Building Peace under the Nuclear Sword of Damocles

  • Eckhard Lübkemeier
Part of the Issues in International Security book series (IIS)


Mankind cannot unlearn the nuclear secret. Nor is there hope that a grandiose technical scheme, à la President Ronald Reagan’s vision of an impenetrable Strategic Defense Initiative peace shield, will make it possible to emasculate nuclear weapons. Only a true peace can render them obsolete and ineffective, that is, a situation in which nonviolent mechanisms of conflict management have become the universally accepted norm. In such a peace community, war between member states is inconceivable; consequently, the only justification for maintaining armed forces is protection from threats originating outside the community.1 Today the relationship between North America and its European allies meets the requirements of a peace community. The United States, Great Britain, and France deploy nuclear weapons, but mutual confidence among them has reached such a level that their nuclear arsenals are designed to deter outsiders and not to protect them from each other.


Nuclear Weapon Nuclear Exchange Nuclear Deterrence Deterrence Strategy Nuclear Arsenal 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    The concept of a peace community is identical with the notion of a security community as developed by Deutsch et al. in the mid-1950s. See Karl W. Deutsch et al., Political Community and the North Atlantic Area (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), chap. 1.Google Scholar
  2. 1a.
    For the concept of a peace community see Eckhard Lübkemeier, “Security and Peace in Post-Cold War Europe,” in Armand Clesse and Lothar Rühl, eds., Beyond East-West Confrontation: Searching for a New Security Structure in Europe (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1990), pp. 183–201.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Some may reject the continued use of the term “deterrence” as reflecting “old” thinking in the post-Cold War world. Indeed, in the East-West context deterrence needs to be adapted to fundamentally changed circumstances. Such an attempt is made in this chapter. Nuclear deterrence, however, is a state of affairs as long as nuclear weapons have not been rendered politically impotent and obsolete. Even in the new East-West context, such a stable peace will take a long time to mature. In the intermediate period of controlled mutual disarmament, nuclear weapons retain a residual deterrent quality.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    This has been termed the “‘usability paradox’: Nuclear weapons can prevent aggression only if there is a possibility that they will be used, but we do not want to make them so usable that anyone is temped to use one.” The Harvard Nuclear Study Group, Living with Nuclear Weapons (New York: Bantam Books, 1983), p. 34.Google Scholar
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    Field Marshal Lord Carver, A Policy for Peace (London: Faber and Faber, 1982), p. 102Google Scholar
  6. 4a.
    Erhard Forndran, “Abschreckung und Stabilität—Ziele und Probleme,” in Erhard Forndran and Gert Krell, eds., Kernwaffen im Ost-West-Vergleich: Zur Beurteilung militärischer Potentiale und Fähigkeiten (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1984), p. 48Google Scholar
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    Jerome H. Kahan, Security in the Nuclear Age: Developing U.S. Strategic Arms Policy (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1975), p. 232; Bericht der Unabhängigen Kommission für Abrüstung und Sicherheit, Der Palme-Bericht (‘Common Security’) (Berlin, West: Severin und Siedler, 1982), p. 59.Google Scholar
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    The Harvard Nuclear Strategy Group, Living with Nuclear Weapons, pp. 142–46. A variant of this argument posits a similar dilemma between counterforce capabilities and prewar deterrence stability, the difference being that in this case the development of counterforce strategies is said to be motivated not by credibility concerns but the goal of damage limitation should deterrence fail (Kahan, Security in the Nuclear Age, p. 304).Google Scholar
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    Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. 198.Google Scholar
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    This is not an argument in favor of nuclear war-fighting strategies based on erroneous notions such as the controllability of nuclear exchanges or prevailing against a nuclear opponent. The political Achilles’ heel and technical problems of such strategies will be demonstrated in this chapter. In the present context the argument only serves to stress that employment flexibility and stability are not antithetical concepts per se.Google Scholar
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    Glenn H. Snyder was among the first to highlight this tradeoff; see his “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” in Paul Seabury, ed., Balance of Power (San Francisco: Chandler, 1965), pp. 198–99. More recently, Jervis has also argued that “stability at the strategic nuclear level can lead to instability at lower levels of violence.”Google Scholar
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    McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988), p. 588Google Scholar
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    Phil Williams, “Nuclear Deterrence,” in John Baylis et al., eds., Contemporary Strategy: Theories and Concepts (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1987), p. 134. Bundy sees a similar tradeoff: “While these fears [of nuclear disaster] have helped to keep us away from nuclear war, we must recognize that they have also fueled the nuclear arms competition.”Google Scholar
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    Dieter Senghaas, Abschreckung und Frieden: Studien zur Kritik organisierter Friedlosigkeit (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1972), p. 104.Google Scholar
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  24. 16.
    This is well reflected in the following statement issued by a grouping not known for a pronuclear attitude: “We are convinced that nuclear weapons have changed the security calculations of nations. They can no longer achieve security at each other’s expense. The existence of nuclear weapons creates common interests which transcend ideological, political, and economic divisions.” Statement from the European Social Democratic and Socialist Parties of Countries Belonging to the Atlantic Alliance, Rome, November 19, 1988.Google Scholar
  25. 17.
    Or, to put it in a general fashion, “the risk involved is composed of two elements: the chance of something happening and the amount of damage caused by such an occurrence.” Daniel Frei, with the collaboration of Christian Catrina, Risks of Unintentional Nuclear War (Geneva: United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, 1982), p. 222.Google Scholar
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    Lebow, “Deterrence Reconsidered: The Challenge of Recent Research,” Survival 27 (January/February 1985), pp. 20–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    John Mearsheimer has expressed a similar warning in Conventional Deterrence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 65–66, 208–12.Google Scholar
  31. 21.
    “Nevertheless, it is perhaps the central tension in deterrence, especially as practiced by a democracy, that its ultimate threat is to engage in a senseless act of total destruction. It is bizarre for a state to maintain its security by making its adversaries believe that it is prepared to bring about the end of its civilization.” Robert Jervis, “Deterrence Theory Revisited,” World Politics 31 (January 1979) p. 300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Ullman, “Denuclearizing International Politics,” p. 587.Google Scholar
  33. 23.
    “By the year 2000, more than two dozen developing nations will have ballistic missiles, 15 of those countries will have the scientific skills to make their own, and half of them either have or are near to getting a nuclear capability, as well.” U.S. Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, opening remarks to the Second Annual Conservative Leadership Conference, November 9, 1990, in U.S. Policy Information and Texts, Embassy of the United States of America, Bonn, no. 155, November 13, 1990, p. 21.Google Scholar
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    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 119.Google Scholar
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    Michael Howard, Clausewitz (London: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 70.Google Scholar
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    This is a slight modification of Bracken’s rather macabre statement that “people just don’t like to be reminded that the United States has a nuclear force that can instantly turn someone’s pleasant afternoon into a traumatic confrontation with the apocalypse.” Paul Bracken, The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 69.Google Scholar
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    Henry A. Kissinger, The Necessity for Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1966) p. 62.Google Scholar
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    Once a state possesses a secure retaliatory capability, pressing it to the point of complete defeat could provoke a devastating nuclear strike. Therefore, war against a nuclear opponent cannot be waged to force his unconditional surrender; instead, it must be guided by more limited objectives. On this need, see Bernard Brodie, Strategy in the Missile Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), pp. 313–14Google Scholar
  39. 28a.
    Herman Kahn, On Escalation (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965), pp. 110, 200–5Google Scholar
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    William W. Kaufmann, “The Requirements of Deterrence” and “Force and Foreign Policy,” in William W. Kaufmann, ed., Military Policy and National Security (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954), p. 24 and p. 244, respectively.Google Scholar
  41. 29.
    Thus, then-Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger suggested that “if we were to maintain continued communications with the Soviet leaders during the war, and if we were to describe precisely and meticulously the limited nature of our actions, including the desire to avoid attacking their urban industrial base, then in spite of whatever one says historically in advance that everything must go all out, when the existential circumstances arise, political leaders on both sides will be under powerful pressure to continue to be sensible.” Quoted in Lynn Etheridge Davis, Limited Nuclear Options: Deterrence and the New American Doctrine, Adelphi Papers no. 121 (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1975), p. 7.Google Scholar
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    Desmond Ball, “U.S. Strategic Forces: How Would They Be Used?” International Security 1 (Winter 1982/1983), p. 46.Google Scholar
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    Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981), p. 397.Google Scholar
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    Leon Wieseltier, “When Deterrence Fails,” Foreign Affairs 63 (Spring 1985), p. 829.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Klaus Knorr, “Controlling Nuclear War,” International Security 9 (Spring 1985), p. 88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 36.
    This distinction between negative and positive control draws on John D. Steinbruner, “Choices and Trade-offs,” in Ashton B. Carter et al., eds., Managing Nuclear Operations (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1987), p. 539.Google Scholar
  49. 37.
    A U.S. Navy spokesman has confirmed that there is no technological safeguard against an unauthorized launch of submarine-launched ballistic missiles. In his words, negative control is exercised procedurally: “There is a requirement that multiple people on board that ship, essentially the entire crew, must execute their responsibilities once a valid launch order has been received from the President before those missiles could or would be launched.” (U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, 99th Cong., 1st sess., Hearings, Department of Defense Authorization for Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1986, Part 7 (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985), p. 3855.Google Scholar
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    Bracken, The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces, p. 168; see also Bruce G. Blair, “Alerting in Crisis and Conventional War,” in Carter et al., eds., Managing Nuclear Operations, p. 113. Kelleher, however, maintains that “the risk involved in tying release authority and the transmission of PAL codes to a decision to disperse is, and will remain, politically unacceptable.” Catherine McArdle Kelleher, “Managing NATO’s Tactical Nuclear Operations,” Survival 30 (January/February 1988), p. 76.Google Scholar
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    In Clausewitz’s words: “War is a clash between major interests, which is resolved by bloodshed—that is the only way in which it differs from other conflicts.” On War, p. 149.Google Scholar
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    “Subordinating the political point of view to the military would be absurd, for it is policy that has created the war. Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument, not vice versa. No other possibility exists, then, than to subordinate the military point of view to the political.” Ibid, p. 607.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 579.Google Scholar
  54. 42.
    Ibid., p. 87.Google Scholar
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    Bernard Brodie, “Implications for Military Policy,” in Bernard Brodie, ed., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946), p. 76.Google Scholar
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    The phrase is borrowed from McGeorge Bundy, “To Cap the Volcano,” Foreign Affairs 48 (October 1969), pp. 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eckhard Lübkemeier
    • 1
  1. 1.Friedrich Ebert Stiftung ForschungsinstitutBonnGermany

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