The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy

Readers might remember that I linked to a piece by Ben Shwarz in the Atlantic earlier this month, concerning a paper on the perils of US nuclear primacy. The paper Shwarz talked about is published in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.

Their conclusion is worth quoting in full.

During the Cold War, MAD rendered the debate about the wisdom of nuclear primacy little more than a theoretical exercise. Now that MAD and the awkward equilibrium it maintained are about to be upset, the argument has become deadly serious. Hawks will undoubtedly see the advent of U.S. nuclear primacy as a positive development. For them, MAD was regrettable because it left the United States vulnerable to nuclear attack. With the passing of MAD, they argue, Washington will have what strategists refer to as “escalation dominance” — the ability to win a war at any level of violence — and will thus be better positioned to check the ambitions of dangerous states such as China, North Korea, and Iran. Doves, on the other hand, are fearful of a world in which the United States feels free to threaten — and perhaps even use — force in pursuit of its foreign policy goals. In their view, nuclear weapons can produce peace and stability only when all nuclear powers are equally vulnerable. Owls worry that nuclear primacy will cause destabilizing reactions on the part of other governments regardless of the United States’ intentions. They assume that Russia and China will work furiously to reduce their vulnerability by building more missiles, submarines, and bombers; putting more warheads on each weapon; keeping their nuclear forces on higher peacetime levels of alert; and adopting hair-trigger retaliatory policies. If Russia and China take these steps, owls argue, the risk of accidental, unauthorized, or even intentional nuclear war — especially during moments of crisis — may climb to levels not seen for decades.

Ultimately, the wisdom of pursuing nuclear primacy must be evaluated in the context of the United States’ foreign policy goals. The United States is now seeking to maintain its global preeminence, which the Bush administration defines as the ability to stave off the emergence of a peer competitor and prevent weaker countries from being able to challenge the United States in critical regions such as the Persian Gulf. If Washington continues to believe such preeminence is necessary for its security, then the benefits of nuclear primacy might exceed the risks. But if the United States adopts a more restrained foreign policy — for example, one premised on greater skepticism of the wisdom of forcibly exporting democracy, launching military strikes to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and aggressively checking rising challengers — then the benefits of nuclear primacy will be trumped by the dangers.

5 Responses to “The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy”

  1. nicholas budd says:

    If you haven’t seen it yet you should read the letter by Yegor Gaidar, former prime minister of the Russian Federation, entitled “Nuclear Punditry Can be a Dangerous Game,” appearing in yesterday’s (March 29) issue of the Financial Times.

  2. chircu.com says:

    Signs are that the current US administration has taken the US on its way to a higher and more exclusive status. Gaidar appears nervous and rightly so. And so should the rest of us be, without knowing the price that’ll come with nuclear primacy.

    On the other hand, as part of the nuclear proliferation vs. responsibility game, the Chinese and the Russians have been dealt N. Korea and Iran, respectively. It looks like the US is left little choice in a world with an increasing number of nuclear actors, but seek for primacy, nuclear, that is.

    Here are the links to the Foreign Affairs original article, followed by the reply of Mr. Gaidar:

    http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060301faessay85204/keir-a-lieber-daryl-g-press/the-rise-of-u-s-nuclear-primacy.html?mode=print
    http://nuclearno.com/text.asp?10674

  3. Ron D. says:

    I think the Bush administration is taking a more nervous approach to the War on Terrorism, but this is something that has inclined after finding there wereno weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that the support for the war at home is diminishing by the day.

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  5. Emokyappame says:

    There was this guy see.
    He wasn’t very bright and he reached his adult life without ever having learned “the facts”.
    Somehow, it gets to be his wedding day.
    While he is walking down the isle, his father tugs his sleeve and says,

    “Son, when you get to the hotel room…Call me”

    Hours later he gets to the hotel room with his beautiful blushing bride and he calls his father,

    “Dad, we are the hotel, what do I do?”

    “O.K. Son, listen up, take off your clothes and get in the bed, then she should take off her clothes and get in the bed, if not help her. Then either way, ah, call me”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad we took off our clothes and we are in the bed, what do I do?”

    O.K. Son, listen up. Move real close to her and she should move real close to you, and then… Ah, call me.”

    A few moments later…

    “DAD! WE TOOK OFF OUR CLOTHES, GOT IN THE BED AND MOVED REAL CLOSE, WHAT DO I DO???”

    “O.K. Son, Listen up, this is the most important part. Stick the long part of your body into the place where she goes to the bathroom.”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad, I’ve got my foot in the toilet, what do I do?”