Nuclear Deterrence


The range of nuclear deterrence strategies includes minimal or "limited" deterrence, massive retaliation with a force greater than that originally used by the aggressor, and mutual assured destruction ("MAD"). From RAND's Soviet-era work on game theory to today's current states of concern, such as North Korea and Iran, RAND has applied strategic analysis to international deterrence efforts, with particular focus on the roles of both diplomacy and missile defense systems in global and regional security.

  • The Flying Dragons flew in support of a joint air assault in which Soldiers conducted a search for illegal weapons on various compounds throughout Nawa Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2014, photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston/U.S. Army


    Pentagon Should Elevate the Importance of Eliminating WMDs in Operational Planning

    Sep 24, 2014

    Joint force commanders should carefully consider requirements for eliminating weapons of mass destruction in their contingency and operational planning. And DoD policy decisions involving Army force structure should consider the conventional ground force requirements of such operations.

  • Meeting to discuss Iran nuclear deal at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne March 29, 2015, photo by Brendan Smialowski/Pool/Reuters


    The Days After a Deal with Iran

    Jul 14, 2015

    Now that a nuclear agreement has been struck, what will be the implications for U.S. regional strategy, Iran's own foreign policy orientation, the response from regional partners, the global non-proliferation regime, and the role of Congress in implementation of the agreement?

Explore Nuclear Deterrence

  • An Indian army soldier keeps guard from a bunker near the border with Pakistan in Abdullian, southwest of Jammu, September 30, 2016


    Could the Kashmir Standoff Trigger Nuclear War?

    Militants trained in Pakistan have been raiding the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir for over a quarter of a century, but the recent attack was the deadliest in years. A short-term return to peace remains uncertain and the longer term is even harder to predict.

    Oct 10, 2016

  • U.S. President Barack Obama chairs the closing session of the Nuclear Security Summit, focusing on the Counter-ISIL campaign, in Washington, April 1, 2016


    Protect Nuclear Nonproliferation Norms

    Strong and viable global nuclear nonproliferation norms should remain a cornerstone of U.S. security now and into the future. Friends and allies must continue to have confidence in the U.S. strategic nuclear guarantees.

    Oct 9, 2016

  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference near the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 22, 2016


    Whoever Wins the Presidency, the Next Big International Crisis Will Come from Iran

    The next U.S. president is likely to meet many international crises after taking office, and Iran may be one of the most challenging. The continuing climate of repression, the next Iranian presidential election, and Khamenei's eventual demise may provide some important opportunities for him or her.

    Sep 29, 2016

  • U.S. Amb. Samantha Power, South Korean Amb. Hahn Choong-hee, and Japanese Amb. Koro Bessho after the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the latest missile launches by North Korea, New York, September 6, 2016


    On Northeast Asia

    China has been a major proponent of regional security for Northeast Asia but appears disinterested in Republic of Korea (ROK) security against North Korean missile and nuclear weapon threats.

    Sep 23, 2016

  • Estimating North Korea's Nuclear Range


    A Nuclear North Korea

    North Korea (or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK) appears to be rapidly building a significant nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver those weapons. The DPRK can already deliver nuclear weapons by aircraft or ship and perhaps by theater ballistic missiles; it is now testing nuclear-capable missiles that could threaten targets across the Pacific Ocean, including the continental United States.

    Sep 15, 2016

  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at United Nations headquarters in New York, April 27, 2015


    The End of Nuclear Proliferation?

    As the last case of nuclear proliferation fades further into history, it may become politically difficult to allocate resources to preventing it as other pressing threats, such as bio- and cyber-terrorism, continue to emerge. The time to act to keep nuclear proliferation a thing of the past is now.

    Jul 26, 2016

  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting outside Moscow, July 30, 2014


    Current and Future Risks of Inadvertent U.S.-Russian Nuclear War

    Understanding how miscalculations and misperceptions can lead to the use of nuclear weapons is an important step toward reducing the probability of an inadvertent nuclear conflict between the United States and Russia.

    Jun 9, 2016

  • Dissertation

    Deception in Covert Nuclear Weapons Development: A Framework to Identify, Analyze, and Mitigate Future Long-Term Deception Efforts

    Develops a framework to categorize observable signatures, formulate a judgement on whether long-term deception is taking place, and propose additional areas of collection that may yield evidence of in research and development.

    May 18, 2016

  • Tanks in Beijing during a training exercise for a military parade


    China's Evolving Approach to Strategic Deterrence May Prove Challenging to the U.S. and Its Allies

    China is rapidly closing what was once a substantial gap between the PLA's strategic weapons capabilities and its strategic deterrence concepts. The United States will likely need to assure its allies that it will continue to maintain the capability and the resolve to support them in a crisis.

    Apr 7, 2016

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang

    Journal Article

    Deterrence and Stability for the Korean Peninsula

    Most trends on the Korean Peninsula favor South Korea, but North Korea's nuclear program is a great concern. Although unlikely, war is imaginable in the years ahead. The challenges for deterrence and strategic planning are greater than in the past.

    Mar 8, 2016

  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attend a news conference with Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann in Tehran, February 27, 2016


    After the Iran Nuclear Deal: Challenges and Opportunities

    A series of panel discussions at RAND today drew a range of opinions on the Iran nuclear deal and its aftermath, but also general agreement that despite some improvement, the agreement has not halted Iran's provocative behavior in the region.

    Mar 3, 2016

  • German police found traces of radiation in Hamburg locations linked to a Russian businessman who had met the murdered ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko on the day he fell ill


    Russia on the Horns of a Nuclear Dilemma

    While the murder of Alexander Litvinenko is a human tragedy, broader concerns about the lowering of WMD norms and violations of international law should be addressed. The use of radioactive matter to kill him represents a serious breach of international agreements.

    Feb 19, 2016

  • The Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada returns to homeport at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor following a strategic deterrent patrol


    If We Keep Cutting Defense Spending, We Must Do Less

    The United States is underinvesting in defense and other instruments of national influence just when they are most needed. Improving defenses needn't require Cold War levels of expenditure but Americans should look realistically at the demands being placed on their forces and generate the revenues to meet those demands.

    Oct 19, 2015

  • News Release

    U.S. Needs to Either Boost Defense Funding or Limit Military Commitments

    If policymakers wish to maintain the United States' international commitments, then to bolster deterrence the U.S. should increase its ground forces in Europe, accelerate modernization — especially of air and naval forces — and invest more in training, maintenance, and advanced munitions.

    Oct 19, 2015

  • Two U.S. soldiers run communications equipment from a bunker in Wardak province, Afghanistan, January 9, 2011

    Research Brief

    Addressing the Imbalance Between Strategy and Resources in a Turbulent World

    Deterrence is infinitely preferable to war. But the United States now risks relying more on its reputation from past wars for deterrence than on actual military capabilities that can be brought to bear when and where needed.

    Oct 18, 2015

  • A U.S. soldier provides overwatch security atop a mountain at Paktika province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2011


    U.S. Needs to Either Boost Defense Funding or Limit Military Commitments

    Limitations on defense spending in the context of emerging threats are creating a U.S. “security deficit.” How might policymakers adjust to bring resources into better alignment with strategic demands?

    Oct 18, 2015

  • U.S. soldiers show an Estonian soldier how the mortar system operates during a call for fire live exercise in Estonia, Aug. 7, 2015


    Building the Army We Will Need

    Failure to correctly estimate the number of soldiers needed or to provide adequate resources to the U.S. Army can lead to a failure of U.S. strategy and subsequent regret. Policymakers should plan and resource a larger ground force to meet the commitments that the United States has made.

    Sep 23, 2015

  • U.S. President Barack Obama and China's President Xi Jinping listen to national anthems during a ceremony in Beijing, November 12, 2014


    Nuclear Weapons Should Be on the U.S.-China Summit Agenda

    At the impending U.S.-China summit, it would make sense for Obama to put on the table official discussions of strategic nuclear issues between U.S. and Chinese government or military representatives.

    Sep 23, 2015

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Iran nuclear agreement in Washington, July 28, 2015


    The Only Iran Deal Alternative Worth Considering

    Now is the time for Washington to prove its leadership and implement the Iran nuclear deal. The alternative is a major diplomatic defeat for America and an unrestricted Iranian nuclear program.

    Aug 30, 2015

  • Iran flag above Tehran skyline


    A Better Deal for Iran

    It is critical for lawmakers to understand there will be serious consequences for rejecting the Iran deal. And those consequences look a lot worse for the United States and its partners than for Iran.

    Aug 24, 2015