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.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a drill of long-range artillery sub-units of the Korean People's Army, March 2, 2020, photo by KCNA/Reuters

    Report

    How Does North Korean Leadership Make Decisions?

    Aug 20, 2020

    With talks between the United States and North Korea at a standstill, U.S. policymakers must consider what the regime might do next and know what signs or decisions to look for. Will Kim open the DPRK economy? What if conventional deterrence fails on the Korean Peninsula? And what could lead to the use of nuclear weapons?

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

    Report

    The Military Case for Extending New START

    Feb 14, 2020

    The most prudent course of action would be for Washington to extend the U.S.-Russia New START agreement before it expires in February 2021. This would constrain Russia's nuclear forces covered by the treaty for five more years. And it would buy time to pursue multilateral negotiations that also include China.

Explore Nuclear Weapons and Warfare

  • 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

  • Multimedia

    The Rise and Fall of the ABM Treaty: Missile Defense and the U.S.-Russia Relationship

    RAND's Bilyana Lilly discussed how the U.S.-Russia relationship has for decades shaped the development and deployment of ballistic missile defenses at a panel discussion hosted by the Project on Military and Diplomatic History and the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies on February 7th, 2018.

    Feb 7, 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

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the national science centre, in Pyongyang, North Korea, January 12, 2018

    Commentary

    Nothing New from North Korea

    Kim Jong Un's recent proposal for talks with South Korea is by no means unprecedented. And while the overture could somewhat ease tensions in the region, there is no reason to believe that Kim is ready to give up his nuclear arsenal.

    Jan 12, 2018

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance with Ri Hong Sop (2nd L) and Hong Sung Mu (2nd R) on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, North Korea

    Commentary

    Recovering from a Nuclear Attack on a U.S. City

    Responding after a nuclear attack will require having planned and prepared for problems that are very different than those encountered after hurricanes and earthquakes. U.S. cities are inadequately prepared to handle a disaster of this magnitude.

    Nov 7, 2017

  • 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

    Q&A

    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

  • U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 13, 2017

    Commentary

    Punting on the Iran Nuclear Deal

    President Trump has signaled that he is likely to decline to certify that Iran is adhering to its nuclear deal commitments. The alternatives to the agreement are clear: Iran will develop nuclear weapons, the U.S. will go to war to prevent this, or both.

    Oct 16, 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

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a long and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on August 30, 2017

    Commentary

    Beyond Strategic Patience with North Korea: What Comes Next?

    North Korea says that nuclear weapons are essential to regime survival. The United States should figure out how to persuade the North Korean regime that it is less likely to survive by posing a nuclear threat than by cooperating with the international community.

    Sep 8, 2017

  • Daenerys Targaryen rides her dragon into battle in a scene from the 'Spoils of War' episode of 'Game of Thrones'

    Commentary

    'Game of Thrones' Dragons, Nuclear Weapons, and Winning Whatever the Cost

    HBO's hit series “Game of Thrones” may be fantasy, but it explores many challenges that are familiar to real-world leaders. The military use of dragons and the dilemma these beasts pose is one recent example.

    Aug 24, 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

    Multimedia

    Tensions Between North Korea and the U.S.

    RAND experts Bruce Bennett, Andrew Scobell, and J.D. Williams host a conference call with news media discussing the rising tensions between North Korea and the United States. Senior Media Relations Officer Khorshied Samad moderates the call.

    Aug 16, 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

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

    Commentary

    How Did North Korea Get Its Nuclear Capabilities So Far So Fast?

    The recent North Korean missile tests and other provocations have sent shock waves through the global national security community and heightened tensions throughout the region. How has North Korea increased its missile capabilities so dramatically in such a short period of time?

    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