The Implications of Nonnuclear Strategic Weaponry

Concepts of Deterrence

by Richard M. Rosenberg, Carl H. Builder

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The emergence of nonnuclear strategic weapons (NNSW) by the year 2000 is likely to have a profound effect on our ideas of deterrence. NNSW are conventional weapons with the capability of attacking targets in the homelands of the United States and the Soviet Union. This paper used an analytical framework to explore current concepts of deterrence and to look at how NNSW may change those concepts. The findings were many sided. For instance, since the end of World War II, deterrence has been based on nuclear capabilities; but if NNSW seem to offer the chance of escalating a conflict without using nuclear weapons, escalation could become easier. On the other hand, because NNSW are more discriminately destructive, they may help to raise the nuclear threshold and slow the pace of conflict. This could increase the opportunities for bargaining and crisis resolution in the early stages of a conflict and therefore reduce the likelihood that any conflict would unavoidably lead to a large-scale nuclear war. However, the authors found nothing to suggest that NNSW will completely replace nuclear weapons.

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