POL208Y1 Lecture Notes - Massive Retaliation, Capacity Factor, Flexible Response
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POL208- Lecture #10
The images we all have of nuclear weapons are all from Nagasaki and Hiroshima, as they are the
only ones. It was used as a war tactic to end the war – and it was successful. Over the years the
power of nuclear weapons has increased exponentially. A nuclear bomb can work in two ways:
fusion (the “H” bomb) & fission. Highly enraged uranium is required – and since this does not
exist naturally, an industrial process is created. The key discovery of nuclear weapons was made
at the end of the 1930’s. With technology the power and size of these weapons has changed.
Bombs have gotten smaller but power has gotten bigger. People can carry bombs undetected in
just suitcases; it has evolved from being carried by an airplane. Nuclear weapons are deterrent
weapons. To work, there is a capacity and a psychological factor. The psychological factor is
that a decision maker must be convinced that his actions will be responded and that response ill
lead to the total destruction of his country. Rationalists will always consider that no decision
maker of a country will be suicidal enough o launch a nuclear attack IF the retaliation will be the
complete destruction of his nation. BUT the capacity factor is about the capacity to launch a
second strike. If your enemy /adversary think that by attacking you, he will deprive you of any
capacity to respond then deterrence does not work. You need to be able to strike a second time
if you’ve been attacked first. This helps understand the conflict between the U.S & the Soviet
Union. It is key for deterrence to have both factors. With the event of a nuclear submarine that
can launch nuclear weapons – a country is ensured to strike back.
At the start of the Cold War the U.S relied on a simple model “massive retaliation”. Whatever
Moscow did, they’d respond back massively. Massive retaliation was a doctrine that was in fact
reflecting nuclear superiority from the U.S. The other effect of massive retaliation was that it
transformed every dispute between the two powers into a potential WW3 conflict. If there is no
flexibility in the massive retaliation doctrine, the rare scenario of a platoon of Soviet soldiers
getting lost in the borders of Berlin would be enough o trigger massive retaliation. It does not
make a difference between small and big attacks. This doctrine had to therefore be amended.
They decided to have a far more flexible doctrine; it was called “flexible response”. This meant
to respond to every move in the same way. For a crisis involving conventional force, the answer
should be equivalent. Nuclear weapons would only be considered if the crisis escalates. This
increased the threshold of use of nuclear weapons. Moreover, the flexible respond triggered
trouble in Western Europe. They saw it as a lack of effort a commitment to defend them.
Two additional aspects of deterrence doctrine are the following. First is “minimal deterrence”.
Ex// U.S & Cuba.
The other is extended deterrence; where a nuclear country will provide protection for a non-
nuclear country . Some allies never believed in this. Extended deterrence means that if Paris is
attacked, Americans should be ready to put New York at risk in order to defend Paris. Some
analysts saw this as a contradiction because no country will be willing to sacrifice their own
country in defense of another. This led to some countries to develop their won nuclear weapons,
as France did. They saw it as the best way to ensure protection. Your opponent should appreciate
deterrence of your country. If Moscow is convinced that the U.S will indeed protect Paris by
putting New York on the line – that is enough. The deterrence should be analyzed in the eye of
your opponent not of your ally.
The Euro Missile Controversy. There were missiles aimed at Western Europe and by the end of
the 70s, some of the European countries saw that imbalance between the capacity of the Soviet
Union and the lack of protection in Europe was too great. So by the mid 80s, Europe is probably
the continent with the most nuclear weapons on its soil. Most of these weapons were controlled by
the U.S. The dilemma of Euro missile that by installing them in Europe – you limit a war in Europe
without involving the U.S. Germany didn’t feel comfortable with this. By 1987, these missiles
were removed from Europe. Two more things link to deterrence, one is missile defense. Missile