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As North Korea issues increasingly over-the-top threats, officials in Washington have sought to reassure the public and U.S. allies. But the risk of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula is far from remote--and the United States should adjust its military planning accordingly.
The view that nuclear weapons are merely political instruments -- suitable for sending signals, but not waging wars -- is now so common in the United States that it is hard to find anyone who disagrees. Yet that comforting assumption is not shared by leaders everywhere. North Korea, for example, does not test nuclear weapons to send messages, but to make sure that its ultimate deterrent will work. It would be tragic if the United States let misguided Kremlinology distract from the real challenges ahead.
Even as the Obama administration talks about a world free of nuclear weapons, it has proposed a major campaign to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Despite what critics say, this effort is vital, since maintaining a credible deterrent requires possessing weapons that a president might actually use.
Does the United States need to update its nuclear arsenal so that it can destroy an enemy's nuclear weapons? Or should Washington instead work to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether? Keir Lieber and Daryl Press take on their critics.
The Obama administration is right that the United States can safely cut some of its nuclear arsenal, but it must retain the right capabilities. Otherwise, the United States' adversaries might conclude -- perhaps correctly -- that Washington's nuclear strategy rests largely on a bluff.
Could the U.S. government really destroy all of an adversary's nuclear weapons in a nuclear first strike? Does Washington want that ability? And what--if anything--should be done about it?
For four decades, relations among the major nuclear powers have been shaped by their common vulnerability, a condition known as mutual assured destruction. But with the U.S. arsenal growing rapidly while Russia's decays and China's stays small, the era of MAD is ending -- and the era of U.S. nuclear primacy has begun.