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Minimum Deterrence, More Danger

by Keith B. Payne

How not to think about nuclear weapons

Proposals for deep reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal have been made periodically over the past four decades. Almost always, the proposals promote a doctrine known as “minimum deterrence.”

The main premise that the case for minimum deterrence rests on is threefold: U.S. nuclear capability does not deter terrorists; Russia and China are no longer enemies and the United States no longer needs nuclear weapons to deter them; and, for deterrence purposes, U.S. advanced conventional forces increasingly can substitute for nuclear forces. Therefore, a relatively small number of U.S. nuclear weapons is adequate for deterrence and we can reduce to hundreds or even a few dozen without jeopardizing national security. Deep reductions, it is asserted, will reduce nuclear dangers, advance U.S. arms-control and nonproliferation goals, and save billions of dollars.

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