Nuclear myths (and realities)

Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on January 14, 2013.

Article summary below; read the full text here.

As the Obama administration contemplates further changes to US nuclear policy and posture in its second term, it will no doubt encounter opposition from those who argue that the world is too dangerous and complex to permit further reductions in US and global nuclear force levels. Critics will make many assertions in support of their case, but two claims in particular are likely to underpin their defense of the status quo. The first is that nuclear weapons promote peace and the second is that more reductions by the United States and Russia are unlikely to strengthen the global nonproliferation architecture.

These arguments go to the heart of the debate about the meaning of nuclear deterrence and the appropriate role of nuclear weapons. They have been debated for decades, and we’re likely to go on debating them for as long as nuclear weapons exist. Yet the answers will remain the same: The war-prevention benefits of nuclear weapons are overstated, and there are important links between disarmament and nonproliferation.