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.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un bids farewell before boarding his train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019, photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

    Commentary

    Where Do U.S.–North Korea Relations Go After the Hanoi Summit?

    Mar 13, 2019

    If Kim Jong-un is sincere about denuclearization, it is time for him to match his words with actions. If North Korea's nuclearization continues, the U.S. government may eventually face some pressure to take military action to stop it.

  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq March 11, 2019, photo by Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters

    Commentary

    Can Anyone Save the Iran Nuclear Deal Now?

    May 10, 2019

    Europe faces mounting pressure from both Tehran and Washington regarding the Iran nuclear deal. European countries could take steps to signal their commitment to upholding the deal, but doing so may alienate the United States.

Explore Nuclear Deterrence

  • 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

  • Estonian and U.S. soldiers conduct live-fire training during a combat exercise near Tapa, Estonia, April 6, 2017

    Commentary

    How Trump Can Deter Russia and All of America's Other Enemies

    There is no such thing as blanket deterrence. Rather, one must deter a specific adversary from taking a specific action. A holistic approach should include ramping up U.S. capabilities to anticipate emerging threats, including events that are unlikely to happen.

    Apr 26, 2017

  • Locals read promotional boards about planned economic zones along the China-North Korea border in Nanping, China, March 27, 2017

    Commentary

    Despite Promising Signs, China's North Korea Policy Unchanged

    Recent U.S. statements and public discussions on China's willingness to punish or otherwise influence North Korea in a direction favorable to U.S. interests have been optimistic. But China's continued support of the North should temper U.S. expectations.

    Apr 24, 2017

  • Research Brief

    Domestic Factors Could Accelerate the Evolution of China's Nuclear Posture

    This brief discusses how domestic factors could influence China's evolving nuclear deterrent.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • A new multi-role Russian MiG-35 fighter flies during its international presentation at the MiG plant in Lukhovitsy outside Moscow, Russia January 27, 2017.

    Commentary

    Thinking Constructively About Overmatch

    To regain military superiority the Pentagon has suggested a strategy that focuses on emerging technologies and deterrence. But it will need more than new technologies to deter and respond to aggression; it should also take into account grand strategy and acquisition considerations and keep countering Russia and China a top priority.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Military vehicles carrying DF-26 ballistic missiles travel past Tiananmen Gate during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Beijing, September 3, 2015

    Report

    China's Evolving Approach to Nuclear Deterrence

    China's nuclear posture has been consistent since 1964. But in recent years, China has increased the numbers of its missiles and warheads and improved the quality of its force. Understanding its future nuclear direction is critical to shaping U.S. strategy.

    Mar 15, 2017

  • Illustration of the flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union

    Report

    What Are the Defense and Security Implications of Brexit?

    Brexit negotiations have focused on trade, sovereignty, and immigration. But the UK's decision to leave the EU also raises important defense and security questions for the UK, Europe, and the world.

    Mar 5, 2017

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives a New Year address in Pyongyang on January 1, 2017

    Commentary

    Trump Should Confront Kim Over ICBM Tests

    Whether successful or not, an ICBM test by North Korea would be very much against U.S. interests and President-elect Trump should act to counter it as early as possible. A turn to the basics of deterrence would be the path most likely to succeed.

    Jan 6, 2017

  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L), and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 29, 2016

    Commentary

    No Quick Fix with Russia

    A series of small steps is more likely to improve Western and Russian security than an attempt at a total reset. At the same time, sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, and NATO actions to reassure and protect allies, must continue.

    Jan 3, 2017

  • Former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and CFR Senior Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon at RAND's Politics Aside event in Santa Monica, November 12, 2016

    Blog

    The Return of a Cold War Threat

    The danger of blundering into a nuclear war through miscalculation or human error has returned, said former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry at RAND's Politics Aside event. No leader is seeking nuclear war, but there are new dangers that didn't exist during the Cold War that could lead to one.

    Nov 15, 2016

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

    Commentary

    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

    Commentary

    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