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Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy

Nuclear Revolution in Strategic Thought

There is no argument the birth and subsequent development of nuclear weapons has impacted the conditions of human existence. Undeniably, these weapons have instigated new customs of conduct in international politics and foreign relations in addition to influencing national and individual ideologies pertinent to the realities of the nuclear age. The meaning of the nuclear revolution excites the security studies community while unfortunately, the implications of its utilization do not. The fact that nations across the globe continue to develop nuclear weapons invokes the question of whether the nuclear revolution happen or if it was merely an academic construct with no bearing on policies. Bernard Brodie’s statement on nuclear revolution “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its main purpose must be to avert them,” remains popular in nuclear revolution argument (Green & Long, 2017). However, while mutual vulnerability is an acknowledged ideology, the implications of the nuclear revolution are actively debated not only among policymakers but also scholars.

The theory of nuclear revolution fares in well in strategic thinking since it is grounded on the victory theory. While many countries across the globe including the United States have invested in nuclear weapons, no state has utilized them for almost six decades (Green & Long, 2017). The observation is particularly important since many countries have been willing and have been using other novel military technologies to win wars. Indeed, failure to utilize the weapons suggest that either leader are less confident of impacting policy changes through using nuclear weapons or they are frightened of the catastrophic effects of using these weapons. Either way, leaders’ failure to take risks with nuclear weapons as they did other conventional military forces concurs with the postulations of the nuclear revolution theory.

Mutual Assured Destruction Nuclear (MAD) Strategists

Assured Destruction (AD) or Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is grounded on the ideology that the objective of wars is to push for a particular political purpose and in the event the costs of the war outweigh the perceived benefits of the political goal then in entirety the war is useless. MAD nuclear strategist argues the vulnerability of populations of both countries, for instance, the USA and Soviet Union in the late cold war, to the devastating consequences of a mutual retaliatory strike has revolutionized strategic thinking (Packer, 2019). MAD strategist postulates that unlike traditional times where military advantage was an assurance of victory this is no longer the case since military dominance is cannot in the event of an all-out military war defend one’s country.

MAD strategists support the nuclear revolution theory and assert that the thesis solves the security dilemma. The security dilemma illustrates a situation where one country increases its security but cannot reduce the opponent’s implying that the adversary is also improving his military advantage leaving both parties at the same military position as such at the same level to that before efforts in improving military might. Indeed, since MAD argues that a country’s security is assured through its capability to destroy the adversary rather than the possession of capable armaments, then the security dilemma is solved under MAD strategist (Green & Long, 2017). Under MAD an individual country does not need more than the retaliatory strike capability since it provides the confidence of annihilating the enemy in case the opponent makes the first strike.

MAD strategists cite that in the event a nuclear war is launched, the escalation cannot be controlled, and it is impossible for leaders to strategize on the grounds of damage limitation. There are three core policy implications associated with MAD nuclear strategy. First, retaining mutual vulnerability of the populations through failure of providing defense, second; maintaining of mutual invulnerability through exploring other conflict resolution techniques such as negotiations or retaining the ability and willingness to respond to an adversary’s nuclear strike through inflicting absolute damage on the enemy (Packer, 2019).

In the event of a nuclear war, MAD approach postulates the counter value targeting argument. The counter-value targeting argument implies that the war should target to inflict the most damage to an asset of value to the opponent. For instance, the missile could target a highly populated industrial area. One disadvantage of the MAD argument is the fact that the assumption of full retaliatory capability makes the country vulnerable to aggressor risk since the nuclear force only has the second strike. MAD strategists assert the question of stability is grounded on reasonable fear that any challenge to the adversary’s interest could escalate to a nuclear war (Packer, 2019). Primarily, the security in MAD is facilitated with the knowledge that the world is not stable. On the question of escalation, MAD strategists argue that the enemy is unlikely to predict the reactions of the other country in the event of the attack a factor that might deter an attack. With the idea that the world is not stable and the enemies are unlikely to discern the reactions of the other country, MAD strategists believe one cannot correctly model reality, and the cost of a mistake might be too high.

Nuclear Utilization and Target selection (NUTS) Nuclear strategist

Flexible Response (FR) or the Nuclear Utilization and Target selection (NUTS) strategists hold that nuclear war is like any other war where there is the element of winning or losing. While a nuclear war will be associated with devastating consequences, it will not imply the end of civilization. NUTS criticized MAD strategists asserting that the approach implies only two options; oblivion or surrender. NUTS strategists assert that a country can deter an attack by gaining the capability to fight and win through counterforce targeting in the event of a nuclear war (Packer, 2019). Therefore, NUTS approach maintains it is only through having the ability to respond effectively to an attack of varying magnitude can a country have the confidence of deterring the enemies’ attacks.

NUTS strategists argue preparing to fight and win a nuclear war is vital in gaining a better chance of deterring enemies from attacking, preventing escalation of the war in case the enemy launches an attack and ensuring that the country wins irrespective of the magnitude of the war. Moreover, NUTS strategists insist there is no nuclear revolution since the sheer amount of military might on either side is less important compared to the relative amount since both the military forces and the population of a country are targets in the event of an attack (Packer, 2019). Unlike MAD that supports, counter value targeting, NUTS strategists support counterforce targeting in the event of nuclear war; the country should target the enemy’s military force in efforts of limiting the adversary’s ability to damage the country. Therefore, NUTS approach argues any collateral damage is merely incidental. To effectively apply the counterforce targeting, it is important for a country to increase the accuracy of ICBMs, which increases the chances of destroying opponents’ missiles prior to launching to limit collateral damage.

NUTS strategists argue adequately preparing for war eliminates the aggressor’s risk. Indeed, in the event the state is expertly prepared and owns more military might against the enemy it is likely to have the preemption risk which can force the adversary to preempt in fear of the first strike capability. NUTS strategists also favor the stability-instability paradox with the argument that the interest in avoiding catastrophic outcomes associated with nuclear war can be levered to facilitate competitive concessions (Packer, 2019). For instance, the countries may opt to take provocative actions like the conventional war in the event the other side cannot credibly threaten to respond with a nuclear war. On the question of escalation, NUTS approach argues that the enemy might be relatively sure that the other country would not use nuclear weapons as such making the provocation worth the risk. Moreover, the NUTS strategists support the idea that rationality wins and as such believes leaders can make accurate calculations and make responsible decisions.

Personal Perspective

Despite evidence of nuclear revolution, I favor the NUTS strategists’ arguments since I believe a nuclear war is like any other war but with higher costs. As such, it is crucial for policymakers as rational decision-makers to determine if the cause of the war, the political objective in question, is worth the catastrophic forces associated with nuclear war. I am particularly inclined to favor NUTS strategists’ argument because it provides for a fallback in that it is optimist of the role of nuclear weapons in deterring an attack in addition to providing the option of fighting to win in the event of a war. While the MAD strategists’ minimalist ideologies appeal to me, the hypothesis showcases a level of naivety and pessimism since it is all about the ability to deter and retaliate or to punish and harm. Indeed, despite the fact that counterforce targeting is likely to be ineffective since many countries currently possess extensive nuclear weapons that are unlikely to be destroyed in the first strike I believe humans are rational creatures with an aversion to risk and death as such capable of limiting the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a war. Moreover, recent technological advancements have increased accuracy and subsequently increased the effectiveness of counterforce targeting.

Technological Improvements and strategic Nuclear Thinking

Technological advancements in the second half of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st century have revolutionized nuclear thinking. Improved technologies are associated with improved accuracy which has facilitated the effectiveness of counter-force targeting strategies and as such reduced the collateral damage in the event of an all-out nuclear war. Indeed, the benefits of technology to nuclear weaponry such as improvements in accuracy and sensors and the reduction in the size of arsenals imply that the current conflicts in the contemporary society are characterized by a certain level of balance that is unlikely to escalate to the level of the Cold War (Green & Long, 2017). Indeed, the increase in accuracy disregards MAD strategists” postulations that an all-out nuclear war will end civilization.

Moreover, the technological changes have prompted many countries including the USA to invest in defensive rather than aggressive military strategy. For instance, the USA has invested heavily in ballistic missile defense and intelligence-surveillance and reconnaissance systems. Technology has countered the idea that nuclear weapons produce stalement and is associated with mass destruction through an increase in accuracy and sensing and a decrease in force through arms control.

Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Stabilizing Effect

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is stabilizing the society since countries behave with caution when confronted with even a minute risk of war. Indeed, many states avoid acts and provocations that might result in nuclear engagement since each country recognizes the catastrophic effects in the event of a nuclear war. As such, it does not matter how many countries across the globe are acknowledged as nuclear states so long these countries can convince their enemies to deter from attacking with the knowledge that an attempt to attack results to punishment with devastating consequences. Indeed, evidence showcases regions or countries in which these weapons have been introduced; large-scale interests for war have diminished illustrating proliferation of nuclear weapons is successful in ensuring stability (Packer, 2019). A case in point of the effectiveness of nuclear weapons is the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan which remained manageable due to fear of nuclear escalation.


Green , B., & Long, A. (2017). The MAD who wasn’t there: Soviet reactions to the late cold war nuclear balance. Security Studies, 26(4), 606-641.

Packer, R. B. (2019). Nuclear revolution.


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