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A New Nuclear Strategy for 21st Century Realities

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Failing to move on from the Cold War mindset about nuclear weapons encourages their development and increases the risk that they will be used. As long as they are viewed as a valuable form of deterrence, they will continue to be developed by friendly and unfriendly states alike. The only way forward is for the United States and other major nuclear powers to work together to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do nations want nuclear capabilities?
  2. Is it possible for the world to return to zero nuclear weapons?
  3. What evidence is there that nuclear weapons have kept peace in times of tension?

Additional Resources

  • In “The War that Must Never Be Fought,” James Goodby argues that to eliminate nuclear weapons, we must first eliminate outmoded thinking. Available here.
  • The book “The War That Must Never Be Fought,” edited by George P. Shultz and James E. Goodby, explores how nuclear deterrence should be understood seventy years after the first nuclear tests. These essays challenge outdated deterrence theories and show a clear need to reexamine notions from the Cold War that no longer fit present circumstances. Available here
  • Read “The War That Must Never Be Fought: Dilemmas of Nuclear Deterrence” edited by George P. Shultz and James E. Goodby. Available here.
View Transcript

Nuclear weapons have long been viewed as a crucial means of deterrence in foreign policy. 

But during the Cold war, we increased the production of nuclear weapons and it didn’t prevent wars and regional conflicts. 

And with the collapse of the Soviet Union the long-standing reliance on nuclear deterrence has become even more obsolete. 

Many nations now have nuclear capabilities, making nuclear deterrence a much more complicated and dangerous calculation. 

In addition, non-state actors like terrorist groups cannot easily be deterred by the threat of nuclear weapons. 

Unfortunately, failing to move on from the Cold War mindset about nuclear weapons actually encourages - or at least excuses – the spread of these weapons and increases the risk that they will be used. 

As long as they are viewed as a useful form of deterrence, they will continue to be developed by countries like North Korea and Iran. 

Renewed non-proliferation efforts are critical for the safety of the human race. But without a commitment from major world powers to change the nature of global and regional conflicts, widespread de-nuclearization will not occur. 

The only way forward is for the United States and other major nuclear powers to work together to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.