The US Deterrence Folly

By Ubaid ur Rehman

On Feb 2, Pentagon released the new US administration Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The NPR demands a new role be given to nuclear weapons in the US national security strategy. The short range nuclear weapons it believes are necessary to support the posture. Besides, the posture demands a better modernized, ambitious, and costly project. It desires the modernization of strategic triad, submarine launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and strategic bombers capable of delivering low-yield nuclear weapons. Moreover, the new NPR asserts to make America safer, by pocketing more modernized and short range nuclear weapons through tax money. However, the new NPR sounds irrational. Ill raise some questions.

Question 1 - Is there any state in the world that doubts the US ability to explode any territory around the world, only because it assumes that the US has less modernized nuclear weapons? No. The potential risks of being punished by the hundreds of deployed US nuclear weapons worth more than the assumed political gains of the nuclear first strike. The nuclear submarines, strategic bombers, nuclear forces and the US survivable command and control will ensure massive retaliation even in time urgent scenarios.

Question 2 - Can only more and better modernized nuclear weapons deter the enemy? No. Evidently, France, Britain, Pakistan, and India with smaller and lesser modernized nuclear arsenals are able to deter their rivals. Therefore, spending billions of dollars on modernization and to keep an arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons is irrational.

Question 3 - How does the US lowering its nuclear threshold by spending more on short range missiles will justify its position as champion of non-proliferation? It will question US legitimacy.

Question 4 - The new NPR takes a different approach. It notes the return of the great power competition. But, can more modernized, bigger, and specific type of nuclear weapons can change Russian and Chinese will to harm and contain the US interests in the region? Once again no. International politics is changing and the US needs a strategy to deal with the changing international environment rather than spending billions of dollars on the nuclear modernization.

Question 5 - Can US administration make America a better place by modernizing its nuclear arsenal? Never. Modernization of nuclear weapons cannot provide people better living, jobs, health facilities, and sustainable environment etc.? From cyber, terrorism, homeland security, climate change, to hybrid warfare, there are quite a large number of non-traditional security threats America is facing. Therefore, it should do something about more important threats rather than jumping into costly and dangerous nuclear arms race.

Question 6 - The United States new NPR notes that Iran poses serious threats to the US national security. But, is Iran intending to attack or invade the US? Not at all. Iran doesnt have the ability, and capability to do that. Therefore, perhaps, to deter Iran requires something else not the short or long range nuclear weapons.

Question 7 - Can US better prevent an attack on its territory by modernizing its nuclear weapons? Perhaps, it has the world most modernized nuclear weapons and the capability to deter any state around the world.

The logic of more modernized nuclear weapons of established nuclear states is hair-brained. It is just like the US nuclear experts and top national security advisers saying that, ‘Mr. President if we dont have that ‘X type and ‘A yield nuclear weapon, we may not be able to deter Iran and North Korea. We are quite concerned as the weapon ‘Y with yield ‘B will not work for bad regimes because they dont like it and so, will not fear it.

Makes no sense!

Deterrence or Destruction?

Nuclear deterrence is a strategy to avert wars by the use of nuclear threat. Though, nuclear weapons play an important role to prevent a direct attack and to protect home land, but they are no substitute for enhancing geo-political and geo-economic interests. After the United States nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki they have never been used. Until then, the chief purpose of the military wars had apparently been to win. But according to the US nuclear strategist Bernard Brodie writing in 1978: “From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.” This is for obvious reason as attacking another nuclear armed state is irrational. Even a handful of nuclear weapons in retaliation can perpetrate massive damage. For these reasons, the idea of mutually assured destruction was the radical departure from the military view of winning wars to the new conundrum of averting them.

Nevertheless, in the arena of global politics every nuclear state provides a common justification that their nuclear weapons are only meant to deter the attacks. But, however, this assertion is not universally true. The US and Russia holds the arsenals of thousands of nuclear weapons. According to arms control fact sheet both jointly hold the world largest nuclear arsenal of nearly 14000 nuclear weapons. These weapons are more than enough in range, quality, and quantity to strike every territory around the world. This means that the established nuclear states like Russia and the US strongly believes in destruction rather than the deterrence. Moreover, the logic of a bigger nuclear arsenal is not as compelling a principle as its reputation suggests. A handful of nuclear weapons are enough to deter the physical threats.


In the arena of strategic environment, the states that joins costly arms race are more down towards the nuclear war fighting doctrines rather than the deterrence postures. The great powers achieve such ambitions by the virtue of their powerful allies, and small states are bound by their commitments to non-proliferation. We have heard a million times that South Asia is vulnerable to a nuclear war and particularly fingers are pointed towards Pakistan. But ignoring other nuclear dangers posed by major powers like Russia and the US that holds the world largest and ready nuclear arsenal would be naïve. There is a critical need to work on the issues related to the nuclear disarmament and arms control but without discrimination. However, this can be better achieved if the US and Russia may volunteer in giving up their nuclear weapons first.