The Role of Deterrence in Total Disarmament

The USS Growler, designed to provide nuclear deterrence using cruise missiles with a 500 miles range. Wikipedia Commons

A Sharp distinction is often drawn between arms control and disarmament. The former seeks to reshape military incentives and capabilities; the latter, it is alleged, eliminates them. But the success of either depends on mutual deterrence. Short of universal brain surgery, nothing can erase the memory of weapons and how to build them. If "total disarmament" is to make war unlikely, it must reduce the incentives. It cannot eliminate the potential for destruction; the most primitive war can be modernized by rearmament as it goes along.

To determine whether and how disarmament might make war less likely we have to look at what the military opportunities, risks, dangers, fears and potential capabilities would be in a disarmed world. If nations now suspect each other of contemplating war, we have to suppose that they might suspect each other of contemplating rearmament. If nations are willing to risk war, or to threaten it, they certainly might risk rearming or threatening to rearm. Nations thought capable now of being panicked into war might be panicked into rearmament. To suppose the contrary is to assume away the problem that disarmament is intended to help solve.

An international military authority is commonly proposed as a part of plans for total disarmament. It does make a difference whether or not we assume the existence of such an authority to police the otherwise disarmed world. But for the visible future it is a little extreme to suppose that an international force could contain or deter the United States and the Soviet Union; more than that, the concept poses problems of deterrence not wholly unlike those that would confront the major powers in a fully disarmed world. So we shall first consider universal disarmament without any international security force. And we shall assume a world disarmed to the levels proposed by those who favor the most drastic "total disarmament."

There are good reasons why this phrase should be set off in quotation marks. An obvious one is that there

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