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 Korea displays what appears to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile during a parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers' Party, October 10, 2020, photo by KCNA

    Report

    Countering the Risks of North Korean Nuclear Weapons

    Apr 12, 2021

    There is a growing gap between North Korea's nuclear weapon threat and South Korean and U.S. capabilities to defeat it. Because these capabilities will take years to develop, attention should be focused on where the threat could be in the mid to late 2020s and strategy options that could be employed to counter it.

  • Children sing and dance in front of Children's Peace Monument to commemorate the coming into effect of the TPNW at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, January 22, 2021, photo by Osamu Kanazawa/Yomiuri Shimbun via Reuters

    Commentary

    Nuclear Ban Treaty Offers Rare Chance for Japan

    Apr 30, 2021

    As the only country to suffer the horrors of wartime atomic bombings, one would assume Japan would eagerly sign any treaty to ban such weapons. Why hasn't Japan signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which took effect in January 2021?

Explore Nuclear Weapons and Warfare

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia March 1, 2018

    Commentary

    Could Putin's Speech Signal the Erosion of Nuclear Nonproliferation?

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has linked the development of new nuclear weapons capabilities to the United States' refusal to collaborate on arms control. Perhaps before Russia goes down this path, another attempt at dialogue would be beneficial as both nations have expressed a shared interest in limiting nuclear proliferation.

    Mar 7, 2018

  • U.S. Army soldiers load military vehicles onto trains at Camp Carroll in Chilgok, South Korea, during the annual Key Resolve/Foal Eagle military exercises, March 6, 2012

    Commentary

    Joint Military Exercise Can Be a Bargaining Chip with North Korea

    Since 1976, the United States and South Korea have scheduled large-scale joint military exercises each year. Postponing the exercises this year has led to some signs that North Korea might be open to diplomacy. Delaying the exercises further could lead to direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

    Feb 23, 2018

  • 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

  • The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay after three months at sea

    Commentary

    Discrimination Details Matter: Clarifying an Argument About Low-Yield Nuclear Warheads

    Nuclear forces and nuclear strategy are complex and the facts surrounding them are often shrouded in classification. But if the United States were to deploy a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead in the future, an adversary would face the same problems as it does today in knowing what the missile contains

    Feb 16, 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

  • 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