POL208Y1 Lecture Notes - Massive Retaliation, Capacity Factor, Flexible Response
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
defense is about the shield rather than the sword. It is the idea that you can install in your own
territory and will counter incoming missiles from your enemy. This was limited in 1922, because
missile defense does not take deterrence seriously. It is used when deterrence fails. Lastly, NATO
joined the Cold War has an official policy of first use. In other words, if necessary NATO will be
the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. The source of that position was that Western
Europe does not have the strategic depth against Soviet Union. Repeatedly after the Cold War,
attempts have been made to change this policy. So, the deterrence effect and the doctrines
linked to the use of nuclear weapons during the Cold war have evolved dramatically and most of
them are not obsolete. Yet we are facing a new phase of proliferation and its danger.
There are several types of proliferation, one is technology. After 9/11, efforts have been doubled
in uranium trade and exports control. The U.S initiated a program to basically make sure that the
scientists remain in Russia and were highly paid in American money in order to avoid the risk of
working for other countries. It never materialized in Russia, but it did in Pakistan. A company
sold nuclear secrets to other countries around the world. The last proliferation type is about
countries that want to acquire nuclear weapons themselves. To understand that kind of
proliferation, we must understand why countries decide to build nuclear weapons.
There are three models as to why countries decide to build nuclear weapons. All cases to
assess these models are pretty limited. Briefly put, the first model is the security model – the
basic realists’ interpretation of nuclear proliferation. The realist angle will tell you that since
the world is made of anarchy, and since the first principle is self help to ensure survival – a
country will do whatever it takes to defend itself. The story of the U.S development of nuclear
weapons in WWII was a response to the fear of Germany building one. China decided to build
weapons because they felt threatened during the Korean war. This triggered the fear of India,
which triggered the fear of Pakistan. Proliferation was like a domino effect. Proliferation is
viewed as unstoppable. The U.S state department saw that if countries had the scientific
expertise and resources – they’d do it, as did Sweden and Belgium. Proliferation calls for
proliferation according to realists.
The other model is the domestic politics model - they say the air force and scientific
community can have a narrow interest in convincing the government in producing nuclear weapons
because that is condusive to their own parochical interests. The model is better fitted to explain
the expansion of a program than for the creation of one.
The third model is called the “norms” model. The norms model is taking the non-military
value seriously. As a military tool, a nuclear weapon is limited because the deterrence is at play.
Some analysts have argued that nuclear weapons are fulfilling other purposes, you have status and
prestige that justify the building of a bomb. You enter a club and change your status in the
international system that fives you prestige and influence – it is a means to an end. The classic
example is France, it is said that their decision to build nuclear weapons is based on the norms
model. The decision was about regaining an international status that they lost in WWII. It was a
way of restoring French grandeur, and influence. Nuclear weapons gives you a status in the
international system. France was so scared of Germany in 1954, even when they were divided into
two, nuclear weapons ensured their superiority over them. The other factor that was less
important, was to gain influence over the U.S, so that they could be taken seriously.
Another issue with proliferation is whether or not it’s really a danger. Overall, the success of
counter-proliferation has been successful. Countries like Brasil and South Africa have given up
theirs. According to Waltz, since no leader can possibly be suicidal, we should have a more
relaxed view of proliferation. Waltz saw nuclear weapons may in fact have a restraining
effect – it brings responsibility and caution, and makes war more unlikely. If we take
deterrence seriously, if rationality is the key factor, then proliferation is not that much of
a problem. The core of his argument depends on the rationality of decision makers. The second
view is less optimistic. Sagan’s view is that organizations that are in charge of managing
nuclear weapons are in fact prone to accidents. They are not flexible, and so the risk that
playing by their book they may cause an accident no matter how highly it is regulated. The
same can be said about airplanes. And in fact an accident did happen during the Cold War –
In Spain when a B52 crashed with a nuclear bomb but didn’t explode. Also, a missile
accidentally was launched and crossed Norway at a low altitude. It did not contain any
nuclear elements. Sagan says that there is always room for error and the more states that
go nuclear, the more likely we are to have accidents. Another argument made by Sagan
regards the people in charge. Proliferation is likely to concern military governments or
weak governments and that the control of these governments will be weak with no civilian
oversight. These regimes will be more likely to use nuclear weapons than democracies.
Finally, there is a concern about terrorist organizations trying to steal a nuclear weapon
from a country. If you have a state infrastructure, the likelihood of having these weapons
stolen increases. The concern of the last 10 years, has been the loss of control over
nuclear weapons in Pakistan. Waltz’s view is not shared by a lot of people.
The case of Iran is very complex. First, there is an intelligence gap. It is one thing to have a rough
picture of what is the actual capability regarding nuclear energy and capacity. It is quite another
to try to understand their intentions. The gap between intentions and capability is a very old
one. In the case of Iraq, intentions were obviously enough. In the case of Iran, capability is more
of a concern. It is not sure if they’ve reached that decision yet. Iran is a member of NPT – as a
member Iran has some obligation for 18 years, and they have hidden a large part of their nuclear
program, and they have therefore lost the right to enrichment – which is a right given by the NPT.
For the past 9 years, the position of Europeans & Americans were drastically different. During the
Bush admin. Bomb + mulla = unacceptable. A religious regime with nuclear bombs is a big no-no.
For Europeans, the religion is not important – the nature of the regime is not the focus. A
proliferation problem is a proliferation problem. Europe tried negotiating but the U.S didn’t
approve and refused to negotiate. With the Obama administration – there is now a willingness to
discuss. The election got in the way and that is why his reaction to the election was prudent
because he still wants to talk. Russia doesn’t like at all the idea of a nuclear Iran, yet they have a
lot of economic ties with them. China has a different position, they are more relaxed and wants
to benefit economically with Iran. But at least the west is united now. Israel is terrified because
they are their neighbors and they cannot strike back.
A possible solution is to sanction Iran. Sanctions are never fool-proof. The population may be
suffering but not the regime. Sanctions are not enough. Another problem is that being a member
of NPT- if they get a bomb, NPT will be dead because it will re-trigger proliferation throughout
the middle east.
Is the NPT a device for a disarmanant? If so it has been limited. This is why Obama relaunched
the idea of reduction of nuclear weapons within the U.S & Russia because he wants to make sure
that the NPT is not seen by the rest of the world as an exclusion to other countries to not get
nuclear weapons where 5 already do.