Security after the Revolutions of 1989 and 1991: The Future with Nuclear Weapons

  • Steve Weber
Part of the Issues in International Security book series (IIS)


Political scientists typically view weapons within the realm of effects, not within the realm of causes. That is, weapons are a consequence of the great causal factors in international relations. Insecurity is the most important of these factors; it follows from the uneven distribution of power among states, the security dilemma, and the ever-present possibility that violence will be used to settle disagreements because there is no higher authority above states capable of enforcing rules. According to this logic weapons cause neither war nor peace. They are simply tools that states use to gain a share of the scarcest cor modity—security—by fighting other states or by threatening to do so if necessary.


Nuclear Weapon Nuclear Force International Politics North Atlantic Treaty Organization European Security 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For a short review and critique see John J. Mearsheimer, “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War,” International Security 15 (Summer 1990), pp. 5–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    Micheal W. Doyle surveys some of the reasons why in “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 12, part 1, no. 3 (Summer 1983), pp. 205–35, and part 2, no. 4 (Fall 1983), pp. 323–53.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    The allusion is to Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History,” The National Interest 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 3–18.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    This incentive may be moderated if states are acting consciously to maintain a balance of power, as happened to some degree following the defeat of revolutionary France in the early nineteenth century. But why should we expect the West to seek a balance-of-power solution with Russia now? Germany’s fate after the two world wars is the more appropriate analogy. The primary impetus for revitalizing West Germany after World War II was to engage its capabilities in the balance of power against the Soviet Union. There is no such “enemy” obvious on the world scene today for which the United States or the European Community needs Russian support.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 8.
    See McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988), pp. 391–463. Bundy recounts Dean Rusk’s 1987 admission that President Kennedy had prepared a fallback position on Saturday evening through Andrew Cordier and U Thant, laying the groundwork to make the deal with Khrushchev that he had publicly committed himself not to make: an explicit trade of missiles in Turkey for missiles in Cuba (p. 435). We do not know whether the president would have chosen this option if the crisis had not been resolved by Soviet capitulation, but that barely matters for the learning experience of American leaders in the crisis. When faced with a great provocation and any number of reasons to stand firm, decision makers on both sides were in the end ready to concede their positions in the face of a shared risk of superpower war that might have come to include nuclear weapons. The most important lesson of the crisis, which was probably the closest the superpowers ever came to war, was (as Bundy puts it) that “the largest single factor that might have led to nuclear war—the readiness of one leader or the other to regard that outcome as remotely acceptable—simply did not exist in October 1962.” (Bundy, p. 453)Google Scholar
  8. 8a.
    see also Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), p. 705.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Much of the new thinking does argue that the internal dynamic of capitalism does not automatically lead capitalist states to imperialism or aggression, which is a substantial revision of Leninist thought beyond Khrushchev’s dictum that nuclear war was not an inevitable outcome of the struggle between social sytems. The new thinking does not stretch to the conclusion that capitalist states will act charitably, or are by nature predisposed to cooperate with the Soviet Union to solve global problems. See, for example, V. Kubalkova and A. A. Cruickshank, Thinking New About Soviet New Thinking (Berkeley, CA: Institute for International Studies, 1989)Google Scholar
  10. 9a.
    Jiri Valenta and Frank Cibulka, eds., Gorbachev’s New Thinking and Third World Conflicts (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990)Google Scholar
  11. 9b.
    Stephan Sestanovitch, “Inventing the Soviet National Interest,” The National Interest 20 (Summer 1990), pp. 3–16. I am indebted to George Breslauer for stimulating discussions on this subject.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Quoted in Bill Keller, “Gorbachev Vows to Reorganize Military,” New York Times, August 18, 1990, p. 3.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    The extreme new thinkers in Moscow attach this to a broader argument about a world where force is obsolete. But that is not necessary nor is it a part of the mainstream interpretation, which is simply that NATO’s apparent aggressiveness during the 1980s was largely a response to Soviet provocation. For the NATO view, see “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance,” issued by the Heads of State and Government Participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in London on July 5–6, 1990.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    The most obvious example lies in the vulnerability problem of land-based ICBMs. The first way to solve the problem is through cooperation, which is what the United States tried to do for most of the SALT years. Cooperation requires precise limits on the numbers and capabilities of counterforce-capable systems that can destroy land-based missiles in silos. The second way to solve the problem is through self-reliance. Instead of trying to achieve a tenuous balance of counterforce capabilities, states can simply take away the targets. That means making ICBMs mobile or moving all ballistic missiles on to submarines. The critical difference in the second option is that this is something each state can do on its own, without the help or even the concurrence of the other side.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    The London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance states (article 20) that “NATO will prepare a new Allied military strategy moving away from ‘forward defense,’ where appropriate, towards a reduced forward presence….”Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    I do not mean to imply that any of these things or even extended deterrence itself was necessary to prevent a Soviet invasion of Europe. My point is simply that the NATO alliance successfully maintained a substantial degree of uncertainty about the credibility of the threat for at least forty years.Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    Waltz (Theory of International Politics) uses the deductive logic of why oligopolists don’t collaborate to clarify many of the obstacles that stand in the way. For the microeconomic argument, see William Fellner, Competition Among the Few: Oligopoly and Similar Market Structures (New York: Knopf, 1949).Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    Andre Giraud, former French Minister of Defense, expressed a similar view in “Europe et Defense,” Le Monde March 21, 1990, p. 2.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    See François Heisbourg, “Lost Opportunities and New Challenges,” Financial Times, October 29, 1990, p. 4Google Scholar
  20. 17a.
    David S. Yost, “France in the New Europe,” Foreign Affairs 69 (Winter 1990/91), pp. 107–28. Certain French attitudes of November 1989 to March 1990 were in some ways reminiscent of the logic behind the 1947 Dunkirk Treaty between Britain and France. Dunkirk was aimed explicitly at preventing renewed German aggression through a balance of power based on a network of bilateral treaties. Dunkirk was superceded by a partially integrationist initiative: NATO. Since NATO’s achievements remain in place, the integrationist option for France now runs deeper, and it runs through Brussels, not Washington.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 18.
    These ideas about nuclear strategy overwhelmed American interest in the political aspects of an independent European nuclear force for decades, but the deterrence scenario from which they were derived may now be fading. For an extensive discussion, see Steve Weber, Shaping the Postwar Balance of Power (Berkeley, CA: Institute of International Studies, forthcoming).Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    Ibid. This ambivalence often led Washington to confused and confusing policies about sharing nuclear-weapon technologies with its allies, and occasionally to self-contradictory objectives. For a poignant example, see Richard Ullman’s description of the British-French duet in “The Covert French Connection,” Foreign Policy 75 (Summer 1989) pp. 3–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 20.
    Anarchy, as Kenneth Waltz (more clearly than anyone else) explained in Man, the State, and War, is a permissive cause of war. Permissive cause means only that something can happen, that there is nothing that will necessarily prevent it from happening. To draw the further conclusion that it must happen, even over the course of a long period of time, requires some other kind of cause, a proximate cause. Scarce security no longer fills that gap in the argument.Google Scholar
  24. 21.
    The alternative argument is Mearsheimer, “Back to the Future,” footnote 3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steve Weber
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of California at BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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