [13] Don Oberdorfer, “North Korea Balks at Nuclear Accord; Government Cites Outside ‘Pressure,’ Says Signing is Still Possible,” Washington Post, Sept. 17, 1991, A10. [14] T.R. Reid, “West [Europeans], Asians, Welcome Bush’s Arms Initiative; Changes Could Reduce Pressure on Leaders in South Korea, Japan,” Washington Post, Sept. 29, 1991, A33. [15] NSA, EBB 610, doc. 2. [16] Robert Carlin, “North Korea,” Nuclear Proliferation After the Cold War, ed. Mitchell Reiss and Robert Litwak (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994), 137-8; and Reiss, Ambition, 238-9. [17] Wit, Poneman, and Gallucci, Going Critical, 10. [18] "Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Jan. 20, 1992, http://www.nti.org/learn/treaties-and-regimes/joint-declaration-south-and-north-korea-denuclearization-korean-peninsula. An agreement on inspections was never reached. [19] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 165; and Carlin, “North Korea,” 139. [20] Don Oberdorfer, “N. Korea Seen Closer to A-Bomb; U.S. Officials Say Weapon Capability May Come in Months,” Washington Post, Feb. 23, 1992, A1. [21] Richelson, Spying, 519. [22] Richelson, Spying, 517-518. [23] Reiss, Ambition, 241-3. [24] Memorandum, William T. Pendley to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, “Subject: North Korea Nuclear Issue — Where Are We Now?” Oct. 27, 1992, in “Engaging North Korea: Evidence from the Bush I Administration,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 610, doc. 11. [25] Reiss, Ambition, 247-250. [26] Reiss, Ambition, 250-253. [27] Wit, Poneman, and Gallucci, Going Critical, 31. [28] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 169. [29] Reiss, Ambition, 256-7; and Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 170-1. [30] Richelson, Spying, 522-3. [31] Julia Preston, “China Breaks Ranks on N. Korean Nuclear Plants; Beijing Refuses to Join U.S., Others in Security Council in Pressuring for Inspections,” Washington Post, Feb. 10, 1994, A24. [32] Thomas Lippmann and T.R. Reid, “N. Korea Nuclear Inspection Begins; U.S. Agrees to Suspend War Games with South Korea to Ease Tensions,” Washington Post, March 4, 1994, A1. [33] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 172; and Reiss, Ambition, 265-6. [34] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 173; and Reiss, Ambition; 266. [35] T.R. Reid, “North Korea Warns of ‘Brink of War’; Christopher: Sanctions Will Be Considered if Impasse on A-Sites Continues,” Washington Post, March 23, 1994, A23. [36] Don Phillips, “Sanctions a First Step, U.S. Warns North Korea,” Washington Post, April 4, 1994, A1. [37] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 173-5; and Reiss, Ambition, 268-271. [38] Reiss, Ambition, 272. [39] Pollack, No Exit, 117. [40] International Atomic Energy Agency, “Agreed Framework of 21 October 1994 Between the United States of America and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 87, doc. 17. Also see Pollack, No Exit, 114. [41] Siegfried Hecker, “Lessons Learned from the North Korean Nuclear Crises,” Daedalus 139, no. 1 (2010): 49. [42] See Maria Ryan, “Why the US’s 1994 Deal with North Korea Failed — and What Trump Can Learn From It,” The Conversation, July 19, 2017, https://theconversation.com/why-the-uss-1994-deal-with-north-korea-failed-and-what-trump-can-learn-from-it-80578. [43] Richelson, Spying, 527. [44] Robert D. Walpole, National Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs, “North Korea’s Taepo Dong Launch and Some Implications on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States,” Dec. 8, 1998, in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 87, doc. 19. [45] Sheryl WuDunn, “North Korea Fires Missile Over Japanese Territory,” New York Times, Sept. 1, 1998, A6. [46] Richelson, Spying, 528-530 [47] Pollack, No Exit, 135. [48] Pollack, No Exit, 128. [49] See Jeffrey Lewis, “Revisiting the Agreed Framework,” 38 North, May 15, 2015, http://www.38north.org/2015/05/jlewis051415. [50] David Sanger, “Clinton is Ready to Scrap Some North Korea Sanctions,” New York Times, Sept. 14, 1999, A14. [51] Hecker, “Lessons Learned,” 49-50; and Pollack, No Exit, 128-129. [52] David Sanger, “Clinton Scraps North Korea Trip, Saying Time’s Short for Deal,” New York Times, Dec. 29, 2000, A11. [53] Michael Gordon, “U.S. Toughens Terms for North Korea Talks,” New York Times, July 3, 2011, A9. [54] Richelson, Spying, 530-532; Hecker, “Lessons Learned,” 50; and Pollack, No Exit, 139. [55] Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott, Kimberly Ann Elliott, and Barbara Oegg, “Case 50-1 and 93-1,” Peterson Institute for International Analysis, May 1, 2008, https://piie.com/commentary/speeches-papers/case-50-1-and-93-1. [56] Pollack, No Exit, 141-142. [57] Hecker, “Lessons Learned,” 49. [58] Richelson, Spying, 532. [59] Pollack, No Exit, 144. [60] David Sanger and William Broad, “North Korea Said to Expand Arms Program,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2004, A6. [61] Richelson, Spying, 536-7. [62] Hecker, “Lessons Learned,” 50. [63] Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1.” [64] Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1.” [65] David Sanger, “North Koreans Say They Plan a Nuclear Test,” New York Times, Oct. 4, 2006, A1. [66] Richelson, Spying, 558; Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1”; and Mary Beth Nitkin, “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues,” Congressional Research Service, April 3, 2013, 15. [67] Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1.” [68] Joseph Kahn and Helene Cooper, “North Korea Will Resume Nuclear Talks,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 2006, A1. [69] U.S. Department of State, “North Korea — Denuclearization Action Plan,” Feb. 13, 2007, https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/february/80479.htm. [70] Arms Control Association, “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy,” Jan. 2018, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron#2007. [71] Steven Lee Myers and Elaine Sciolino, “North Koreans Bar Inspectors at Nuclear Site,” New York Times, Sept. 24, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/world/asia/25korea.html. [72] Arms Control Association, “Chronology.” [73] Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1.” [74] Arms Control Association, “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean and Missile Diplomacy,” January 2018, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron. [75] Emma Chanlett-Avery, Ian E. Rinehart, and Mary Beth D. Nikitin, “North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation,” Congressional Research Service, Jan. 15, 2016, 12. [76] Arms Control Association, “Chronology.” [77] Emma Chanlett-Avery et al., “North Korea,” 6-7. [78] See, for example, Steve Holland and Idrees Ali, “Trump: Military Option for North Korea Not Preferred, But Would be ‘Devastating,’” Reuters, Sept. 25, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles/trump-military-option-for-north-korea-not-preferred-but-would-be-devastating-idUSKCN1C026A [79] Arms Control Association, “Chronology.” [80] See the CNS North Korea Missile Test Database, http://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/cns-north-korea-missile-test-database. [81] Joby Warrick, Ellen Nakashima, and Anna Fifeld, “North Korea Now Making Missile-Ready Nuclear Weapons,” Washington Post, Aug. 8, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/north-korea-now-making-missile-ready-nuclear-weapons-us-analysts-say/2017/08/08/e14b882a-7b6b-11e7-9d08-b79f191668ed_story.html?utm_term=.d073bd77edf8. [82] Arms Control Association, “Chronology.” [83] Arms Control Association, “UN Security Council Resolutions on North Korea,” Jan. 2018, accessed Jan. 29, 2018, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/UN-Security-Council-Resolutions-on-North-Korea#res2375,. [84] On North Korean motives, see Scott D. Sagan, “Why do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb,” International Security 21, no. 3 (Winter 1996-1997): 85; Pollack, No Exit, chapters 2-3; Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 118-140; and Victor Cha, “What Do They Really Want? Obama’s North Korea Conundrum,” Washington Quarterly 32, No. 4 (2009): 119-138. [85] CIA, “A 10-year Projection of Possible Events of Nuclear Proliferation Concern,” May 1983, 5, NSA, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB87/nk02.pdf. [86] CIA, “North Korea: Potential for Nuclear Weapons Development,” Sept. 1986, NSA, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB87/nk07.pdf. [87] See Sonali Singh and Christopher Way, “The Correlates of Nuclear Proliferation,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 48, no. 6 (2004): 859-885; and Dong-Joon Jo and Erik Gartzke, “Determinants of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 51, no. 1 (2007): 167-194. [88] Kenneth Waltz, “More May Be Better,” in The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed, by Scott Sagan and Kenneth Waltz (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2003), 38. [89] Alexandre Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro, Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). [90] Debs and Monteiro, Nuclear Politics, 297. [91] Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry, Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America (Washington DC: Brookings Press, 1999), Ch. 4. [92] Van Jackson, Rival Reputations: Coercion and Credibility in US-North Korea Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 159-160. [93] Jacques E.C. Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions: Scientists, Politicians, and Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). [94] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 253. [95] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 251. [96] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 252. [97] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 252. [98] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 254. [99] Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, Unclear Physics: Why Iraq and Libya Failed to Build Nuclear Weapons (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016). [100] Braut-Hegghammer, Unclear Physics, 1. [101] Braut-Hegghammer, Unclear Physics, 6. [102] See Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lind, “Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy: Tools of Authoritarian Control in North Korea,” International Security 35, no. 1 (2010): 66-68. [103] Braut-Hegghammer, Unclear Physics, 224. [104] See Byman and Lind, “Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy,” and Jong Kun Choi, “The Perils of Strategic Patience with North Korea,” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 4 (2015): 57-72. [105] Kang, “Normal,” 153-156. [106] David Kang, “They Think They’re Normal: Enduring Questions and New Research on North Korea — A Review Essay,” International Security 36, no. 3 (2011-2012): 145, 169. [107] For example, Singh and Way, “Nuclear Proliferation,” and Jo and Gartzke, “Weapons Proliferation.” [108] Matthew Fuhrmann, Atomic Assistance: How “Atoms for Peace” Programs Cause Nuclear Insecurity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012), 190. [109] Matthew Kroenig, Exporting the Bomb: Technology Transfer and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010). [110] See Siegfried Hecker, Sean Lee, and Chaim Braun, “North Korea’s Choice: Bombs Over Electricity,” The Bridge 40, no. 2 (2010): 6. Also see Pollack, No Exit, 94-95. [111] Michael C. Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); also see Michael C. Horowitz, “How Surprising is North Korea’s Nuclear Success? Picking Up Where Proliferation Theories Leave Off,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 6, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/how-surprising-is-north-koreas-nuclear-success-picking-up-where-proliferation-theories-leave-off. [112] Horowitz, “How Surprising.” [113] Horowitz, “How Surprising.” [114] Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014). [115] Vipin Narang, “Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation: How States Pursue the Bomb,” International Security 41, no. 3 (Winter 2016-2017): 110-150. [116] On China’s views on North Korea’s nuclear program, see Kihyun Lee and Jangho Kim, “Cooperation and Limitations of China’s Sanctions on North Korea: Perception, Interest and Institutional Environment,” North Korean Review 13, no. 1 (2017): 28-44; and Andrew Kydd, “Pulling the Plug: Can There Be a Deal with China on Korean Unification,” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 2 (2015): 63-77. [117] Mark Bell, “Examining Explanations for Nuclear Proliferation,” International Studies Quarterly 60, no. 3 (2015): 520-529. [118] R. Scott Kemp, “The Nonproliferation Emperor Has No Clothes,” International Security 38, no. 4 (Spring 2014): 39-78. [119] On the effectiveness of a covert rather than overt proliferation strategy, see Nicholas L. Miller, “Why Nuclear Energy Programs Rarely Lead to Proliferation,” International Security 42, no. 2 (2017): 40-77. [120] Solingen, Nuclear Logics; and Nicholas L. Miller, Stopping the Bomb (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming). Solingen’s primary dependent variable is the pursuit (rather than acquisition) of nuclear weapons. Miller’s primary dependent variables are pursuit and the success or failure of U.S. sanctions. [121] Solingen, Nuclear Logics, 138. [122] See Eleanor Albert, “The China-North Korea Relationship,” Council on Foreign Relations, Sept. 27, 2017, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-north-korea-relationship. Also see Lee and Kim, “China’s Sanctions.” [123] See, for example, Van Jackson, “Threat Consensus and Rapprochement Failure: Revisiting the Collapse of US-North Korea Relations,” Foreign Policy Analysis, forthcoming. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [post_count] => 4 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1253 [post_author] => 258 [post_date] => 2019-02-26 05:00:21 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-26 10:00:21 [post_content] => How dangerous are nuclear crises? What determines who wins and who loses? And what dynamics underpin how they unfold? Recent tensions between North Korea and the United States have exposed disagreement regarding these questions. While some analysts view escalations in rhetoric and hints of war between the United States and North Korea as “disastrous” and “so dangerous,”[1] others suggest there is little to worry about and that the “threat of war with North Korea may sound scarier than it is.”[2] This disagreement about how to understand nuclear crises is also reflected in academic debates. Different scholars offer interpretations of nuclear crises that appear to be at odds with each other. For some, the threat of nuclear use is generally so remote that nuclear-armed states can enter a crisis with little fear of it crossing the nuclear threshold. For others, nuclear escalation is highly plausible and the presence of nuclear weapons profoundly affects the way crises play out. Policymakers seeking to pursue their political goals within a nuclear crisis or reduce the risk of nuclear escalation will thus find little guidance in the existing scholarship. We argue that different interpretations of nuclear crises are not — as they initially appear — mutually exclusive. Rather, nuclear crises have different dynamics depending on two variables: the incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the extent to which escalation is controllable by the leaders involved. Identifying these variables is not new: First-use incentives and crisis controllability are widely understood to be factors that affect how nuclear crises play out. However, they have not previously been incorporated into a single framework that can shed light on the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Variation across these two dimensions generates four models of nuclear escalation, which correspond to established ways of thinking about nuclear crises. We label these models the “staircase” model, the “stability-instability” model, the “brinkmanship” model, and the “firestorm” model. In contrast to recent literature, we argue that no one model of nuclear crisis is “correct” — different models simply apply in different circumstances. In specifying the various types of nuclear crisis more clearly and the dimensions that underpin them, we offer a way to unite divergent interpretations of nuclear crises within a broader framework. In doing so, our framework helps make sense of inconclusive empirical findings in the international relations literature. For example, different studies have found nuclear weapons to have either no, limited, or substantial effects on the outcomes of crises.[3] Because different nuclear crises operate according to different logics, it is unsurprising that existing findings are sensitive to differences in methodological approach, case selection, modeling strategies, or coding choices. Finally, the framework provides analysts and policymakers with a tool to assess the relative dangers of potential future nuclear crises, the feasibility of signaling political interests or resolve within a crisis, and the advantages of nuclear superiority. We first review the research on nuclear crises, highlighting tensions between existing studies. We then develop our framework, describing the two variables and four models of nuclear crisis and discussing the implications of each for the dynamics of this type of crisis. We demonstrate the utility of this framework by showing how it sheds light on the Kargil War between India and Pakistan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Doklam crisis between India and China, and current tensions between the United States and North Korea. We conclude with implications for current and future research.

Our Understanding Of Nuclear Crises

In this study, we employ the definition of crisis used by the multi-decade International Crisis Behavior project: A nuclear crisis is an interaction between two nuclear-armed states in which there is a “change in type and/or an increase in intensity” of disruptive or hostile behaviors with a “heightened probability of military hostilities” that “destabilizes their relationship” and begins with a “disruptive act or event.”[4] Studying nuclear crises is fraught with the same methodological challenges as studies of other crises short of war, including deciding which cases to examine, grappling with selection effects, and identifying appropriate counterfactuals.[5] Despite these challenges, the significance of nuclear crises to contemporary international politics is widely understood. Matthew Kroenig, for example, writes that “the nuclear crisis [is] the primary arena in which nuclear-armed states settle important international disputes.”[6] Indeed, for many, the replacement of great power wars with nuclear crises is one of the defining features of the post-1945 international system.[7] Despite a shared recognition of the importance of nuclear crises, there is little agreement on the dynamics that underpin them. Scholars tend to view “nuclear crises” as a group of events that share an underlying logic, but disagree about what that logic is.[8] For example, according to advocates of the theory of the “nuclear revolution,” nuclear weapons suppress the temptation to escalate crises at all levels. The destructive capacity of nuclear weapons casts a long shadow over all interstate crises, restricting the range of behaviors that states can reasonably engage in.[9] As John Mearsheimer notes, “Nuclear weapons, because of the horror associated with their use, really are the ultimate deterrent” and make “states more cautious about using military force of any kind against each other.”[10] For scholars of the nuclear taboo or advocates of the “stability-instability paradox,” however, the difficulty of credibly threatening to use nuclear weapons, and the bright line distinguishing nuclear use from non-nuclear use, ought to reduce the influence that nuclear weapons have within a crisis.[11] Recent empirical scholarship also suggests that crises operate according to a certain logic, while disagreeing as to what that logic is. For example, Kroenig argues that a state with nuclear superiority is more likely to achieve its goals in a nuclear crisis, while Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann conclude that nuclear weapons do not help states compel others to do what they want during crises.[12] This disagreement is concerning for several reasons. First, policymakers (or anyone, for that matter) seeking to understand how nuclear crises unfold, how dangerous they might be, and how one might pursue a state’s political interests within such a crisis, will struggle to gain insights from a literature that offers contradictory findings and implications. Second, by seeking a single logic that explains nuclear crises, existing work downplays the variety among them.[13] A simple historical reading, for example, suggests profound differences between the dynamics underpinning the 1995 Taiwan Straits crisis, the various Berlin crises, the war in Angola, and the 1970 Cienfuegos submarine base crisis, all of which are typically identified as “nuclear crises.”[14] Indeed, common understandings of the different dangers involved in different crises — that the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, was the “most dangerous” Cold War crisis — reflect a heterogeneity that existing theories do not account for.

Models of Nuclear Crises

In this section, we describe two variables that affect the ways in which nuclear crises unfold: the strength of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis, and the degree to which the actors involved are able to control escalation of the crisis. These two variables are determined by the objective features of a given crisis, although we incorporate the possibility that the crisis participants’ perceptions of these variables may diverge from reality in ways that influence how they behave. Incentives for first nuclear use and the degree of controllability are well understood to affect how a nuclear crisis plays out, however, they have not previously been incorporated into a single framework that sheds light on the diversity of nuclear crises. Examining these two dimensions leads to four possible “ideal type” models of nuclear crisis: the “staircase” model, the “brinkmanship” model, the “stability-instability” model, and the “firestorm” model. These models, in turn, correspond to prominent ways that scholars and analysts have thought about nuclear crises. The framework demonstrates that different models of nuclear crisis should be expected to operate under different circumstances. This insight holds important implications for how to understand existing scholarship on nuclear crises, as well as variation among these crises across time. Table 1 summarizes the indicators of the variables that we examine in the case studies below. Each of these variables is itself the aggregation of other variables. Grouping them in this way, however, allows us to impose some conceptual order on the ways in which nuclear crises can vary, and thus begin to shed light on the diversity of this class of events. Table 1: Indicators of the Two Variables [table id=13 /]   The first variable we examine is the extent to which either side faces incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis. This variable asks whether the crisis is one in which either side would gain substantial advantages from using nuclear weapons first. Such incentives may emerge in at least two distinct ways. First, the dynamics of a possible nuclear war may mean that first nuclear use could meaningfully affect the final outcome of the conflict. In particular, if there is a large disparity in capabilities between the nuclear forces of the participants in the crisis, there will be stronger incentives for both sides to use nuclear weapons first. For the weaker state, having a vulnerable and small nuclear force may generate doubts about the ability of that state’s nuclear arsenal to survive a first strike, thereby creating pressure for states to “use them or lose them,” and incentivizing aggressive nuclear postures and first nuclear use. As Peter Feaver argues, a state with a vulnerable nuclear arsenal has an “incentive to posture its forces for an early use in a crisis, before its nuclear option is curtailed.”[15] For the state with the more powerful arsenal, meaningfully limiting damage through engaging in offensive nuclear counterforce missions might be tempting, as might be the possibility of a splendid first strike — the ability to completely take out an opponent’s nuclear capabilities.[16] Crises characterized by significant nuclear asymmetry — in particular, where one side plausibly lacks a secure second strike capability — will therefore feature greater incentives to use nuclear weapons first than crises characterized by a greater degree of symmetry, in which meaningful damage limitation and/or a splendid first strike are less plausible. Second, nuclear first use may be threatened as part of the bargaining process within a crisis or war. Crises in which one (or both) states has a nuclear posture designed to credibly threaten the first use of nuclear weapons — what Vipin Narang refers to as an “asymmetric escalation” posture — will be characterized by greater incentives to use nuclear weapons first.[17] [quote id="1"] These two factors contributing to incentives for first use are objective features of a given crisis. However, they can only affect the dynamics of a crisis if they are perceived to exist by the leaders involved. If leaders do not perceive that first use could provide significant political advantages in a crisis or conflict, those incentives will not affect crisis dynamics. We therefore code crises in which either side lacks a secure second strike capability and/or has an asymmetric escalation posture and in which one or both leaders perceive that nuclear first use may offer substantial political benefits within the crisis as being characterized by incentives to use nuclear weapons first. That is to say, crises in which either side has and perceives incentives for nuclear first use are coded as having incentives for first nuclear use. The second dimension is the extent to which a crisis is controllable by the actors participating in the crisis. Controllability refers to the ability of leaders to make conscious and strategic decisions to determine the level of escalation in a given crisis. It is important to note that crisis controllability does not refer to the level of escalation that occurs. A crisis can escalate to (and beyond) the nuclear threshold in a controlled fashion, i.e., in a process in which each leader makes a conscious and deliberate strategic calculation to escalate at every stage. Controllability instead refers to the process by which escalation occurs — to whatever level.[18] We code crisis controllability on the basis of a number of features of a crisis. These features are not intended to be an exhaustive list of factors contributing to crisis controllability, but rather a series of indicators that can be observed and that influence crisis controllability in important ways. First, different states have different command and control arrangements, which means that leaders exercise different levels of control over nuclear use.[19] For example, a crisis in which both leaders have exclusive authority to make decisions about nuclear use, and robust institutions exist that enforce that authority even in crisis situations, thereby minimizing the risk of accidental or inadvertent use, is more controllable than one without such checks. Second, clear and mutually understood red lines for nuclear use, if they exist, can increase controllability, since they reduce the likelihood that a state will accidentally cross another state’s red line for nuclear use.[20] Third, if a state’s conventional forces are likely to target forces relevant to the adversary’s ability to use nuclear weapons, or if forces relevant to conventional and nuclear operations are likely to interact with each other in a crisis or military operation, crisis controllability will likely be lower.[21] Fourth, states have varying abilities to communicate with each other during crises: A crisis in which the two states have well-established avenues through which to communicate, or in which a third party can reliably convey information between two states in a crisis, may be more controllable than crises in which states communicate through unreliable or ad hoc channels or exclusively through public signaling. Further, the ability to communicate is not simply institutional: For example, certain pairs of leaders may better understand or empathize with each other than others, improving crisis controllability.[22] It is worth noting four potential objections at this point. First, it might be objected that the two variables are not independent of each other. For example, one reason why a crisis might lack controllability is if there are incentives to use nuclear weapons first and battlefield commanders are therefore given pre-delegated authority to use nuclear weapons.[23] However, the relationship between these two variables is not determinative (as discussed above, there are many other sources of crisis controllability), and one can conceive of crises that are controllable — where there is firm control over nuclear assets, clear red lines, etc. — but in which incentives to use nuclear weapons first are nonetheless strong. These two dimensions are therefore appropriately considered separately because each exerts an independent effect on the character of nuclear crises. A second potential criticism is that neither variable accounts for how high the stakes of the crisis are: Shouldn’t the stakes involved affect the way a crisis plays out? As we discuss below, the stakes of the crisis can be incorporated within our framework. This is because we expect that states would be willing to enter different types of crises to protect different interests. For example, because stability-instability crises pose relatively little risk of nuclear escalation, we expect that policymakers will be more willing to enter them even over relatively unimportant stakes. By contrast, firestorm crises have a much higher risk of nuclear escalation, and we therefore expect that policymakers would only enter such crises if the most vital national interests were at risk. This has implications for understanding existing, contradictory empirical findings, which we discuss more fully in the following sections. Third, some might ask if these are the only two variables that matter. Probably not. As mentioned above, this framework represents a first step in exploring the variation among nuclear crises, but additional variables likely affect how individual crises play out, including perceptual, bureaucratic, normative, and technological variables. Exploring whether adding additional variables sheds greater light on the heterogeneity of nuclear crises would be a valuable avenue for future research and one that we return to in the conclusion. A fourth objection could concern the fact that these variables are determined by objective features of a given crisis, which may be imperfectly known or misperceived by participants at the time of the crisis: Is this not problematic for our analysis? The framework we offer allows for an initial disaggregation of nuclear crises that permits us to begin exploring their diversity and includes leaders’ perceptions of incentives for nuclear first use. This represents an advance on prior literature, but is only a first step. While these objective features of the crisis should be expected to exert a profound influence on the nature of the crisis, even if they are not known or fully understood by policymakers, further incorporation of policymakers’ perceptions and misperceptions could add richness to our framework and would be a productive next step. Indeed, policymakers’ misperceptions of (or uncertainty about) these variables may add explanatory power to our framework by allowing us to better account for miscalculations that states make within crises. For example, Pakistan might have been less willing to provoke the Kargil War had it known that the crisis would be primarily determined by the conventional balance of forces, which favored India. As shown in Figure 1, these two variables create a conceptual space within which existing models of nuclear crisis can be situated. We highlight four models that correspond to the quadrants of this conceptual space. Of course, each model represents an “ideal type.” More types of crisis exist in the conceptual space between these four possibilities.   Figure 1: Models of Nuclear Crises     The four models we identify offer very different interpretations of nuclear crises. Indeed, they suggest different answers to four basic questions about such crises: How likely is nuclear use within a crisis? Does the conventional or nuclear balance have a stronger effect on the outcome? Is nuclear superiority valuable within a crisis? And how feasible is signaling within a crisis? Table 2 summarizes the differences between these four models. The following sections of the paper describe these differences in more detail.   Table 2: Answers to Key Questions About Nuclear Crises [table id=16 /] Stability-Instability Crises Crises that are controllable and have limited incentives for nuclear first use are “stability-instability” crises. This model approximates Glenn Snyder’s view of nuclear weapons. Snyder famously suggested that “the greater the stability of the ‘strategic’ balance of terror, the lower the stability of the overall balance at its lower levels of violence. …Thus firm stability in the strategic nuclear balance tends to destabilize the conventional balance.”[24] Jervis describes the same idea: “To the extent that the military balance is stable at the level of all-out nuclear war, it will become less stable at lower levels of violence.”[25] We should not expect nuclear powers, according to this view, to fight all-out nuclear wars, but they may engage in more lower-level conflicts. Similarly, for scholars who argue that a powerful taboo inhibits nuclear use, crises between nuclear states will be characterized by a clear prohibition against nuclear use, and relative freedom to engage in conventional escalation.[26] The possibility of nuclear escalation within stability-instability crises is low. Even in stability-instability crises that escalate significantly, actors are likely to remain confident that the nuclear threshold will not be breached. Since the risk of nuclear use is low and relatively constant across crises of this sort, we expect the nuclear balance to be unrelated to the outcomes of stability-instability crises, and nuclear weapons will not regularly enter the calculations of leaders in these crises. The outcomes of stability-instability crises will instead be determined by other factors, such as the conventional military balance. Finally, signaling is feasible within stability-instability crises, since the two sides can calibrate their forces and level of conventional escalation to send signals about their political interests. However, since nuclear use is viewed by both sides as unlikely, making nuclear threats will not generally be credible within this type of crisis. Stability-instability crises are therefore relatively safe, at least in terms of the risk of nuclear escalation, and we therefore expect to see statesmen being more willing to enter this type of crisis than others that pose greater risk of nuclear escalation. We also expect stability-instability crises to be relatively common within datasets of crises, a point that has implications for interpreting contradictory empirical findings in existing literature. We argue below that the recent Doklam crisis between India and China is best categorized as a stability-instability crisis. Staircase Crises We term a crisis that is controllable but in which there are incentives for nuclear first use as a “staircase” crisis. This model approximates the view of escalation that Hermann Kahn offers in his book, On Escalation, and emphasizes deliberate, calibrated escalation. Despite the deliberate and conscious way in which escalation occurs according to this model, escalation to and beyond the nuclear threshold is possible given that states may have incentives to use nuclear weapons first, or to use them in a deliberately limited way. In Kahn’s formulation, the first use of nuclear weapons can serve a range of political purposes, including “redressive, warning, bargaining, punitive, fining, or deterrence purposes.”[27] Even apparently accidental nuclear use may, in fact, be deliberate, resulting from a desire to “give the impression that [nuclear] use was unintentional.”[28] In short, according to the staircase model of nuclear escalation, deliberate first nuclear use is highly plausible. [quote id="2"] What determines victory in a staircase crisis? All staircase crises have a nuclear dimension: Escalation to the nuclear level is always feasible and may be deliberately chosen, making nuclear use plausible. However, we expect the degree to which nuclear weapons weigh on the minds of participants in staircase crises to vary according to the level of escalation reached: Because of the significance of nuclear use and the many less escalatory options states typically have available to them before resorting to this extreme level of force, a staircase crisis is unlikely to suddenly escalate across the nuclear threshold without prior conventional escalation. For this reason, staircase crises that do not escalate close to the nuclear level may be determined almost entirely by the conventional balance of power, while those that escalate closer to, or beyond, the nuclear threshold are likely to be determined more by the nuclear balance. Because crises that operate according to the staircase model are, by definition, characterized by high levels of controllability, escalation and de-escalation within such a crisis is possible: Escalation levels can be controlled and calibrated, and signaling by using both nuclear and conventional forces is feasible. Lastly, because a staircase crisis may be determined by the nuclear balance, and because limited nuclear use is plausible, both nuclear superiority and limited nuclear options may well be of value to states engaging in a crisis of this sort. Indeed, calls for “escalation dominance” by policymakers — that is, the ability to deter an adversary at every rung of the escalation ladder — draw implicitly on the staircase model since they assume that escalation occurs as a conscious and strategic choice at each level of escalation. Staircase crises are dangerous and states are therefore unlikely to enter them over trivial matters, although they may be willing to enter them when important national interests are at stake. We would therefore expect staircase crises to be rarer than stability-instability crises, but more common than firestorm crises. We argue below that the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan is best categorized as a staircase crisis. Brinkmanship Crises We label crises that are characterized by limited incentives to use nuclear weapons first and low levels of controllability as “brinkmanship” crises. This model approximates the views of Thomas Schelling, who emphasized the political utility of “threats that leave something to chance” under circumstances in which deliberate first nuclear use is not credible.[29] Similarly, scholars of the “nuclear revolution,” such as Kenneth Waltz, Charles Glaser, and Robert Jervis, also view nuclear crises in this way, although such scholars tend to be more cautious than Schelling about the possibility of using the political leverage that comes from the manipulation of nuclear risk. In this model, states may take steps to escalate a conflict, but those steps are unlikely to involve deliberate first nuclear use, which is not typically credible in brinkmanship crises given low incentives to use nuclear weapons first. As Schelling argued, “There is just no foreseeable route by which the United States and the Soviet Union could become engaged in a major war.”[30] Similarly, for scholars of the “nuclear revolution” school, because achieving a reliable first-strike counterforce capability is extremely difficult compared to the relative ease of achieving a second-strike capability, the incentives for using nuclear weapons first in a crisis are small. States will not lose the ability to retaliate by delaying the use of nuclear weapons, and can still cause enormous destruction even after absorbing a first strike. The lack of incentives for nuclear first use, however, “does not mean that a major nuclear war cannot occur.”[31] Schelling describes the process of escalation as one in which “either side can take steps—engaging in a limited war would usually be such a step—that genuinely raise the probability of a blow-up. …What makes [these steps] significant and usable is that they create a genuine risk…that the thing will blow up for reasons not fully under control.”[32] For Schelling, this possibility is what gives nuclear-armed actors political leverage even in the absence of incentives for nuclear first use. For scholars in the “nuclear revolution” camp, the possibility of uncontrolled nuclear escalation is why nuclear-armed states should avoid challenging each other’s vital interests. What dynamics underpin a brinkmanship crisis? First, as with the staircase model, all brinkmanship crises involve some risk of nuclear escalation. However, nuclear escalation is only likely as part of a process of uncontrolled escalation. What determines the outcome of a brinkmanship crisis? Because the manipulation of the risk of uncontrolled escalation is the primary source of political leverage within brinkmanship crises, outcomes are determined by “competitions in risk taking” and by the “balance of resolve” rather than by the conventional or nuclear balance (the conventional or nuclear balance could affect crisis outcomes by affecting resolve).[33] Signaling and escalation are possible, but we should expect significant conventional escalation within brinkmanship crises to be accompanied by fear that uncontrolled nuclear escalation might occur. Nuclear crises of this sort are therefore dangerous for statesmen to enter into, but they may be willing to do so when the stakes are high, i.e., to secure important national interests. We should therefore expect that brinkmanship crises will occur less frequently than stability-instability crises, but more frequently than firestorm crises, as we discuss next. We argue below that the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded according to this logic. Firestorm Crises We label crises where there are both incentives for nuclear first use and low levels of controllability as “firestorm” crises. A firestorm crisis is the most dangerous and volatile type of crisis: Both deliberate and uncontrolled escalation to the nuclear level might occur even in the absence of significant prior escalation. The fear of a firestorm crisis has played an important role in public discourse and policy discussions throughout the nuclear age. For example, the fear of nuclear “sneak attacks” had strong domestic political salience during the early years of the Cold War.[34] Indeed, early U.S. assessments of the political implications of nuclear weapons viewed them as offensive weapons that would be used to land the first blows of any potential third world war. The desire to prevent a “nuclear Pearl Harbor” was one motivation for the United States abandoning its isolationist tendencies in the aftermath of World War II. Similarly, “worst-case” scenarios in which “rogue states” acquire nuclear weapons draw on the possibility that irrational or religiously motivated states might attack other states out of the blue — for example, that Iran might seek to “wipe Israel off the map” if it acquired nuclear weapons. How do firestorm crises unfold? First, the possibility of nuclear escalation is high: A firestorm crisis could escalate at any moment and without significant prior escalation, which, in turn, encourages crisis participants to be deeply fearful and increases the temptation to take pre-emptive action. Signaling is likely to be difficult given the instability of such a crisis and the speed with which it can escalate. Indeed, crisis participants should be well aware that early blows in any crisis might in fact be nuclear. Because this type of crisis is prone to escalate to the nuclear level swiftly, the nuclear balance is likely to ultimately determine the outcome to a greater degree than the conventional balance. Thus nuclear superiority may be useful to states. Crises of this sort are extremely dangerous, and we therefore expect that statesmen will only enter them to achieve absolutely vital national interests. Because of these dangers, we also expect that firestorm crises will be the most rarely observed type of nuclear crisis. We argue below that future crises between the United States and North Korea would likely unfold according to this model’s logic.

Historical Crises: The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kargil War

We first examine the utility of our typology using the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between the United States and Soviet Union, and the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. In each case, we analyze incentives for first nuclear use and crisis controllability to show which model of nuclear crisis best applies, and the insights that it provides into the crisis. We use these cases because both are widely considered among the most important in the history of nuclear crises, both involved national interests that participants considered important, both involved an attempted fait accompli by one side followed by efforts by the other to reverse it,[35] and both crises reached high levels of military escalation. Furthermore, recent work on nuclear crises explicitly seeks to account for the dynamics of these two cases with a single explanation.[36] As a result, we might expect that these two crises would be more likely than most pairs of nuclear crises to share similar dynamics. If we can show that even these two crises — ostensibly more similar than many others — differed in ways that our framework sheds light on, it would provide significant validation for our approach. The Kargil War The disputed region of Kashmir has been a source of friction between Pakistan and India since their partition in 1947.[37] Control over the territory is split, with a Line of Control (LoC) demarcating the territorial status quo. India has long viewed the territory as an integral part of the Indian Union, while the Pakistani government contends that Kashmir’s accession to India was unlawful and has sought the eventual “liberation” of Indian Kashmir. In May 1999, one year after Pakistan and India publicly tested nuclear weapons, the Pakistani North Light Infantry, backed by guerrillas, mounted an incursion along the LoC, with the aim of presenting India with a fait accompli.[38] Initial Indian attempts to dislodge Pakistani troops proved ineffective, and the Indian government granted Gen. Ved Prakash Malik, Chief of the Army Staff, the right to employ airpower in support of ground operations.[39] On May 26, the Indian military forces initiated a combined air and ground campaign resulting in intense combat.[40] By early July, Pakistan was on the brink of defeat. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, travelled to Washington D.C. to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton, who demanded that Pakistan unconditionally withdraw and restore the ante bellum status quo. Sharif conceded to Clinton’s demands, calling for the withdrawal of all troops from the disputed region on July 12.[41] Coding the Kargil War The Kargil War was characterized by incentives to use nuclear weapons first. Specifically, Pakistan’s nuclear posture threatened first nuclear use in order to compensate for its relatively weak conventional military force.[42] Facing a conventionally stronger enemy, Pakistan had adopted a nuclear posture that integrated nuclear weapons into its military forces in order to credibly threaten a first strike against advancing Indian conventional forces.[43] At the time of the Kargil War, Pakistan had the capability to use nuclear weapons. The 1998 tests had confirmed its nuclear status, and by May 1999, Pakistan had credible delivery systems: several dozen tactical nuclear warheads that could be mated with missiles, a smaller number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, and delivery-capable aircraft.[44] Both Pakistani and Indian leaders recognized Pakistan’s incentives for nuclear first use. Upon the initiation of Indian air attacks, the Pakistani foreign secretary publicly warned New Delhi that his country “would not hesitate to use any weapons in [Pakistan’s] arsenal to defend [its territorial] integrity.”[45] According to Bruce Riedel, a senior adviser to Clinton, U.S. intelligence was aware that the Pakistani army was readying its nuclear-tipped missiles in preparation for an Indian attack across the border.[46] Indian leaders also understood Pakistani incentives for making the first nuclear move.[47] When Malik told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that opening a second front at the border might be militarily necessary, Vajpayee looked shocked and responded, “but General Sahib, they have a nuclear bomb!”[48] Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra confirmed this fear, stating that while the Indian leadership was “95 percent sure” that its army would not need to cross the LoC, the use of “nuclear weapons would have been risked if we did.”[49] Reports of Pakistani nuclear mobilizations exacerbated these fears. During the crisis, India received intelligence reports indicating Pakistani missiles were “being readied for possible launching,”[50] and the chief of the Indian army staff after the Kargil War, Gen. Sundararajan Padmanabhan, stated that Pakistan had “activated one of its missile bases and…threatened India with a nuclear attack.”[51] Because of these reports, some of India’s missiles were “dispersed and relocated,” and India’s nuclear forces placed on “Readiness State 3,” which involved the assembly and deployment of nuclear warheads near delivery vehicles.[52] [quote id="3"] Despite incentives for nuclear first use, the Kargil War was relatively controllable for four reasons: India’s strong command and control institutions, relatively clear Pakistani red lines that India did not seek to cross, a limited geographic zone of conflict that reduced the risk of conventional and nuclear forces interacting, and well-established avenues of crisis communication. This controllability was enhanced by the active involvement of the United States in the crisis, providing additional avenues of communication and clarifying the red lines of both sides.[53] Only Pakistan’s delegative command and control institutions indicate a lack of controllability in the crisis. First, consider Pakistani and Indian command and control institutions, which have contrasting implications for controllability. On the Pakistani side, delegative command and control increases the credibility of nuclear first use and thus increases the deterrent power of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, but also raises the risk of accidental nuclear use and reduces crisis controllability.[54] Indian command and control, by contrast, increases the controllability of a crisis. Indian leaders, fearful of granting the military too much influence over nuclear matters, have consistently maintained high levels of control over the decision to use nuclear weapons. Indian nuclear weapons are maintained in a manner that limits inadvertent or unauthorized use: The civilian department of atomic energy controls fissile materials, while delivery vehicles are held in separate locations and controlled by the military.[55] Second, Pakistani red lines for nuclear use were relatively clear. Specifically, as long as Indian forces did not cross the LoC, the risk of Pakistani nuclear use would remain low. The Pakistani army’s director of strategic plans division, Khalid Kidwai, had publicly outlined scenarios in which first use would occur: “If India conquered a large part of Pakistan’s territory, destroyed a large part of its military forces, strangled Pakistan economically or caused large scale internal subversion in Pakistan.”[56] Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf claims that whenever he met with a foreign leader, “I asked him to convey my message…that if [Indian] troops took even a step across the international border of the LoC…it will not remain a conventional war.”[57] This message was well understood by Indian leaders. As we discuss further below, India was careful not to cross Pakistan’s key red line for nuclear use, even though it would have been to their military advantage to do so. Third, the limited geographic range of the conflict meant that the likelihood of nuclear and conventional forces interacting was low. While both sides took steps to increase the alert status of their nuclear forces, neither sides’ nuclear forces, nor the command and control centers necessary to use nuclear weapons, were close to the conflict zone. As long as India eschewed opening a second front in the war, or invading Pakistani territory, the possibility of Indian conventional forces placing Pakistani commanders under pressure to “use or lose” their nuclear assets was low. Fourth, the existence of official and back-channel negotiations between India and Pakistan, along with the involvement of numerous outside countries — the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia — seeking to facilitate a negotiated solution also enhanced controllability. Regular calls between Indian and Pakistani leaders, a hotline link between the two directors of general military operations, and the additional channels of communication provided by outside parties created many opportunities for de-escalation during the crisis.[58] Predictions The Kargil War was characterized by incentives for first nuclear use and high levels of crisis controllability, and is therefore best understood as a staircase crisis. Based on this assessment, what dynamics should we expect to see in the case? First, because the crisis did not come close to the nuclear threshold, we should expect that the conventional balance would determine the outcome of the war, rather than the nuclear balance or balance of resolve. Second, the primary danger of nuclear use should be expected to have come from deliberate first nuclear use rather than uncontrolled escalation. Third, signaling should have been feasible within the crisis.[59] As predicted, the conventional military balance does appear to explain the outcome of the conflict: Pakistan was on the verge of conventional military defeat when Pakistani leaders acceded to U.S. demands to withdraw their forces, and once India was able to build up its forces sufficiently, it experienced increasing success in pushing Pakistani forces back toward the Line of Control.[60] This occurred despite India restraining its conventional operations in various ways in order to prevent crossing Pakistan’s red lines for nuclear use. By contrast, and as anticipated by the framework we offer, neither the nuclear balance nor the balance of resolve appears to satisfactorily explain India’s ability to prevail in the crisis. The balance of resolve likely favored Pakistan given its consistently more risk-acceptant and revisionist foreign policy preferences, as evidenced by Pakistan’s decision to initiate the crisis in the first place. The nuclear balance was highly ambiguous at the time of the war and it is unlikely that either side could have known its opponent’s nuclear capabilities with much certainty. The Kargil War took place in the immediate aftermath of both countries conducting nuclear tests. Assessments at that time acknowledged the difficulty of estimating the India-Pakistan nuclear balance, with continued debate about whether India’s thermonuclear test “fizzled,” how much fissile material both states possessed, and how many weapons both sides had developed.[61] Even Kroenig, who argues that India had nuclear superiority and that this mattered in the crisis, acknowledges that “it is difficult to know the precise nuclear balance of power” in this case.[62] Indeed, the evidence that Kroenig uses to support his claim that the balance of nuclear power mattered for the outcome is that Pakistan ultimately backed down in the crisis, and that Indian officials stated subsequent to the war that Pakistan would be hurt more by a nuclear exchange than India. However, Indian officials would have strong incentives to make such public statements about the effects of a hypothetical nuclear exchange whether or not they were true.[63] Moreover, Pakistan’s behavior in the crisis is also consistent with the conventional balance determining the outcome. Overall, it is hard to make a strong case that nuclear superiority played a key role in determining the outcome of the Kargil War. The key danger of nuclear use was seen by participants on both sides to be Pakistan’s deliberate first use rather than uncontrolled or unauthorized nuclear use. As mentioned above, a key dynamic of the conflict was India ensuring that its forces did not cross the LoC to avoid provoking Pakistan’s deliberate first use of nuclear weapons. Upon granting the Indian army authority to use Indian air force assets at the end of May, the Indian government stipulated that “the air force refrain from crossing the LoC in pursuit of its goals.” India was clear that the Indian army not enlarge “the theater of operations beyond the Kargil sector or…attack Pakistani forces, staging posts, and lines of communications across the LoC, despite the fact that this…entailed the acceptance of heavier casualties.”[64] This restriction remained in place despite substantial Indian casualties and the fact that it would have been tactically useful for India to enlarge the conflict zone to spread out Pakistani forces.[65] This restraint is especially notable given previous Indian responses to Pakistani incursions in both 1965 and 1971, when Indian forces showed little hesitation in invading Pakistan.[66] Both sides in the war were also able to signal their limited intentions, as our framework would anticipate in a staircase crisis. On the Pakistani side, the military took a number of measures to signal limited intentions: Pakistan withheld reserve forces, refrained from the use of air power across the LoC, and did not attempt to cut off the Indian highway in Kargil on the assumption that taking such action “would have far-reaching strategic effects” and risk Indian escalation.[67] Similarly, Pakistan made clear nuclear threats to signal to India that they should avoid broad retaliation. On the Indian side, policymakers deliberately chose not to open a second front of the war or cross the LoC, signaling their limited political goals and lack of interest in a broader war. Overall, therefore, viewing the Kargil War as a staircase crisis accounts for the key dynamics of the case. Cuban Missile Crisis The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is widely considered the most dangerous crisis of the Cold War. After detecting the movement of Soviet ships toward Cuba and the development of missile sites, President John F. Kennedy called up 150,000 reservists and issued statements on Sept. 4 and Sept. 13, 1962, warning that the United States “would do whatever must be done” to protect its security.[68] On October 22, Kennedy announced that a naval quarantine would be established around Cuba.[69] Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev responded by issuing a stern note to Kennedy and instructing Soviet ships headed for Cuba to run the blockade. By October 26, however, Khrushchev’s resolve had waned. Kennedy received a letter from Khrushchev offering to remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for an end to the blockade and a U.S. assurance that it would not invade Cuba, with a second letter the next day adding a further condition: the removal of U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy publicly accepted the terms of the first letter, while in private agreeing to Khrushchev’s demand to remove the Jupiter missiles.[70] On October 28, Khrushchev notified the United States that he had ordered work on the Cuban missile sites to cease and all equipment shipped back to the Soviet Union. The blockade was lifted on November 20, marking the end of the crisis. Coding the Cuban Missile Crisis We argue that the Cuban Missile Crisis was not characterized by incentives for deliberate first nuclear use, despite the United States possessing significant nuclear superiority. In the early 1960s, the United States could have launched 1,000 to 2,000 nuclear warheads at the Soviet Union, the majority of which would have been delivered by over 500 bombers and 200 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, had only 160 bombers to carry around 260 nuclear warheads, 38 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 48 nuclear-missile-armed submarines.[71] Despite America’s nuclear superiority, it was not clear that either a disarming first strike or politically meaningful damage limitation was possible. The U.S. government did not know where all of the Soviet warheads were located, and there were concerns that U.S. forces were too inaccurate to successfully target the Soviet arsenal. According to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, by 1962 the United States knew that it could not deliver a “splendid first strike,” and that a U.S. first strike “would have led to unacceptably high casualties both in Europe and in the United States” and “destroyed us as well as the Soviets.”[72] McNamara’s recollection is consistent with a briefing that Kennedy received in 1961 from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which assessed that “under any circumstances—even [in the case of] a pre-emptive attack by the U.S.—it would be expected that some portion of the Soviet long-range nuclear force would strike the United States.”[73] [quote id="4"] Whether such advantages were perceived as politically meaningful within the Cuban Missile Crisis itself is debateable. Certainly, several key U.S. leaders believed that nuclear superiority conferred political advantages to the United States within the crisis.[74] However, this superiority was not absolute, and, crucially, the key leader — Kennedy — was skeptical both that U.S. nuclear superiority granted such benefits and that nuclear first use would offer the United States meaningful damage limitation, stating, “What difference does it make? They’ve got enough to blow us up now anyway.”[75] Similarly, the Soviet Union had little incentive to use nuclear weapons first. A first strike by the Soviets aimed at damage limitation was implausible: A speech delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric on Oct. 21, 1961, confirmed that the Soviet Union was behind the United States in the nuclear arms race, and that the United States could endure a Soviet surprise attack and still inflict mass damage on the Soviet Union.[76] U.S. superiority was not, however, sufficient to cast doubt on the Soviets’ own ability to inflict significant destruction on the United States after absorbing a first strike. Moscow was therefore unlikely to face pressures to “use them or lose them” during a crisis. “Missiles are not cucumbers,” Khrushchev quipped, “one cannot eat them and one does not require more than a certain number in order to ward off an attack.”[77] The Cuban Missile Crisis was, however, characterized by low controllability. Indeed, each of our four indicators of this variable suggests low levels of crisis controllability. First, both U.S. and Soviet command and control institutions governing nuclear weapons suffered from significant shortcomings. On the U.S. side, a series of breakdowns of command and communication could have led to accidental nuclear use or other actions that could have triggered escalation. As Scott Sagan concludes, Kennedy “did not…have unchallenged final control over U.S. nuclear weapons.”[78] For example, navigational errors by U.S. pilots led one B-52 to come close to penetrating Soviet airspace and possibly coming within range of Soviet interceptors.[79] Similarly, the U-2 incident at the height of the crisis could easily have led to nuclear escalation: After the American U-2 reconnaissance plane strayed into Soviet airspace, U.S. F-102s armed with nuclear-tipped missiles and possessing the authorization to use them were sent to defend the U-2 from Soviet fighter jets. At that point, the “decision about whether to use a nuclear weapon was in the hands of a pilot.”[80] Beyond these institutional deficiencies, many of the safety features that now exist to prevent accidental explosions had not yet been developed. Benoît Pelopidas notes that in the early 1960s, merely “pull[ing] the arming wires out of a Mark 7 nuclear warhead” would trigger the arming sequence, and that “if the X-Unit charged, a Mark 7 could be detonated by its radar, by its barometric switches, by its timer, or by falling…and landing on a runway.”[81] Moreover, readiness was privileged over safety during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For example, when Strategic Air Command went to DEFCON 2, safety rules had not yet been approved for the B-53 gravity bomb. Strategic Air Command (with the support of the Air Force Chief of Staff) nonetheless requested approval for these non-approved bombs to be loaded onto bombers.[82] Command and control arrangements on the Soviet side also led to the possibility of unauthorized nuclear use. Most notably, Soviet submarines were loaded with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and at least one captain reported that the Cuban Missile Crisis represented his first experience on board a ship carrying nuclear weapons.[83] The authorization to use nuclear weapons appears to have been granted to commanders and included the instructions, “if you get…a hole in your hull… use the nuclear weapons first, and then you will figure out what to do after that.”[84] The Soviets may also have believed that their submarines were less likely to provoke escalation than they really were since the Soviet leadership was unaware that the deployed submarines were the noisier and slower diesel submarines in their fleet that were more likely to be located. Indeed, nuclear launch came close to occurring: The commander of one submarine, which was being targeted with depth charges by U.S. anti-submarine warfare ships, interpreted the explosions of the depth charges as an attack and ordered his officers to ready the submarine’s nuclear torpedoes for use, apparently screaming that “we will die but we will sink them all.”[85] America’s understanding of these risks was limited. The United States was unaware that Soviet submarines were armed with nuclear missiles, and lacked certainty about Soviet command and control more broadly. During a conversation with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara acknowledged not knowing “what kinds of communications the Soviets have with those sites…what kinds of control they have over the warheads.”[86] Second, the U.S. and Soviet red lines for nuclear escalation were unclear to both sides at the outset of the crisis. The Soviet Union misjudged America’s red lines by placing missiles in Cuba in the first place. Khrushchev initially believed that once the missiles were installed in Cuba the United States would be unwilling to risk war to remove them.[87] This belief was overturned, however, as Khrushchev became deeply concerned by U.S. mobilizations and nuclear alerts, writing to Kennedy on October 26 of the tightening “knot of war” and the difficulty of de-escalating hostilities.[88] Khrushchev’s concern increased further on October 27 with news that a Soviet commander in Cuba had shot down an American U-2 plane without his authorization, and that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was advocating a nuclear strike against the United States.[89] Similarly, the United States was unsure what military actions might trigger Soviet escalations: U.S. officials were divided over the significance the Soviets attached to missiles in Cuba, and what the Soviets might be willing to risk to avoid removing them. Similarly, U.S. officials assumed that the Soviet Union would respond if the United States attacked Cuba but were unsure what form those reprisals would take and whether they might lead to general war or a more limited Soviet response. Indeed, officials in the Executive Committee of the National Security Council made a range of arguments regarding the relative likelihood of different Soviet responses should the United States invade Cuba[90] Third, conventional and nuclear forces interacted during the crisis on multiple occasions in ways that reduced the controllability of the crisis and raised the risk of nuclear use. As discussed above, Soviet submarines could have launched nuclear weapons while under pressure from conventional U.S. anti-submarine warfare assets unaware that they were engaging nuclear-armed Soviet submarines. On the U.S. side, the F-102s sent to retrieve and escort the U-2 inadvertently flying into Soviet airspace could have launched their own nuclear weapons while under pressure from Soviet fighters. This interaction between nuclear and conventional forces raised the risk of inadvertent escalation and reduced the controllability of the crisis. Fourth, crisis communication between the United States and Soviet Union was widely recognized to be problematic, leading to the establishment of the U.S.-Soviet “hotline” in 1963. Official messages took six hours to deliver, while unofficial channels were prone to miscommunication. The confusion that resulted from contrasting letters sent by Khrushchev on October 26 and 27 exemplifies the problematic nature of crisis communication. Kennedy received a letter offering to remove the missiles from Cuba and to cease further shipments in exchange for ending the quarantine and a non-invasion pledge. This message took twelve hours to receive and decode. By the time a reply had been drafted, a second letter had arrived in which Khrushchev added a further condition: the removal of Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Puzzled by the shifting demands, Kennedy publicly accepted the terms of the first letter, while privately agreeing to remove the Jupiter missiles.[91] Predictions The Cuban Missile Crisis exhibited few incentives to use nuclear weapons first and low levels of crisis controllability. It is therefore best understood as a “brinkmanship” crisis. What dynamics should we therefore expect to see in this case? First, we should expect the crisis to have been primarily characterized by the manipulation of risk, with the conventional or nuclear balance affecting the crisis outcome in less direct ways. Second, the primary danger of nuclear use should be expected to have come from uncontrolled nuclear escalation rather than deliberate first nuclear use. Third, signaling should have been feasible within the crisis.[92] These predictions are, indeed, confirmed. First, scholars have often been skeptical that U.S. nuclear or conventional military superiority in the region affected the outcome in a direct way, and if it did affect the outcome, that it did so by affecting U.S. resolve and willingness to manipulate risk.[93] There is indeed evidence that some of Kennedy’s advisors believed that U.S. nuclear superiority should factor into their calculations.[94] However, as discussed above, Kennedy himself seems to have been disinclined to draw comfort (or courage) from U.S. nuclear advantages. Historians have largely shared this assessment: Marc Trachtenberg concludes that “there is no evidence that President Kennedy and his advisers counted missiles, bombers, and warheads, and decided on that basis to take a tough line,” while James Cameron shows that, despite Kennedy having come to power railing against the (fictional) missile gap with the Soviet Union, once in office, he viewed U.S. nuclear superiority as largely useless.[95] As veterans of the crisis McNamara, Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, Ted Sorensen, Roswell Gilpatric, and George Ball later commented, “American nuclear superiority was not in our view a critical factor…Not one of us ever reviewed the nuclear balance for comfort in those hard weeks. The Cuban missile crisis illustrates…the insignificance of nuclear superiority.”[96] Although the United States succeeded in achieving its goals once the crisis had begun, and is therefore often (and reasonably) understood to have “won” the crisis,[97] the actual result of the crisis — a quid pro quo that left the Soviets better off than the pre-crisis status quo[98] — seems inconsistent with both American strategic nuclear superiority as well as U.S. conventional superiority in the region. Instead, as Schelling argues, the crisis is best understood as a case of states manipulating risk: “The Cuban Crisis was a contest in risk taking, involving steps that would have made no sense if they led predictably and ineluctably to a major war, yet would also have made no sense if they were completely without danger.”[99] Our argument does not require nuclear superiority to have had no effect during the crisis. For example, as discussed above, nuclear superiority could affect risk tolerance or resolve within the framework of brinkmanship crises. Nonetheless, the brinkmanship model accurately captures the key dynamic — the manipulation of risk — of the Cuban Missile Crisis. [quote id="5"] Second, historians, political scientists, and participants in the crisis agree that the primary danger of the Cuban Missile Crisis was uncontrolled escalation rather than deliberate first nuclear use. As a group of former officials from the Executive Committee of the National Security Council later recalled, “The gravest risk in this crisis was not that either head of government desired to initiate a major escalation but that events would produce actions, reactions, or miscalculations carrying the conflict beyond the control of one or the other or both.”[100] Similarly, scholars have repeatedly emphasized the importance of luck in preventing nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For example, Sagan writes that “good luck [was] involved in avoiding accidental war in October 1962”, while Dean Acheson concluded that the peaceful resolution of the crisis came down to “dumb luck.”[101] Len Scott and Steve Smith write that “the fact that the crisis did not lead to nuclear war was due…to good luck,” while Pelopidas concludes that the “peaceful outcome cannot be reduced to successful, fully informed crisis-management.”[102] The brinkmanship model, by emphasizing the dangers of uncontrolled escalation, sheds light on why luck was required to peacefully negotiate the Cuban Missile Crisis. Third, as anticipated, both sides engaged in signaling and escalation using conventional military forces and the alerting of nuclear forces, behaviors that the brinkmanship model would anticipate. American officials “were willing during the crisis to accept a certain risk of nuclear war; and…the risk of nuclear war was consciously manipulated.”[103] Military deployments and alerts were ordered less because of their narrow military utility but more as measures to signal U.S. intentions and raise the risk of war. For example, McNamara argued that the point of the blockade “was not to shoot Russians but to communicate a political message from President Kennedy to Premier Khrushchev.”[104] Throughout the crisis, the United States used escalatory measures as signaling mechanisms: When Kennedy addressed the nation on October 22, for example, U.S. nuclear forces were placed on DEFCON 3 alert, Polaris submarines moved out of their ports to pre-assigned stations, and U.S. military commands throughout the world increased levels of readiness for war.[105] On October 24, Kennedy made the unprecedented decision to raise the nuclear threat level to DEFCON 2 — one level short of general war.[106] On October 27, Minuteman solid fuel missiles were placed on alert at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.[107] As Gen. David Burchinal, the director of plans on the Air Staff, recalled in an oral history, “All these moves were signals the Soviets could see and we knew they could see them.”[108] Overall, viewing the Cuban Missile Crisis as a brinkmanship crisis accurately captures key dynamics of the case.

Contemporary and Future Crises: Doklam and U.S.-North Korea

Our framework therefore sheds light on prominent historical crises. Accounting for the heterogeneity of nuclear crises allows us to understand key differences between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kargil War better than a single model of nuclear crisis. What, then, does the framework offered here suggest about more contemporary crises? In this section, we briefly use our framework to shed light on the 2017 Doklam crisis between India and China and a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis. The Doklam Crisis The 2017 Doklam crisis between India and China — a standoff over disputed territory where the borders between China, India, and Bhutan intersect — would be classified as a stability-instability crisis according to our framework.[109] First, neither side had strong incentives for first nuclear use: Both India and China had relatively small nuclear arsenals, geographically large territories and dispersed populations, longstanding no-first-use policies, and nuclear postures that are designed to credibly threaten retaliation in the aftermath of a nuclear attack rather than first use.[110] Second, the crisis was characterized by high levels of controllability: Neither sides’ nuclear weapons were close to the conflict zone, both countries’ nuclear postures made unauthorized or accidental nuclear use unlikely, high levels of communication between the two sides existed throughout the crisis, and each country’s declaratory no-first-use policy made it highly unlikely that either side would accidentally stumble over the other’s red lines for nuclear use.[111] Indeed, viewing the crisis as a stability-instability crisis appears to correctly account for key dynamics of this case. Despite the relatively high levels of military escalation — hundreds of troops were deployed to the region — there was little fear by either side that nuclear weapons would be used. Signaling took place using conventional troop deployments but without using nuclear threats. The outcome of the crisis — a return to the status quo desired by India and Bhutan — appears consistent with the conventional balance given India’s “unique hard power advantages in the Himalayan region.”[112] Finally, viewing the Doklam standoff as a stability-instability crisis provides an explanation for why China was prepared to provoke a crisis with another nuclear-armed state over relatively low stakes: Stability-instability crises are relatively “safe” in terms of the risk of nuclear escalation, and states should therefore be willing to provoke them to secure even relatively limited interests. A Possible U.S.-North Korean Crisis Finally, what does our framework suggest about a potential U.S.-North Korea crisis? Both sides in a potential U.S.-North Korea nuclear crisis might be incentivized to use nuclear weapons first.[113] This is both because North Korea appears to be adopting an asymmetric escalation posture and because of the significant disparities between the nuclear capabilities of the two sides, which means that North Korea plausibly lacks a secure second-strike capability. For North Korea, using nuclear weapons early in a conventional conflict might be the only way to prevent a conventional defeat by a far more powerful enemy or to make the United States think twice about pursuing regime change.[114] As Vipin Narang argues, North Korea’s nuclear strategy appears to be one of asymmetric escalation: threatening nuclear first use to degrade a conventional invasion while retaining longer-range nuclear missiles to deter nuclear retaliation by the United States. Narang notes that,
faced with the prospect of a U.S.-led invasion, Pyongyang’s conventional inferiority requires it to degrade the United States’ ability to sustain the attack against it. This means it essentially has no option but to use nuclear weapons first against targets such as Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, which stations American bombers, and a variety of allied bases in Japan and South Korea. North Korea has to use nuclear weapons there because it does not have enough conventional warheads to damage the bases meaningfully; a conventional response would not slow or stop a U.S. onslaught.[115]
The United States may also face temptations for first nuclear use.[116] A nuclear counterforce strike might be crucial to removing North Korea’s ability to retaliate against South Korea or Japan (or the United States): The imperative to destroy North Korean offensive capabilities could thus lead to the temptation to use nuclear weapons first and early in a conflict. As David Barno and Nora Bensahel argue, only a “surprise nuclear strike provides a decisive option. There is simply no other way to destroy North Korea’s nuclear capabilities while minimizing the risk of massive conventional or nuclear retaliation.”[117] Barry Posen, in arguing against a U.S. war with North Korea, acknowledges that “a surprise American nuclear attack would offer the greatest chance of eliminating the North Korean nuclear arsenal and of preventing a conventional counterattack,” making it a potentially attractive option if war was deemed inevitable or necessary by U.S. planners.[118] Moreover, recent scholarship has suggested that some impediments to U.S. nuclear use may be weaker than anticipated. For example, the U.S. public may, in fact, be willing to endorse nuclear use under a wide range of scenarios.[119] Similarly, Daryl Press and Kier Lieber argue that a nuclear counterforce attack against North Korea could potentially be conducted with minimal casualties and limited environmental consequences.[120] In short, both sides in a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis could plausibly perceive incentives for first nuclear use. Furthermore, a crisis between the United States and North Korea would likely have low levels of controllability:[121] The robustness of North Korea’s command and control systems is unknown and would likely be aggressively targeted in the initial stages of any military confrontation; there are few institutionalized avenues for crisis negotiation or communication between the two sides; North Korea’s or America’s red lines for nuclear use are unclear and ambiguous; and while any nuclear use would likely be limited on the U.S. side given the small geographic territory of North Korea, North Korea’s small arsenal makes it more likely that it would have to quickly use all weapons at its disposal in order to try to respond to any U.S. first strike.[122] If our assessment of incentives for first use and controllability are correct, a potential crisis between the two countries would likely unfold according to the logic of the firestorm model — the most volatile and dangerous of the four models and one in which sudden and significant escalation across the nuclear threshold is possible. U.S. policymakers should therefore be under no illusions that a conventional war with North Korea will reliably remain conventional — rapid nuclear escalation is highly possible. Given the costs of such a war, avoiding any crisis with North Korea that could quickly escalate should be a higher priority for U.S. policymakers than if a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis were likely to unfold according to one of the other models of nuclear crisis.

Conclusion

Nuclear crises do not operate according to a single logic. Instead, the presence of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the degree of crisis controllability significantly affect both the way in which nuclear crises unfold and the dynamics that underpin them. Furthermore, historical crises exhibit variation on these dimensions, suggesting that the varieties of nuclear crises we identify above are not merely of hypothetical interest. In our concluding remarks, we highlight some implications and contributions of our argument. First, the framework offered here provides a simple way to assess the relative danger and likely dynamics of a potential nuclear crisis in a way that may be useful for analysts and policymakers. This framework would suggest, for example, that any crisis between the United States and North Korea would be more likely to lead to nuclear escalation and be more volatile than a crisis between the United States and China, in which there would be fewer incentives for either state to use nuclear weapons first and higher levels of controllability. Similarly, nuclear superiority may grant the United States benefits in a crisis with certain opponents, such as North Korea, but offer limited benefits in a crisis with another state, like Russia. Such insights are likely to be more tailored and, therefore, more useful to policymakers than inferences drawn from analyses that do not take into account the variation among nuclear crises. Second, our framework has implications for scholars conducting both theoretical and empirical research on nuclear crises. Theoretically, it demonstrates that seemingly divergent understandings of nuclear crises can be incorporated within a broader framework that specifies the circumstances under which each type of crisis should be expected to occur. This framework also allows scholars to make better sense of the historical diversity of nuclear crises and of conflicting findings by scholars. It makes sense that the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kargil War unfolded according to different logics. Similarly, we should not expect that other events commonly coded as nuclear crises, such as the 1970 Cienfuegos Crisis, the 2001 Indian parliament attack, or the various Berlin crises, should have unfolded in the same way. [quote id="6"] For empirical scholars, the framework may provide a way to make sense of apparently contradictory findings. Conclusions drawn from one or two cases should not necessarily be expected to apply to crises of a different type.[123] For quantitative researchers, because different types of crises may be represented to varying degrees in different datasets, it is not surprising that scholars drawing on different sources reach different conclusions. For example, the disagreement between Kroenig and Sechser and Fuhrmann over the role nuclear weapons play in nuclear crises might be accounted for if the Militarized Compellent Threat dataset that Sechser and Fuhrmann use contains a greater number of stability-instability crises (in which nuclear weapons should be expected to be unrelated to conflict outcomes) and fewer staircase or firestorm crises (in which nuclear superiority may be consequential) than the International Crisis Behavior dataset that Kroenig employs.[124] More broadly, crisis dynamics should differ systematically across different types of crises. Seeking to find, for example, the average effect of variables on crisis outcomes may be unrepresentative of the likely effects in any given crisis. Scholars should therefore be cautious about drawing conclusions about a specific crisis from scholarship that analyzes all nuclear crises without taking this variation into account.[125] Finally, the framework presented above opens up a number of avenues for future research. First, we only offered an initial examination of the utility of our framework using four cases. Future work could more systematically assess the extent to which our variables explain variation across all nuclear crises, and the relative frequency with which different types of crises occur. Second, the framework offered here provides an initial effort to explore the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Further disaggregating nuclear crises could reveal additional insights. For example, it would be useful to incorporate literature on psychological biases and misperceptions into our framework to further problematize policymakers’ perceptions of the concepts we identify.[126] Third, it would be valuable to explore in greater depth how knowledgeable policymakers are about various features of our framework. One could imagine, for example, that some factors, like the conventional balance or an adversary’s nuclear force posture, may be more easily known by decision-makers than others, such as an adversary’s threshold for nuclear use. Similarly, it would be interesting to explore the implications when adversaries lack a common understanding of the features of a nuclear crisis — when “mismatches” emerge in adversaries’ assessments — and whether these beliefs can change over time. There may also be other variables that profoundly affect the dynamics of nuclear crises that could be profitably added to our framework to produce a richer understanding of these cases. Finally, while this paper focuses on the dynamics of nuclear crises rather than the substantive issues that underly them (for example, disputed territory in the Doklam Crisis or Kargil War, or Soviet missiles in Cuba in the Cuban Missile Crisis), it is possible that crises in the nuclear age may occur over different issues than in prior eras. Further research exploring the extent to which nuclear weapons affect the issues that states compete over would be theoretically and empirically useful. Thus, while our study offers an initial framework to allow scholars, analysts, and policymakers to begin incorporating the historical richness of nuclear crises into their analyses, it is far from the last word on the subject. Much more remains to be done to fully understand the complexity and variety of nuclear crises, and the different risks and dangers that they involve.   Acknowledgements: For helpful suggestions and comments, we thank the anonymous reviewers and editors at the Texas National Security Review. We also thank Stephen Biddle, Austin Carson, Cosette Creamer, Fiona Cunningham, Raymond Duvall, Rebecca Hersman, Sumit Ganguly, Francis Gavin, Charlie Glaser, Avery Goldstein, Brendan Green, Sameer Lalwani, Austin Long, Sean Lynn-Jones, Martin Malin, Ronald Krebs, Andrew Kydd, Nicholas Miller, Alex Montgomery, Reid Pauly, Benoît Pelopidas, Joshua Rovner, Elizabeth Saunders, Jennifer Spindel, Stephen Walt, Jessica Weeks, Sharon Weiner, Ketian Zhang, and audiences at George Washington University, Harvard Kennedy School, Princeton University, Sciences Po, the Stimson Center, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, and annual meetings of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association. For excellent research assistance, we thank Sooyeon Kang.   Mark S. Bell is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. Julia Macdonald is an assistant professor of international relations at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.   Image: U.S. Air Force [post_title] => How to Think About Nuclear Crises [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-think-about-nuclear-crises [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:40:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:40:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1253 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => How dangerous are nuclear crises? What dynamics underpin how they unfold? Recent tensions between North Korea and the United States have exposed disagreement among scholars and analysts regarding these questions. We reconcile these apparently contradictory views by showing the circumstances in which different models of nuclear crises should be expected to hold. Nuclear crises should be expected to have different dynamics depending on two variables: the incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the extent to which escalation is controllable by the leaders involved. Variation across these two dimensions generates four types of nuclear crises: “staircase,” “stability-instability,” “brinkmanship,” and “firestorm” crises. These models correspond to well-established ways of thinking about nuclear crises, but no one model is “correct.” Different models should be expected to apply in different cases, and nuclear crises should therefore be interpreted differently according to which model is most appropriate. We demonstrate the utility of our framework using the cases of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, 1999 Kargil War, 2017 Doklam Crisis, and ongoing U.S.-North Korean tensions. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => A crisis can escalate to (and beyond) the nuclear threshold in a controlled fashion, i.e., in a process in which each leader makes a conscious and deliberate strategic calculation to escalate at every stage. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Staircase crises are dangerous and states are therefore unlikely to enter them over trivial matters, although they may be willing to enter them when important national interests are at stake. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Both Pakistani and Indian leaders recognized Pakistan’s incentives for nuclear first use.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => U.S. superiority was not, however, sufficient to cast doubt on the Soviets’ own ability to inflict significant destruction on the United States after absorbing a first strike.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The brinkmanship model, by emphasizing the dangers of uncontrolled escalation, sheds light on why luck was required to peacefully negotiate the Cuban Missile Crisis. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => This framework would suggest, for example, that any crisis between the United States and North Korea would be more likely to lead to nuclear escalation and be more volatile than a crisis between the United States and China... ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1465 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 258 [1] => 259 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang, “Why Trump’s Threat of ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea Is So Dangerous,” The Diplomat, Aug. 11, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/why-trumps-threat-of-fire-and-fury-against-north-korea-is-so-dangerous/. [2] Max Fisher, “Trump’s Threat of War with North Korea May Sound Scarier than It Is,” New York Times, Aug. 9, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/09/world/asia/trump-north-korea-nuclear-war.html. [3] See for example, Marc Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Security 10, no. 1 (Summer 1985): 137–63, doi.org/10.2307/2538793; Richard K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1987); Rosemary J. Foot, “Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict,” International Security 13, no. 3 (1988/1989): 92–112, doi.org/10.2307/2538737; John Mueller, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons: Stability in the Postwar World,” International Security 13, no. 2 (1988): 55–79, doi.org/10.2307/2538971; Kyle Beardsley and Victor Asal, ‘‘Winning with the Bomb,’’ Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, no. 2 (2009), 278–301, doi.org/10.1177/0022002708330386; Matthew Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve: Explaining Nuclear Crisis Outcomes,” International Organization 67, no. 1 (2013): 141–71, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818312000367; Matthew Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail,” International Organization 67, no. 1 (2013): 173–95, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818312000392; Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017). [4] Michael Brecher and Jonathan Wilkenfeld, A Study of Crisis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 4–5. We focus on crises between pairs of nuclear-armed states, although whether the framework we propose also applies to crises between nuclear and non-nuclear states would be an interesting avenue for future research. [5] See, for example, James Fearon, “Selection Effects and Deterrence,” International Interactions 28, no. 1 (2002): 5–29, doi.org/10.1080/03050620210390. [6] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 142. [7] See, for example,, Stanley Hoffman, The State of War: Essays on the Theory and Practice of International Politics (New York: Praeger, 1965), 236; John Lewis Gaddis, The Long Peace: Inquiries Into the History of the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). [8] See, for example, Barry Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence: The Neutrality of Escalation,” Conflict Management and Peace Science 9, no. 2 (1986): 19–30, doi.org/10.1177/073889428600900202; Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; Robert Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship with Two-Sided Incomplete Information,” American Political Science Review 82, no. 1 (March 1988): 156–178, doi.org/10.2307/1958063; Robert Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship, Limited War, and Military Power,” International Organization 69, no. 3 (2015): 589–626, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818315000028; Richard Ned Lebow, Nuclear Crisis Management: A Dangerous Illusion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987); Scott D. Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); Beardsley and Asal, ‘‘Winning with the Bomb,’’ Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail”; Todd S. Sechser and Mattew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Benoît Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck: Three Sources of Overconfidence in the Manageability of Nuclear Crises,” European Journal of International Security 2, no. 2 (2017): 240–62, doi.org/10.1017/eis.2017.6. [9] See, for example, Bernard Brodie, ed., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1946); Robert Jervis, “Why Nuclear Superiority Doesn’t Matter,” Political Science Quarterly 94, no. 4 (1979): 61733, doi.org/10.2307/2149629; Robert Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); Charles L. Glaser, “Why Even Good Defenses May Be Bad,” International Security 9, no. 2 (1984): 92–123, doi.org/10.2307/2538669; Charles L. Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990); Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better, Adelphi Paper no. 171 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981); Kenneth N. Waltz, “Nuclear Myths and Political Realities,” American Political Science Review 84, no. 3 (September 1990): 730–45, doi.org/10.2307/1962764; John J. Mearsheimer, “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence in Europe,” International Security 9, no. 3 (1984): 19–46, doi.org/10.2307/2538586. For recent critiques of the theory of the nuclear revolution, see Daryl G. Press and Kier A. Lieber, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (2017): 9–49, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00273; Brendan R. Green and Austin Long, “The MAD Who Wasn't There: Soviet Reactions to the Late Cold War Nuclear Balance," Security Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 606–41, doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1331639; Mark S. Bell, “Nuclear Opportunism: A Theory of How States Use Nuclear Weapons in International Politics,” Journal of Strategic Studies 42, no. 1 (2019): 3–28, doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1389722. [10] Mearsheimer, “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence in Europe,” 20; John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2001), 129 (emphasis added). [11] Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Glenn Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” in Balance of Power, ed. Paul Seabury (San Francisco, CA: Chandler, 1965). [12] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy; Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail”; Sechser and Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy. These debates echo prior disagreements. See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; Mueller, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons.” [13] Partial exceptions include Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; and Robert Powell, “The Theoretical Foundations of Strategic Nuclear Deterrence,” Political Science Quarterly 100, no. 1 (1985): 75–96, http://doi.org/10.2307/2150861, which distinguish between crises that exhibited different levels of risk and different types of nuclear threat, respectively. [14] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 154. [15] Peter D. Feaver, “Command and Control in Emerging Nuclear Nations,” International Security 17, no. 3 (1992/93): 165, doi.org/10.2307/2539133. For a critique of the concept of “use them or lose them,” see Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 137–42. [16] For recent debates on the feasibility of damage limitation and counterforce, see Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Should the United States Reject MAD? Damage Limitation and U.S. Nuclear Strategy Toward China,” International Security 41, no. 1 (2016): 49–98, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00248; Press and Lieber, “The New Era of Counterforce.” [17] Vipin Narang, “Posturing for Peace? Pakistan’s Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability,” International Security 34, no. 3 (2009/10): 38–78, doi.org/10.1162/isec.2010.34.3.38; Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014). [18] For a critique of the claim that nuclear crises can ever be controllable, see Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck.” [19] Feaver, “Command and Control in Emerging Nuclear Nations;” Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [20] This factor can be hard to observe empirically, since red lines need not be publicly articulated if they are implicitly understood, and publicly articulated red lines are not necessarily clear or may not be believed by other states. For recent work on red lines, see, Daniel W. Altman, Red Lines and Faits Accomplis in Interstate Coercion and Crisis (Ph.D dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015); Daniel W. Altman and Nicholas L. Miller, “Red Lines in Nuclear Nonproliferation,” Nonproliferation Review 24, no. 3-4 (2017): 315–42, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2018.1433575; Dan Altman, “Advancing without Attacking: The Strategic Game Around the Use of Force,” Security Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 58–88, doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1360074. [21] Barry R. Posen, Inadvertent Escalation: Conventional War and Nuclear Risks (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Caitlin Talmadge, “Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States,” International Security 41, no. 4 (2017): 50–92, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00274. [22] See, for example, James G. Blight and Janet Lang, “When Empathy Failed: Using Critical Oral History to Reassess the Collapse of U.S.-Soviet Détente in the Carter-Brezhnev Years,” Journal of Cold War Studies 12, no. 2 (2010): 29–74, doi.org/10.1162/jcws.2010.12.2.29. [23] See Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [24] Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” 198–99. [25] Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy, 31. For an empirical test of the implications of the stability-instability paradox, see Mark S. Bell and Nicholas L. Miller, “Questioning the Effect of Nuclear Weapons on Conflict,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59, no. 1 (2015): 74–92, doi.org/10.1177/0022002713499718. [26] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo. [27] Herman Kahn, On Escalation: Metaphors and Strategies (London: Pall Mall Press, 1965), 45. [28] Kahn, On Escalation, 44. [29] Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960); Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966). For other interpretations of nuclear crises using the brinkmanship framework, see, Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence,” Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy. [30] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [31] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [32] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 104. [33] An extreme version of this argument is offered by Barry Nalebuff, who argues that because nuclear crises involve competitions in risk-taking, and crisis participants will generate as much risk as is required to communicate their political interests and resolve, crisis outcomes are independent of a state’s military or nuclear position or posture. See Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence.” For the argument that nuclear superiority is important within the brinkmanship framework because it affects resolve, see Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve.” [34] Technically, one could see sneak nuclear attacks under the staircase model if the incentives for first use were strong enough to outweigh even high levels of controllability in incentivizing a state to cross the nuclear threshold as a first move in a crisis. We thank an anonymous reviewer for this point. [35] On faits accomplis in international politics, see Schelling, Arms and Influence, 44–45; Alexander L. George and Richard Smoke, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 536–40; Daniel W. Altman, “By Fait Accompli, Not Coercion: How States Wrest Territory from their Adversaries,” International Studies Quarterly 61, no. 4 (2017): 881–91, doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqx049. [36] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–94, 106–113; Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship, Limited War, and Military Power,” 590–91; Sechser and Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy, 147–55, 200–210. [37] On the Kashmir dispute see Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, 1946-1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Lars Blinkenberg, India-Pakistan: The History of Unsolved Conflicts (Odense: Odense University Press, 1997); Robert Wirsing, India and Pakistan, and the Kashmir Dispute: On Regional Conflict and Its Resolution (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998); Sumit Ganguly, Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002). [38] S. Paul Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace: Why Nuclear South Asia is Not Like Cold War Europe,” International Security 30, no. 2 (2005): 137, doi.org/10.1162/016228805775124570; Christopher J. Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox: The Case of the Kargil War,” Nonproliferation Review 24, no. 1–2 (2017): 90–91, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2017.1366623; Sumit Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” International Security 33, no. 2 (2008): 45–70, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2014.1072991. For more details on the war, see P.R. Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, and Stephen P. Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2007), chap. 5; S. Paul Kapur, Dangerous Deterrent: Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and Conflict in South Asia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), chap. 6; Bruce Riedel, American Diplomacy and 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Center for Advanced Study of India, 2002); Ved Prakesh Malik, Kargil: From Surprise to Victory (Delhi: Harper Collins, 2006); Peter R. Lavoy, ed., Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009). [39] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 268–69. [40] S. Paul Kapur, “Ten Years of Instability in a Nuclear South Asia,” International Security 33, no. 2 (2008): 73–74 doi.org/10.1162/isec.2008.33.2.71; Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 121–22. [41] Sumit Ganguly and Harrison Wagner, “India and Pakistan: Bargaining in the Shadow of Nuclear War,” Journal of Strategic Studies 27, no. 3 (2004): 490, doi.org/10.1080/1362369042000282994; Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” 58. [42] As discussed above, only one side in the crisis has to have incentives for nuclear first use for the crisis as a whole to be characterized by incentives for first use. [43] Narang “Posturing for Peace?” 56, 66; Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 259. In 1999, India had an active-duty force double that of Pakistan, enjoyed a 2:1 advantage in combat aircraft, and a 1.7:1 advantage in main battle tanks. Taken at face value, these figures somewhat overstate the degree of India’s conventional military advantage over Pakistan given that India must focus significant military attention on the Sino-Indian border in addition to the India-Pakistan border. Nonetheless, there is little question that India had the capability to assemble a larger conventional military force on the Pakistani border than Pakistan would be able to. Because of this imbalance, even though Pakistan had a local tactical advantage in Kashmir due to the Pakistani military’s early defensive positioning and the region’s difficult terrain, India retained the ability to deploy a superior conventional force to the region. Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace,” 139; “Central and South Asia,” The Military Balance (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1999), 151–70, doi.org/10.1080/04597229908460132; Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh Burke, The India-Pakistan Military Balance (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2002). [44] Narang “Posturing for Peace?” 57. Indeed, Pakistan may have had the ability to deliver nuclear weapons by aircraft as early as 1995. See Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 267; Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox,” 91–92. [45] Quoted in P.R. Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” Strategic Analysis 33, no. 3 (2009): 363, doi.org/10.1080/09700160902790019. See also Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 139–41. [46] Riedel, "American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House," 11. [47] Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 492; Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” 59; Sumit Ganguly and Devin Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), 161. [48] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 272. Malik confirms that Pakistani nuclear weapons ruled out full-scale conventional war with Pakistan. See Kapur, “Ten Years of Instability in a Nuclear South Asia,” 79. [49] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 272. [50] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 270–71. [51] Quoted in Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 363. [52] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 270–71; Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 363; Raj Chengappa, Weapons of Peace (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2000), 437. [53] On the role of the United States in the crisis, see Peter R. Lavoy, “Why Kargil Did Not Produce General War: The Crisis-Management Strategies of Pakistan, India, and the United States,” and Bruce Riedel, “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House,” both in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia, ed. Lavoy. [54] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, chaps. 3, 10. [55] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 101. [56] Quoted in Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 483. [57] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 268. [58] John H. Gill, “Provocation, War and Restraint Under the Nuclear Shadow: The Kargil Conflict 1999,” Journal of Strategic Studies (2019): 701–26, doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2019.1570144; Lavoy, “Why Kargil Did Not Produce General War.” [59] We leave aside assessing the prediction of the model regarding the probability of nuclear use, since this is hard to evaluate within a single case. [60] As discussed previously, Pakistan may have been less willing to enter into the war had it known that the outcome would be determined by the conventional balance. Pakistan may have miscalculated the effects of nuclear signaling on Indian decision-makers and underestimated the number of conventional forces that India would marshal in response. Incorporating these miscalculations into the framework we offer would be a productive avenue for future research. [61] For differing assessments, see David Albright, “India's and Pakistan's Fissile Material and Nuclear Weapons Inventories, End of 1999,” Institute for Science and International Security, Oct. 11, 2000, https://www.isis-online.org/publications/southasia/stocks1000.html; Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, Hans M. Kristensen, and Joshua Handler, “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2002,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 2 (2002): 70–72, doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2002.11460559; Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, Hans M. Kristensen, and Joshua Handler, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces, 2001,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 1 (2002): 70–71, doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2002.11460540; Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945–2013,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 69, no. 5 (2013): 75–81, doi.org/10.1177/0096340213501363. [62] Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 107. [63] Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 108–110. [64] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 271. [65] Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 362; Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 491. [66] Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 139; Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace,” 147. [67] Quoted in Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox,” 97. This restraint presents a puzzle for the stability-instabilty model of nuclear crises, of which the Kargil War is often believed one manifestation. Instead of escalating further, as would be expected by the stability-instability logic, Pakistan chose to acquiesce rather than open additional fronts and divert the superior Indian forces. Under the staircase model, however, this behavior makes more sense. See Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 364. [68] Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002), 189. [69] Michael Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev 1960-63 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), 414, 423–35; Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, ‘One Hell of a Gamble:’ Castro, Kennedy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1958-1964 (London: John Murray, 1997), 206, 227. [70] David Holloway, “Nuclear Weapons and the Escalation of the Cold War, 1945-1962,” in The Cambridge History of the Cold War, volume 1, ed. Odd Arne Westad and Melvin Leffler (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 393–94. [71] Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leads Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 121. [72] McNamara quoted in Press, Calculating Credibility, 124. [73] Quoted in Press, Calculating Credibility, 123–24. At this meeting, Kennedy did raise the possibility of a surprise nuclear strike against the Soviets, commenting that since “the use of nuclear weapons was bound to escalate...we might as well get the advantage by going first.” Quoted in Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 37. In the end, these deliberations amounted to little in terms of U.S. defense planning and by mid-1962 there is little evidence that Kennedy considered a first strike against the Soviet Union feasible. [74] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–106. [75] Quoted in Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 148. See also James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), chap. 1; Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, George W. Ball, Roswell L. Gilpatric, Theodore Sorensen, and McGeorge Bundy, “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Time Magazine, Sept. 27, 1982, 85; Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [76] Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance, 105. [77] Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft, 68. [78] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 72–73. [79] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 74. [80] Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 246; Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 135–38. [81] Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 246–47; Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (London: Penguin, 2013), 261. [82] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 72–73. [83] Svetlana Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Journal of Strategic Studies 28, no. 2 (2005): 238, doi.org/10.1080/01402390500088312; Scott D. Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” International Security 9, no. 4 (1985): 112–18, doi.org/10.2307/2538543. [84] Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines,” 240. [85] Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines,” 247. [86] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 154. [87] Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence (New York: Random House, 1995), 52; Sergei Khrushchev, Creation of a Superpower (Philadelphia, PA: Penn State University Press, 2000), 565; Oleg Troyanovsky, “The Making of Soviet Foreign Policy,” in Nikita Khrushchev, ed. William Taubman, Sergei Khrushchev, and Abbott Gleason (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 236. [88] Within our framework, it is plausible that U.S. alerts and mobilizations may have led Khrushchev to better understand U.S. red lines over the course of the crisis, contributing to its resolution. [89] Fursenko and Naftali, ‘One Hell of a Gamble’, chap. 19; Sheldon M. Stern, The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 157. [90] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 153–54. [91] Holloway, “Nuclear Weapons and the Escalation of the Cold War,” 393–94. [92] Again, we leave aside assessing the prediction of the model regarding the probability of nuclear use, since this is hard to evaluate within a single case. [93] See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; Cameron, The Double Game, chap. 1; Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85; Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. For the argument that U.S. nuclear superiority affected U.S. resolve, see Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51. [94] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–106. [95] Cameron, The Double Game, chap. 1. [96] Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85. These statements should be taken with a grain of salt given the political context in which they were made: by officials from a former Democratic administration opposed to the Reagan administration arms buildup. [97] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve.” [98] In exchange for the removal of missiles from Cuba, the Soviet Union received two new concessions from the United States: the withdrawal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey and a commitment not to invade Cuba. [99] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [100] Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85. [101] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 154. For a thorough examination of the role of luck in the Cuban Missile Crisis, see Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck.” [102] Len Scott and Steve Smith, “Lessons of October: Historians, Political Scientists, Policy-Makers, and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Affairs 70, no. 4 (1994): 683, doi.org/10.2307/2624552; Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 244. [103] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 140. [104] Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” 110. [105] Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 51–52. [106] Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” 109. See also “Strategic Air Command Operations in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962,” Strategic Air Command Headquarters, History and Research Division, Historical Study no. 90, volume 1 (1963), https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/dobbs/SAC_history.pdf. [107] “Strategic Air Command Operations in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 97. [108] Quoted in Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 157. [109] For analyses of various aspects of the Doklam crisis, see Simon Denyer and Annie Gowen, “Who Blinked in the India-China Military Standoff,” Washington Post, Aug. 30, 2017, https://wapo.st/2wRCH4x?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.75e6447451b4; Ankit Panda, “The Political Geography of the India-China Crisis at Doklam,” Diplomat, July 13, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/07/the-political-geography-of-the-india-china-crisis-at-doklam/; Ankit Panda, “Disengagement at Doklam: Why and How Did the India-China Standoff End,” Diplomat, Aug. 29, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/disengagement-at-doklam-why-and-how-did-the-india-china-standoff-end/. [110] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, chaps. 4 and 5. [111] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [112] Panda, “Disengagement at Doklam.” [113] Van Jackson, On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 197. [114] Vipin Narang, “Why Kim Jong Un Wouldn’t be Irrational to Use a Nuclear Bomb First,” Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2017, http://wapo.st/2gRxIdm?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.20ae71c09a9b; Jackson, On the Brink, 158, 197. See also Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The Nukes We Need: Preserving the American Deterrent,” Foreign Affairs 88, no. 6 (November/December 2009): 39–51, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20699714. [115] Narang, “Why Kim Jong Un Wouldn’t be Irrational to Use a Nuclear Bomb First,” [116] On U.S. senior policymakers’ public support for preventive war options, see Jackson, On the Brink, 137, 158–61, 163. [117] David Barno and Nora Bensahel, “The Growing Danger of a U.S. Nuclear First Strike on North Korea,” War on the Rocks, Oct. 10, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/10/the-growing-danger-of-a-u-s-nuclear-first-strike-on-north-korea/. [118] Barry R. Posen, “The Price of War With North Korea,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/06/opinion/north-korea-united-states-war.html. [119] Daryl G. Press, Scott D. Sagan, and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 1 (2013): 188–206, doi.org/10.1017/S0003055412000597; Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think About Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants,” International Security 42, no. 1 (2017): 41–79, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00284. [120] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 31. [121] For example, Jackson notes that a U.S.-North Korea crisis would be “much less controlled” than the Cuban Missile Crisis — a crisis already coded as having low controllability in our framework. Jackson, On the Brink, 159. [122] On these points, see Jackson, On the Brink, 164–65, 197, 207. [123] See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; and Foot, “Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict.” [124] Kroenig “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail.” Kroenig proposes a different explanation for the differences in their findings based on selection effects. See Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy. [125] For a similar point on the literature on the causes of nuclear proliferation, see Mark S. Bell, “Examining Explanations for Nuclear Proliferation,” International Studies Quarterly 60, no. 3 (2016): 527, doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqv007. [126] See, for example, Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976); Robert Jervis, Ned Lebow, and Janice Stein, Psychology and Deterrence (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); Keren Yarhi-Milo, Knowing the Adversary: Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of Intentions in International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 4 [max_num_pages] => 1 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => 1 [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => 1 [is_tag] => [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_privacy_policy] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 764035ccb6d23ca0bff7c1ac363c85c8 [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )