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Lecture 19

AS.190.209 Lecture Notes - Lecture 19: Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Cuban Missile Crisis, Nuclear Force

AS Political Science
Course Code
David, Steven R

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Focus on what is unique about nuclear weapons
Key concepts regarding nuclear weapons – defense, deterrence, and stability
Look at American and Soviet nuclear forces during the Cold War and
US/Russian forces today
Assess the role of nuclear weapons in the Cold War and look at some nuclear
issues we face today – nuclear zero (path to disarmament), BM defense,
developing “mini-nukes,” and cost of nuclear weapons
What is unique about nuclear weapons?
Their destructive capability – one bomb destroys an entire city. There has never
been in history so much destructive power packed in such a small package. What is
also unique is the speed of delivery of nuclear weapons – you can destroy a target
anywhere on earth in 30 minutes or less. Because you have sudden annihilation
(hair-trigger), it makes it more likely. A third unique aspect is its environmental
impact. There’s a theory that nuclear weapons would cause nuclear winter – that all
the dust and debris that a nuclear war would produce would settle in the upper
atmosphere and the sunlight would not be able to penetrate through it. As a result,
we would all eventually freeze to death. There’s some speculation that a nuclear
war, even if you don’t directly participate in it, may end all human life on earth due
to the environmental impact. Nuclear weapons are also unique because we build
these weapons in the hope that they’ll never be used – with nuclear weapons, we
fear fighting wars. A final unique aspect of nuclear weapons is that there is no
defense against a nuclear attack – the speed in which these weapons can be
deployed, their destructive power, and the sheer number of them mean that we
can’t defend ourselves. The implications of no-defense are many – before nuclear
weapons, countries typically had to overcome the defenses of an adversary before
defeating it. But now, a nuclear-armed adversary can inflict catastrophic damage
whenever it wants to do so. Our only protection lies in convincing our adversary
that destroying us is not in his best interest because we will react in kind. The
biggest implication of nuclear weapons is focusing on avoiding war rather than
winning war – the replacement of defense (physically prevent someone from
destroying you) with deterrence (persuade them not to do so). Deterrence is
persuading someone not do something that they are capable of doing by threatening
with unacceptable punishment. There are three elements of deterrence. First, A
conveys a threat to B. In the Soviet Cold War example, America threatened to deter
the Soviets by saying to them that if they invaded Western Europe, America would
launch a nuclear attack against them. Second, for B to be deterred, it would have to
contemplate the action it was said not to do. The Soviet Union had to contemplate its
intention of invading Europe. Third, for B to be deterred, it has to calculate whether
the punishment outweighs the gain. The Soviets had to measure the benefits
(extending its control over other countries and its reach as a world empire) against
the costs (committing national suicide). Therefore, the Soviet Union succumbed to
deterrence. In order for deterrence to be successful, you need credibility – your
opponent needs to believe that there is a reasonable chance that you can do what
you threaten to do. The Soviets would have to believe that America had the
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