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.

  • The Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket is pictured sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in Pyongyang, April 8, 2012, photo by Bobby Yip/Reuters

    Content

    A Nuclear North Korea

    Sep 15, 2016

    North Korea appears to be rapidly building a significant nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver those weapons. Current estimates suggest North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles could be operational between 2020 and 2025.

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

    Project

    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

  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in attend short track speed skating events in Pyeongchang, February 10, 2018

    Commentary

    At Olympics, U.S. and Korean Leaders Revive Familiar Roles

    The current spate of North-South Korean diplomacy could be short-lived, giving way to resumed tensions and mounting fears of war. It seems possible, however, that South Korean President Moon Jae-in will succeed in brokering direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

    Feb 22, 2018

  • Soldiers carry a PLA flag and Chinese national flags before the military parade to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the foundation of China's PLA at Zhurihe military base in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, July 30, 2017

    Testimony

    Addressing PLA Rocket Force Modernization

    China's growing missile capabilities could pose serious challenges for the United States and its allies. To protect its regional security interests, the United States should continue to monitor the PLA's modernization and adapt its own deterrence capabilities.

    Feb 15, 2018

  • North Korean cheerleaders await the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang, South Korea, February 9, 2018

    Commentary

    Countering North Korea's Political Warfare

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has outmaneuvered South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the month leading up to the Olympics. This has dangerous consequences for South Korea's security, democracy, and its alliance with the United States.

    Feb 11, 2018

  • U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the administration's National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C, December 18, 2017

    Commentary

    Return of Tactical Nuclear Weapons Would Send a Dangerous Signal

    A change in the U.S. nuclear posture to include low-yield nuclear weapons could make nonproliferation goals harder to achieve. But it could also signal a new willingness to consider these weapons as part of a spectrum of warfighting capabilities, rather than as a necessary component of the U.S. deterrence posture.

    Jan 19, 2018

  • People walk at the Grand Bazaar, a day after the presidential election, in central Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2017

    Commentary

    Killing Iran's Economy Won't Help the U.S.

    Iran's economy is likely to be damaged by any new U.S. sanctions, with foreign investment having already slowed in response to President Trump's rhetoric. The biggest losers will not be the Iranian regime but the Iranian people, whose striving the U.S. has long hoped would bring about a less antagonistic Iran.

    Oct 31, 2017

  • U.S. Army Pacific Commanding General, Gen. Robert Brown (left), and Philippines Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Glorioso, salute at an honor cordon convened on historic Palm Circle, Fort Shafter, Hawaii, to honor Glorioso's arrival February 1, 2017

    Commentary

    General Robert Brown on the U.S. Army's Role in Asia

    Gen. Robert B. Brown, Commanding General of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), offers his perspective of key defense and security issues facing USARPAC in the Indo-Pacific region today. He discusses what the Army's role would be in any potential application of U.S. military power, as well as its peacetime role in strengthening U.S. alliances.

    Oct 25, 2017

  • An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria, January 15, 2016

    Commentary

    Why the Iran Nuclear Deal Benefits the U.S.

    The Iran deal has stretched the time needed to produce a nuclear weapon from three to at least 12 months and has established the strongest inspections system ever negotiated. Walking away from the agreement now will only isolate the U.S. and provide Iran an easy excuse to join North Korea on the road toward nuclear weapons.

    Oct 23, 2017

  • Two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers deployed to Andersen Air Base, Guam, fly over the Republic of Korea Sept. 21, 2016

    Commentary

    The Rorschach Test of New Nuclear Powers: Analogies for North Korean Command and Control

    Is Pyongyang more like modern Islamabad or Soviet Moscow? The answer must draw on the expertise of scholars of civil-military relations as well as nuclear strategy. Even then analogy is only a starting point—North Korea may be more or less like previous cases, but will certainly be unique.

    Oct 6, 2017

  • A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer is joined by Republic of Korea air force F-15s, during a 10-hour mission from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, into Japanese airspace and over the Korean Peninsula, July 30, 2017

    Commentary

    On North Korea, Past Foreign Policy Fiascoes Show U.S. What Not to Do

    Foreign policy disasters are often the sum of two basic errors: embracing exaggerated claims about the need to act, and inventing a conceptual magic wand to wish away potential consequences. Both are apparent in U.S. policy toward North Korea's nuclear aspirations.

    Oct 5, 2017

  • Iran's President Hassan Rouhani delivers remarks at a news conference during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, September 20, 2017

    Commentary

    Decertifying the Iran Nuclear Deal Would Not Increase U.S. Leverage

    The Iran nuclear agreement is not perfect, but it is working. Iran is no longer on the brink of being able to produce a nuclear weapon as it was two years ago. The suggestion that decertifying would increase U.S. leverage to renegotiate and strengthen the agreement is unrealistic.

    Oct 5, 2017

  • Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif greets United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the U.N. headquarters in New York City, July 17, 2017

    Commentary

    How to Keep Iran from Becoming the Next North Korea

    The United States brokered an agreement to constrain North Korea's nuclear program 25 years ago, but hard-liners abandoned it with vague intentions of coercing the North into something better. They never did, and now a runaway North Korean program poses real danger. This offers a powerful reason to preserve the Iran nuclear deal.

    Aug 22, 2017

  • Military parade in Pyongyang, October 2015

    Essay

    Understanding North Korea

    How should the United States respond to North Korea's provocative behavior? Even the best military options could be cataclysmically bad, but there are nonmilitary options to convince Kim Jong Un that the costs of his provocations outweigh any benefits.

    Aug 18, 2017

  • Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven during a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017

    Commentary

    The North Korea Standoff: Have We Been Here Before?

    How the United States responded to China's nuclear weapons program last century can provide lessons for today's debate about North Korea. For instance, the conclusion that the only option is deterrence is still sound.

    Aug 14, 2017

  • A passerby walks past a street monitor showing news of North Korea's fresh threat in Tokyo, Japan, August 9, 2017

    Commentary

    Contain, Deter, Transform: A Winning Strategy on North Korea

    North Korea's missile tests and reported progress in nuclear warhead design have produced a volatile new urgency in U.S. policy. Contain, deter, and transform isn't a radical solution, but it's one that has worked before. This approach could preserve U.S. interests while avoiding war.

    Aug 9, 2017

  • The U.S. Capitol building illuminated at night in Washington, D.C.

    Blog

    RAND's Summer Reading List for Congress

    Hill staffers can make the most of the Congressional recess with this list of must-read research and commentary on the policy issues they will be addressing this fall.

    Aug 4, 2017

  • Multimedia

    North Korea's Continuous Provocations

    In this July 17th, 2017 congressional briefing, Bruce W. Bennett, Senior International/Defense Researcher, discusses North Korea's nuclear missile programs, its changing relationship with China, and implications for U.S. policy.

    Jul 17, 2017

  • People watch a huge screen showing the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by KCNA, July 5, 2017.

    Commentary

    A Surgical Strike Against North Korea? Not a Viable Option

    North Korea's July 4 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit American soil has renewed talk of military intervention. But an effective limited military strike with minimal collateral damage and no escalation simply won't work.

    Jul 14, 2017

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to journalists following a live nationwide broadcast in Moscow, June 15, 2017

    Report

    Strengthening Strategic Stability with Russia

    Strategic stability between the United States and Russia is eroding, but the two countries still share a deep interest in avoiding nuclear war. Strengthening stability will be challenging. Meaningful progress will require courage and sacrifices on both sides.

    Jul 7, 2017

  • China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks at a Security Council meeting on the situation in North Korea at the United Nations, New York City, April 28, 2017

    Commentary

    How China Could Truly Rein in North Korea

    China has key pressure points at its disposal to help deter North Korea from nuclear activities. It could cut off oil supplies or limit other trade, or crack down on illicit finance networks as many of the banks laundering money for the regime are in China. It could also stop shielding Pyongyang at the UN.

    Jun 20, 2017

  • War veterans and commanding officers in a military parade celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the truce of the Korean War, in Pyongyang, August 3, 2013

    Commentary

    End the Korean War, Finally

    Sixty-four years ago, the Korean War was suspended by a cease-fire. A peace treaty was never signed. Standing ready to formally end this old war may be the key to dismantling North Korea's nuclear program without starting a new one.

    Jun 8, 2017