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Post Cold War Nuclear Deterrence: Theory and Practice

Dr. Morgan talked about why and how deterrence continues to be relevant in dealing with situations like those in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Gulf crisis and war against Iraq, the Somalia case, the relationship between China and the U.S. particularly on Taiwan, and the U.S. effort to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. It is relevant because of concern about whether rogue states will be too difficult to deter, especially if they gain weapons of mass destruction. There is also ongoing debate about the utility of nuclear weapons for deterrence in the post-Cold War era.

Dr. Morgan pointed out the reduced salience of deterrence in comparison with the Cold War era¾we rely less on it and more on things link engagement, democratization, etc. to deal with security problems. Nuclear deterrence is now treated as a very last resort. The U.S. in particular is relying much more on its advanced conventional forces. It is clear that nuclear weapons have become harder to use than ever¾and campaigns for their elimination receive more respectful attention than ever.

Dr. Morgan discussed the fact that deterrence mainly turns on useable weapons and war-fighting capabilities these days, that threats of harm are now often much more "bearable" than in the past. As for irrational governments, there is no direct connection between deterrence and rationality¾states can deter whether they are rational or not (or fail to deter), and states can be deterred (or not) whether they are rational or not. Also relevant is that it is almost impossible to tell whether a leader, government, or state is rational or not¾that requires the kind of information that is nearly always unavailable.

Dr. Morgan also suggested that the revolution in military affairs should have a major effect on deterrence. It will probably make defense a more dominant component of military power, making reliance on deterrence less necessary. This might provide a realistic way to reduce our dependence on nuclear weapons. Or, on the other hand, the RMA might have the effect of making great states more willing to contemplate war with each other, believing that it can be kept less destructive and more selective.

Center for Global Security

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