Nuclear Deterrence

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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.

  • Commentary

    Deterrence of North Korean Limited Nuclear Attacks

    No single action is likely to deter North Korean nuclear weapon use. But a combination of efforts may convince Kim Jong-un that any use of nuclear weapons for coercion would be very dangerous to his future, and could be a powerful approach to deterring North Korea.

    Nov 27, 2023

  • Report

    Managing Escalation Between Nuclear-Armed Powers

    The return of great-power competition and the war in Ukraine have highlighted the stark risks of conflict with nuclear-armed rivals. What lessons can be learned from historical cases that could help identify adversary thresholds and manage escalation during a potential crisis?

    Feb 22, 2024

Explore Nuclear Deterrence

  • Chinese Navy personnel wait to attend a welcoming ceremony for South Korea's guided missile frigate ROKS Gyeonggi at Qingdao Port for the 70th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Chinese PLA Navy, in Qingdao, China, April 21, 2019, photo by Jason Lee/Reuters

    Commentary

    U.S. Military Theories of Victory for a Potential War with China

    In the case of a hypothetical U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan, how might the United States prevail while also avoiding catastrophic escalation of the war?

    Feb 21, 2024

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his daughter inspect an intercontinental ballistic missile in North Korea in this undated photo released on November 19, 2022 photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    Responding to North Korean 2024 War Threats

    Unless Kim Jong-un concludes that South Korea and the United States are serious about reining in his provocations, threats, and nuclear weapon development, he might eventually push the Korean Peninsula into a nuclear war that no one wants.

    Jan 18, 2024

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a policy speech at the second-day sitting of the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on September 30, 2021, photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    The Politics of North Korea's ICBM Program

    It appears that Kim Jong-un is now practicing ICBM politics. Successful ICBM launches generate internal political support and remind South Korean citizens of reasons to question the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

    Jan 2, 2024

  • U.S. President Joe Biden shakes hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Woodside, California, November 15, 2023, photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Nuclear Shadows of the Ukraine War as Seen Through a Chinese Lens

    China-U.S. relations are once again on an upward trajectory after the meeting between presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC summit. But the good news should not obscure lingering bilateral tensions with respect to nuclear weapons.

    Dec 6, 2023

  • Report

    Report

    Designing A Strange Game: A Nuclear Wargame for the 21st Century

    This report details the theoretical motivation and design of a wargame meant to address the lack of serious games that consider nuclear weapon employment and tools available to teach stakeholders about the challenges of nuclear weapon employment.

    Nov 28, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    'Israel's 9/11,' Promoting the 988 Hotline, the Future of Space: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on why the Oct. 7 attack wasn't Israel's 9/11, humanity's future approach to space, the pressing need to ensure more people know about the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, and more.

    Nov 17, 2023

  • The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other in Yongin, South Korea, August 23, 2016, photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar/U.S. Army

    Report

    South Korea Needs Greater Nuclear Assurance

    With growing nuclear threats from North Korea and China, there has been considerable interest in South Korea in developing its own nuclear weapons. But doing so could become a major disaster. The United States should bring greater strategic clarity to its nuclear umbrella commitment to South Korea.

    Oct 29, 2023

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held the Fifth Enlarged Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang, North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 11, 2022, photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    What North Korea Is Learning from the Hamas-Israel War

    South Korea and the United States should rein in North Korean nuclear weapon production and prepare to respond to escalated North Korean coercion. While Kim Jong-un probably won't resort to a Hamas-style attack, he certainly shares Hamas' goal of cultivating U.S. reluctance to get involved militarily in the region.

    Oct 24, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Israel-Hamas War, Overdose Deaths, Striking Health Care Workers: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on historical context for the Israel-Hamas war, the link between education and fatal overdoses, why U.S. health care workers are striking, and more.

    Oct 13, 2023

  • Kim Jong-un attends the ninth session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly and calls for exponentially increasing the production of nuclear weapons at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 28, 2023, photo by KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect

    Commentary

    Nuclear Weapons in the North Korean World View

    As Kim Jong-un's actions become more threatening, the risks of a catastrophic accidental nuclear war become more likely. The United States needs to make North Korean denuclearization a long-term objective but focus in the immediate future on limiting the size and danger of the North Korean nuclear weapon force.

    Oct 11, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Nuclear Deterrence, Russia and Iran, Deepfakes: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on how much is “enough” for U.S. nuclear forces, the budding Russia-Iran partnership, the challenge of detecting deepfakes, and more.

    Oct 6, 2023

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, October 3, 2023, photo by Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik via Reuters

    Report

    What If Russia Crossed the Nuclear Threshold in Ukraine?

    The dynamic between Ukrainian momentum and Russia's desperation has raised concerns that the Kremlin might resort to nuclear escalation to turn the tide of the war. How could the United States expand its options to respond to potentially produce better outcomes?

    Oct 5, 2023

  • The U.N. Security Council convenes an emergency meeting in New York on March 31, 2023, to discuss Russia's plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, photo by Kyodo via Reuters

    Commentary

    How Much Is Enough for U.S. Nuclear Forces?

    Deterrence is difficult because it's about perceptions and resolve rather than just pure numbers. Potential adversaries need to perceive that the United States has enough nuclear weapons to deter them, and also that U.S. officials believe the United States has enough that Washington's resolve will not falter in the face of provocation or coercion.

    Sep 27, 2023

  • People walk in front of a monitor showing news of North Korea's fresh threat in Tokyo, Japan, August 10, 2017

    Commentary

    North Korea and China Aren't the Allies You Think They Are

    China and North Korea have a history of friction, despite being seen as allies. As Russia, China, and North Korea move toward a closer trilateral partnership, the United States and its allies need to recognize that there are seams in the relationships that can be used to undermine it.

    Sep 27, 2023

  • North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting at the Vostochny Сosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, September 13, 2023, photo by Sputnik/Artem Geodakyan/Pool via Reuters

    Commentary

    North Korea, Russia and China: The Developing Trilateral Imperialist Partnership

    There are no easy ways for the United States and its allies to counter the developing Russia-China–North Korea partnership. But there are options to consider and steps to take. There are also fissures in their relationships to exploit.

    Sep 13, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    The State of Public Education, the Opioid Crisis, Defending Taiwan: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on the state of public education in America right now, a missing piece of the strategy for addressing the opioid crisis, emerging technology that could help defend Taiwan, and more.

    Sep 1, 2023

  • (l-r) South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida walk to a joint press conference after their summit talks at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David near Washington, D.C., August 18, 2023, photo by Kyodo via Reuters Connect

    Commentary

    A Trilateral Summit to Deal with Trilateral Threats

    The leaders of Japan, South Korea, and the United States held a trilateral summit in August, focused on countering military threats in East Asia. Not surprisingly, China and North Korea were upset by the summit, designed as it was to respond to their military build-ups.

    Aug 29, 2023

  • U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the New START Treaty at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010, photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

    Commentary

    Hard Times for U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control

    New START is slated to expire in February 2026 and cannot be extended. The next chapter in U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control, if there is to be one, may not be written until rulers in Moscow ease repression at home, pull troops out of Ukraine, and recognize the mutual benefits of reducing, rather than stoking, nuclear tensions.

    Aug 28, 2023