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When Deterrence Fails

Courtesy Reuters

It is a delicate matter to defend deterrence, the doctrine that it is the very lethality of nuclear weapons that lessens the likelihood of their use sufficiently to make us safe. That the consciousness of that lethality in the corridors of power in Washington and Moscow has played an important role in the keeping of the peace since the advent of the nuclear age is beyond doubting, as is the unwisdom of tampering with that consciousness, of accepting theories or technologies that will diminish the terror with which the prospect of nuclear war has been traditionally regarded and make nuclear weapons in any way less inhibiting to use. Still, if it is possible to underestimate the contribution that nuclear weapons make to the prevention of nuclear war, it is possible to overestimate it, too.

The essential fragility of deterrence must never be forgotten. Its central irony, that what may destroy

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