Nuclear Weapons and Warfare

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Nuclear weapons, the means of producing them, and their potential use play significant roles in international relations and homeland security. Throughout its history, RAND has provided detailed analyses and recommendations for defense planners and helped policymakers make informed national security decisions with regard to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the nuclear activities of India, Pakistan, China, North Korea, Iran, and other nations.

  • Commentary

    Weighing the Cost and Necessity of Nuclear Modernization

    The United States has fielded a Triad of air-, sea-, and land-based nuclear delivery systems since the 1950s. Major components are nearing the end of their service lives, raising the question of whether to extend or replace them. Meanwhile, Russia and China continue to modernize, diversify, and expand their nuclear arsenals.

    Jan 3, 2022

  • Commentary

    North Korea's Nuclear Arsenal and Prospects for Regional Peace

    Nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea have hovered at a standstill since 2019. With the door to diplomacy seemingly closed and North Korea marching forward on weapons development and making threatening statements, what are the prospects for Pyongyang's denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula?

    Dec 16, 2021

Explore Nuclear Weapons and Warfare

  • (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

  • The aftermath of the U.S. Army Air Corps' bombing of Dresden during World War Two

    Report

    Alternative Futures Following a Great Power War: Volume 1, Scenarios, Findings, and Recommendations

    RAND researchers generated four plausible near-term great power war scenarios and assessed how they could shape the postwar strategic environment.

    May 9, 2023

  • Americans gather to read headlines about the German invasion of Poland that triggered World War II, September 1, 1939, photo by Everett Collection/Alamy

    Research Brief

    The Aftermath of a Great Power War

    A review of historical great power wars shows that prewar predictions about who would fight, how long the war would last, and how the world would look afterward were often wrong. It's important to understand what the outcomes of different conflicts could look like and how to better prepare for them.

    May 9, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Violence in Sudan, Alcohol Use, North Korea: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on the violence in Sudan, preventing alcohol-related deaths, the North Korean nuclear threat, and more.

    Apr 28, 2023

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence near Moscow, Russia, February 17, 2023, photo by Vladimir Astapkovich/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters

    Commentary

    Countering Russia's Nuclear Threat in Europe

    President Vladimir Putin's announced plan to put nuclear arms in Belarus may pose risks to NATO's nuclear posture. Three decades after the Soviet collapse, some allies might be uneasy about reenergizing NATO's nuclear mission. But others might argue that not responding to Russia's plans could cause the Kremlin to doubt NATO's nuclear credibility.

    Apr 20, 2023

  • A screen grab from an undated video shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspecting what are said to be nuclear warheads at an undisclosed location, photo by KRT via Reuters

    Commentary

    How Kim's Fears Shape North Korea's Nuclear Agenda

    North Korea has ramped up the frequency and intensity of its provocations, continuing its nuclear weapon–buildup while threatening attacks against South Korea and the United States. Why is Kim Jong-un making such excessive investments in North Korea's nuclear and weapons programs and showing off its capabilities?

    Apr 19, 2023

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Russian interior ministry board in Moscow, Russia, March 20, 2023, photo by Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via Reuters

    Commentary

    Stalled in Ukraine, Kremlin Increasingly Turns to Political Theater

    Stymied in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has amped up the political theater to achieve his objectives. How do we interpret Putin's statements? While no nuclear threat should be ignored, Putin's pronouncements remain in the realm of propaganda.

    Apr 17, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    20 Years After the Iraq War, China-Russia Ties, Correctional Education: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on reflecting on the Iraq War, the pandemic and prison education, North Korea’s latest threats, and more.

    Mar 24, 2023

  • Photo by KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect

    Commentary

    North Korea Is Forcing U.S. Military Counters

    If the U.S. military shoots down a North Korean ICBM fired in the direction of the United States and its territories, North Korea will regard it as an act of war. Even in the realm of North Korean rhetoric, this is extreme.

    Mar 14, 2023

  • Missileers communicate by phone

    Report

    Unraveling Entanglement: Policy Implications of Using Non-Dedicated Systems for Nuclear Command and Control

    Recent arguments have emphasized the increased risk of inadvertent escalation from integrating and comingling conventional and nuclear command and control (NC2) systems. In this report, the authors argue that these concerns are overstated. However, they also point out that certain risks associated with using non-dedicated systems for NC2 warrant more-focused attention.

    Mar 9, 2023

  • Russian nuclear forces launch a Yars ICBM during strategic deterrence forces exercises in Russia, October 26, 2022, photo by EyePress News/Reuters

    Commentary

    Putin Could Escalate with Nuclear Testing

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has put the world on notice that Russia might resume nuclear explosive testing. He may see this as bolstering his scare tactics over Ukraine by signaling a possible willingness to use nuclear weapons. While testing could also help Russia improve its nuclear arms, politics rather than technology are likely to drive any decision to test.

    Mar 6, 2023

  • The National Assembly of South Korea, Yeouido, Seoul, photo by Vincent_St_Thomas/Getty Images

    Commentary

    A Nuke for a Nuke? Public Debate and Political Party Views on Nuclear Acquisition in South Korea

    There is a high level of uncertainty and a lack of clarity surrounding the issue of South Korean nuclear acquisition. What political, security, and strategic factors are key to guiding this debate in Seoul?

    Mar 2, 2023

  • Russian reservists recruited to support the military campaign in Ukraine walk towards a banner with a portrait of Russian President Putin during a ceremony before their departure in Omsk, Russia, January 6, 2023, photo by Alexey Malgavko/Reuters

    Commentary

    Consequences of the War in Ukraine: Escalation

    If Russian forces remain unable to defeat Ukraine, and Putin remains unwilling to back down, what escalation options does Russia have left?

    Feb 27, 2023

  • Combat missiles on a launcher, photo by 3D_generator/GettyImages

    Journal Article

    Potential Implications of the Russia–Ukraine War for Northeast Asia

    Commentary on potential lessons from the Russia–Ukraine war bearing on deterrence in Northeast Asia, including lessons related to nuclear weapons.

    Feb 21, 2023

  • nasa, johnsonspacecentermediaarchive

    Report

    Assessing the Prospects for Great Power Cooperation in the Global Commons

    This report, part of a four-part series, describes the potential for U.S. cooperation with China or Russia on global commons issues, including freedom of access to space, countering violent extremist organizations, and promoting global stability.

    Feb 20, 2023

  • Missiles are displayed during a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of North Korea's army founding in Pyongyang, North Korea, February 8, 2023, photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    Why Is North Korea Showing Off Its ICBMs?

    On February 8, North Korea held a military parade in Pyongyang to call attention to the strengths of the North's military weapons, including what appeared to be 11 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Can the United States and its allies afford to wait until North Korea has dozens of ICBMs and hundreds of nuclear weapons? Because that is the direction in which Kim says he is moving.

    Feb 15, 2023

  • Report

    Report

    Russia's Evolution Toward a Unified Strategic Operation: The Influence of Geography and Conventional Capacity

    In this report, RAND researchers examine the reasons behind Russia's evolution toward a unified strategic operation, as well as the capabilities that would be necessary to execute key conventional offensive tasks in such an operation.

    Feb 13, 2023

  • Kim Jong-un conducts a ground test of a high-thrust, solid-fuel engine at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Cholsan, North Korea, December 16, 2022, photo by KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency via Reuters

    Commentary

    Japanese 'Counterstrike' May Be Good for ROK Security

    Fully coordinated, the South Korean Kill Chain and Japanese counterstrike capability could be more effective in stopping North Korea from causing damage. And they could be more likely to deter Kim Jong-un, as Pyongyang recognizes that its efforts to militarily dominate the ROK are unlikely to succeed.

    Dec 28, 2022

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the summit of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Astana, Kazakhstan October 14, 2022, photo by Turar Kazangapov/Reuters

    Commentary

    Responding to a Russian Attack on NATO During the Ukraine War

    The Ukraine war has created a unique set of circumstances that make a limited Russian attack against a NATO target plausible. If such an attack were to occur, how might the United States and NATO respond?

    Dec 20, 2022