Today's post is from Martin Hellman, friend of the NAPF and author of the blog Defusing the Nuclear Risk. Martin is a Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University.
Calling nuclear deterrence by that name was a stroke of marketing genius for selling it to the public. Unfortunately, that stroke of genius was also a potential death sentence for us all by hiding another, more ominous aspect of this strategy.
To deter someone is “to discourage him from doing something, typically by instilling doubt or fear of the consequences.” Hence deterrence implies that it will work, that it will deter adversaries from calling our nuclear bluff.
To date, it has worked somewhat as advertised, though far from perfectly. If nuclear deterrence really worked, would the US have risked Soviet ire by deploying nuclear armed missiles in Turkey in 1961? And would Khrushchev have risked American ire by placing similar missiles in Cuba the next year? More recently, would the US have planned an Eastern European missile defense system that raised Russian ire, including a threat to respond by basing nuclear-armed bombers in Cuba?