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In this essay Daniel R. Allen reviews nuclear deterrence, the most crucial theoretic construct for nuclear weapons policy. A wide range of positions exists with respect to belief in the deterrent utility of nuclear weapons. The positions of deterrence optimists rely entirely on a presumption that human rationality undercuts the motive for nuclear weapon use. However, Christian understandings of human fallibility represent an intractable problem for acceptance of both nuclear optimism and a long run policy of nuclear deterrence. This places faith-led pacifists and just war adherents together among nuclear pessimists, representing a step toward developing a Christian view on nuclear weapons. Mr. Allen is Associate Professor of Political Science at Anderson University.

As academic disciplines, the social sciences have an uneasy history of attempting to serve two masters. On the one hand, the behavioral revolution and the subsequent development of rational choice theory have increased the sophistication of research on decision making in multiple academic disciplines, while also serving the master of parsimonious explanation and prediction. On the other hand, social science is strongly positioned to provide policy-relevant guidance to decision makers regarding matters from the mundane to literal life and death. Nowhere has this dynamic played out to a greater degree with genuine consequences than in the study of nuclear deterrence.

This essay briefly reviews how the concept of nuclear deterrence emerged from the methodological debates within the social sciences. Next, it contextualizes this debate in a comparison of two key policy documents, the 2002 and 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) reports, showing how the goal of research parsimony has framed the gap between research rigor on deterrence and nuclear weapons policy. Finally, the juxtaposition between the two NPRs is used to evoke the moral quandary of contemporary nuclear weapons policy in light of what we know about their uncontestable, destructive power.

Out of this case study, it is shown that a surprising range of positions exists with respect to belief in the deterrent utility of nuclear weapons, including some “nuclear optimists” being supportive of increased proliferation. Christian understandings of human fallibility represent an intractable problem for acceptance of both nuclear optimism as well as a long run policy of nuclear deterrence. This position brings together two major schools of thought in the Christian tradition, pacifism and just war, marking a likely avenue of peace activism with the potential to broaden influence on nuclear weapons policy.

The Logic of Deterrence

Deterrence theory formed the bedrock of strategic stability during the vast majority of the Cold War, and continues to shape prevailing notions of the role played by nuclear weapons in global security relationships.1 Deterrence is assured between rational actors at a point where two sides in a strategic relationship have achieved sufficient retaliatory strike capability so that upon sustaining an initial, large-scale attack, the destruction of the initiator is assured. No rational actor launches an initial strike knowing that they will suffer so greatly upon doing so, and this suffering is uncontestable given the nature of nuclear weapons.2 This equilibrium relationship is known, appropriately, as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Technological advancements which threaten to alter the equilibrium, such as multiple, independently targeted re-entry vehicle warheads (MIRVs) or robust anti-ballistic missile defenses (ABM) can lead to a change in the nuclear posture of the counterpart in the deterrence relationship. For example, one might react to a leap forward in ABM technology by rapidly increasing the number of forward deployed warheads in order to overwhelm such a system, if need be.3 To varying degrees, bilateral arms control treaties sought to maintain the strategic balance by limiting the potential destabilizing nature of weapons technologies. MAD equilibrium was also maintained by developing weapons platforms across the three sides of the classic “nuclear triad,” intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), long-range bombers, and submarine-based missiles.

Deterrence, once articulated, became policy. States were able to develop deterrent forces with relatively few nuclear weapons when compared to the massive stockpiles built by the United States and Soviet Union.4 Critics asserted that MAD logic essentially meant the rest of the world was living with a proverbial gun to its head, while proponents rested in the fact that the logic was ironclad as rational actors were fully incentivized to prevent catastrophe. Even non-state actors who possessed such powerful weapons could be seen as behaving according to the logic of deterrence.5

The initial development of American deterrence strategy (that is, MAD) had its roots in the growth of applied social science birthed during World War II. It was commonplace for the most prominent researchers to ply their trade on behalf of concrete problems facing the government.6 As time has passed since this era, it has become a perception, rightly or wrongly, that a “gap” has emerged between policymaking and academic research.7 It is not a stretch to say that this perceived gap persists across most scientific endeavors, from sociology to climatology, anywhere academic jargon combines with specialized methods to reach conclusions on moral and public policy concerns. Regardless of this perception, the debates in the security studies community advanced along a whole host of avenues, including understanding the extent to which possession of nuclear weapons confer an advantage in international confrontations (for example, the ability to dictate the pace of escalation), to operationalizing cases in which the logic of deterrence successfully played out in the empirical world.8 As the science progressed, increasingly utilizing formal models with unitary, rational actor assumptions, some scholars objected to the applicability of such studies in the first place.9

Nowhere has the advancement of the social science and the alleged gap between policymakers and scholarly research been more pronounced than with the “nuclear peace” theory. As articulated by Kenneth Waltz, one of the most oft-cited international relations experts, the nuclear peace logically results from the equilibrium of MAD.10 If states in the international system are never inclined to initiate Armageddon, then the problem of proliferation is not actually a problem. In fact, it may even be that non-state actors who obtain a nuclear device would be bound by the same logic.11

It is at this point, however, that the argument of deterrence taken to the extreme could not find a politically palatable home amid the policymaking world. Waltz himself argued that the successful completion of a nuclear weapons program by Iran would be a source of regional stability in the Middle East. But western policymakers would see this as insanity, illustrating the yawning gap between social “science” and politics. By contrast, the study of strategic logic with formal methodologies took a decidedly different turn in the field of terrorism studies. Critics argued that definitions of what it meant to be a rational actor were rooted in a Western bias toward survival.12 Recognizing this as bias would undermine MAD as the lynchpin of global nuclear posture, since MAD is premised on survival.13

Once the basic spectrum of views on deterrence is considered, one sees that most American policymakers have settled on a consensus very near to deterrence theory as elaborated above. Deviations from this norm, whether optimistic or pessimistic regarding deterrence, are rejected as politically or militarily dangerous.

Nuclear pessimists argue that deterrence theory is unable to hold based upon a critique of the assumptions of rationality. They argue that it is, in fact, dangerous to use the parsimonious approach when the stakes are so high should a nuclear device be used, accidentally or otherwise. When one moves away from the rationality assumption, many possible non-rational reasons for a nuclear launch can be identified. These run the gamut from accidental launch, to a failure in early warning systems giving the perception of a surprise attack, to stolen devices used by non-state actors desiring to cause destruction and not sharing a state’s goal of survival.14 Miscommunication within a military chain of command can lead to mistaken authorizations to employ tactical nuclear weapons; though some advocates of strategic deterrence might consider this an unfair critique, coming from a lower level of analysis, the consequences remain squarely within the nuclear pessimists’ line of argument.

Nuclear pessimists argue that the more warheads in existence, the greater the likelihood one of the many types of “non-rational” uses can occur. They can also be bolstered by different models of individual level decision making, such as prospect theory, which undercut traditional rational choice-based models. In this instance, decision-makers’ framing effects related to a foreign policy crisis may lead to greater risk-taking behaviors, up to and potentially including a nuclear launch, if the decider sees a situation as hopeless. Political psychologists have argued that this prospect theory pattern is not universally consistent across individual actors; instead, each individual personality carries with it a propensity for risk and event framing. Knowing this for a particular leader would lead to the need for concern along the lines described here.15

A particular affinity for nuclear pessimism can be found in the anti-nuclear activist community, with its underlying view that the consequences of a nuclear device’s usage would be so profoundly, morally catastrophic that deterrence logic itself is dangerous.16 Nuclear pessimism may also be found among critics of nuclear weapons who might otherwise never be found among the traditional abolitionist movement. This “alliance” can be driven by shared concerns regarding the extent to which rationality assumptions match up with the many actual things that can go wrong technically and tactically with respect to nuclear devices.17

On the other end of the nuclear policy spectrum are the optimists, drawing inspiration from the nuclear peace argument. Optimists are able to point to two things in their favor. First, despite the sheer quantity of nuclear devices available to which bad things can happen, the military establishments of the nuclear club have maximum incentives to build in failsafe mechanisms and prevent unintended usage. This includes potential nuclear states such as Iran, who would not have an incentive to share devices with non-state actors, as such weapons would be traced back to the source, invoking retaliatory response. Second, the survival goal of nuclear-armed leaders has empirically extended to such potentially destabilizing regimes as North Korea. If North Korean leaders operate under the deterrence logic, then problems with state nuclear proliferation due to leader psychology are plausibly unfounded.18

Whether nuclear hawks, those looking to expand and/or innovate weapons stockpiles, are truly nuclear optimists is not automatically clear. Policymakers who propose strategic and technical advances in weapons or ABM technology, both of which can be perceived as threatening to a balanced deterrence relationship, may be seeking to generate credible first-strike victory, or to maintain a deterrence status quo with other nuclear states. Still other proponents may be nuclear pessimists to the extent that they believe nuclear weapons are so dangerous, and in the long run an accidental detonation so probable, that innovations which lower the number of deployed warheads are welcome. The main question for this perspective is whether the deterrence relationship’s destabilization is worth it, as other nuclear states may feel pressured to ramp up production and deployment of greater numbers of warheads.19

The bottom line is that domestic audiences are unlikely to buy the argument that nuclear optimism and rationality will prevail so consistently that the miniscule chances of deterrence, bureaucratic, or technological failure can be disregarded. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by, for example, Iran, would be used as a domestic political issue to discredit the foreign policy of an incumbent administration. While ABM systems have not shown themselves to be politically detrimental to the domestic audience, the classic nuclear deterrence argument has remained the centerpiece of American strategic behavior, even where rhetoric has used the tone of the pessimist camp. Few people regard the use of nuclear weapons as a good thing, and it is safe to argue that policymakers and scholars across the whole spectrum measure success as non-use of nuclear weapons.

From Theory to Policy

On three occasions since the end of the Cold War, the Department of Defense has conducted relatively comprehensive policy evaluation regarding the strategic role of nuclear weapons in the Nuclear Posture Reviews (NPR). These documents contain aspects of varying degrees of security classification, with consideration given to both domestic audiences, such as Congress, and international audiences, from potential peer-competitors to the proverbial “rogue” states. The Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have each refined these reports with an eye to establishing the strategic vision around which the military crafts nuclear strategic planning.

By looking at what we know in open-source form from both the 2002 and 2010 NPRs, it is clear that regardless of rhetoric put forward by the Bush and Obama administrations, classic deterrence logic remains the cornerstone of US nuclear weapons policy. At the same time, marked differences exist between the two administrations regarding how deterrence is contextualized amid the broader array of security concerns. These differences include the place of the nuclear arsenal in strategic warfare doctrine and the priority of investment in particular weapons technologies.

The 2002 NPR, released in the aftermath of the Bush administration’s shift to a global war footing, reveals several potentially destabilizing policies with respect to persisting deterrence relationships.20 A first critical element to point out is the administration’s attempt to conceptually redefine the traditional nuclear triad. Whether for cleverness, or for legitimate adaptation to a new strategic environment, a “new” triad was elaborated in the 2002 NPR. This new triad maintained the classic triad (bombers, missiles, and submarine-based launch platforms), but embedded it within a larger framework of strategic offensive capabilities, active and passive defensive measures, and attention to infrastructure underpinning overall nuclear capabilities, to include research and development.21 This framework for thinking about the nuclear force brings together the three levels of analysis in military affairs (strategic, operational, and tactical level thinking), and encourages consideration of the full spectrum of what goes into a complete state nuclear posture.

Digging more deeply into the details of the 2002 NPR, the more controversial ideas include reinforcing the Cold War’s doctrinal equivalence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the development of “bunker-buster” nuclear weapon capabilities. There are both substantive and normative concerns with these two elements of Bush administration policy.

With respect to the doctrinal equivalent of all WMDs, the Bush administration operationalized a long-standing view that the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons on the battlefield or on population centers represented equal escalations. If the United States or its allies were on the receiving end of any type of WMD, then retaliation in kind, or in equivalence, became militarily and morally justified in the framework of the doctrine. In short, any type of WMD use justified the use of American WMD capacity; however, of the three types of WMD the United States traditionally maintained and deployed only the nuclear one.

A cursory glance at the three types of WMD reveals the difficulty of this position. While biological weapons used on a population center could potentially lead to similar casualty figures as a nuclear device, this is not how most biological agents would effect harm on a population. Further, no chemical weapon system deployed in comparable manner could have the costs that even a small nuclear device would plausibly have in a population center. The costs of both biological and chemical weapons are contestable in a way that does not apply to nuclear weapons. The externalities of all three WMDs are potentially catastrophic, but not of similar scale. American nuclear posture, as portrayed in the 2002 NPR, becomes one of unbelievably dramatic escalation toward all WMD usage, even where conventional weapons could be utilized to retaliate or negate the power of an enemy force.

Yet, as part of the 2002 NPR, several states, including Iraq, Syria, and Libya, are named as potential targets for such escalation, with little reflection on the ramifications for such response, as least in what was publicly shared. Critics of this position point out that the logical consequences of this doctrinal provocation include the potential for massive investment in WMDs by states perceiving themselves as under a new, inflammatory threat. However, it should be pointed out that Libya, for example, publicly denounced its WMD programs during the Bush administration’s tenure.22

The proposal in the 2002 NPR for a “bunker-buster” nuclear warhead opened up the Bush administration for criticism on a different front. Two problems follow from such a system. First, while it is not any particular stretch to argue that the bunker-buster capability might be strategically valuable, in what circumstance would a nuclear warhead be necessary where other incendiary explosives would not suffice? Second, the idea demonstrates that nuclear weapons policy in the administration made too much of a distinction between strategic and tactical usage of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons as simply another tool for tactical victory, detached from broader strategic vision, is a more radical departure from deterrence than one might consider, where nuclear weapons use itself constitutes policy failure. This mindset reappears in the joint warfare doctrines of the Department of Defense, wherein a nuclear war is not by itself policy failure, but nuclear weapons are normalized elements of a broader war-fighting strategy.23 Smart politicians might say that nuclear wars cannot be “won,” but nuclear combat can, evidently, be considered subject to the same planning processes as any other theater contingency planning, regardless of how divorced such planning is from what an actual military theater would be like in the aftermath of the employment of nuclear weapons. Whether this divorce from reality is better or worse than the rationality assumption underlying nuclear deterrence is debatable.

To review, the 2002 NPR represented a significant escalation in American confrontation with rogue regimes, and potentially with avowed nuclear weapons states. In addition to promoting deterrence relationship destabilizing policies, it emphasized the false equivalence, tactically and strategically, among all WMDs.

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency would, at least on paper, generate a major shift in American nuclear weapons posture, particularly given Obama’s role as a senator in promoting counter-proliferation policies and his 2009 pledge “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” While the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review outlines a clear departure from previous policy, other decisions by the Obama administration reinforce its reliance on deterrence logic as the administration’s actual priority.

President Obama came into office with a great deal of fanfare connected to his support for nuclear stockpile reductions, one of the reasons mentioned for his Nobel Prize award.24 This policy priority receives significant attention in the 2010 NPR, which is a polished document capable of speaking to the NPR’s domestic and foreign audiences. The NPR has a concluding section openly promoting the goal of a “world without nuclear weapons,” while also articulating the logic of deterrence under conditions of significant reductions in deployed warheads.25 The number of warheads is to be reduced across all three parts of the triad, and MIRVs are to be eliminated, with all missiles to possess only one targetable warhead in order to “increase stability.” Current and new bilateral and multilateral arms control treaties receive overt consideration. Finally, the NPR is noteworthy for the amount of attention paid to non-state actors and the potential for WMD capabilities thereof.26 All of this leads up to the most important challenge to the previous decades’ nuclear doctrines, as the 2010 NPR outlines a policy of never using, nor threatening to use, the American nuclear arsenal against non-nuclear states which are party to, and in compliance with, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly called the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and are not part of a proliferation threat. This is coupled with an explicit rejection of the Cold War era’s false equivalence of WMDs reinforced by the 2002 NPR.27

While the Preface of the 2010 NPR announces a request for nearly “$5 billion to be transferred from the Department of Defense to the Department of Energy” for the purpose of maintenance of aging nuclear weapons infrastructure, recent decisions may be more telling of Obama administration policy than the NPR. In September 2014, the New York Times reported that the administration had, at a possible cost of $1 trillion over three decades, begun revamping the American nuclear arsenal.28 While a new START treaty has been signed and implemented, renewed political hostility between the United States and Russia, reminiscent of the Cold War rivalry, threatens to undercut earlier attempts to increase global stability in a world with fewer nuclear weapons. Even as total deployment of warheads remains well lower than Cold War levels, modernization of the strategic nuclear force is ramping up.29

Where the 2002 NPR threatened to pry open a Pandora’s Box of new nuclear doctrines further than had been considered before, the 2010 NPR paints a rosier picture of the geopolitical place for nuclear deterrence. A critical take on the Obama administration might say that there is a “do as we say, not as we do” policy on nuclear weapons. This is a fair criticism. However, classic deterrence proponents would simply point to how the 2010 NPR states that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will sustain safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces.”30 In other words, the only major change of the Obama administration is the determination that far fewer warheads are needed across the triad to maintain deterrence, and nothing more.

Exploring Christian Perspectives

To this point, there is no unifying Christian perspective on either war, more broadly, or nuclear weapons and deterrence, more specifically. It is far easier to identify concrete, Bible-centered perspectives among the peace church traditions, which consistently turn to pacifism as a guide to foreign and military policy preferences. These preferences can take the form of conscious withdrawal from the policymaking process, or faith-informed activism in the name of peace. Both of these options have a rich historical, scriptural inspiration.31

However, it is far from clear that this view represents a majority response within the self-identified Christian population. With the notable exception of those who would advocate the active projection of military force for the promotion of eschatological purposes (that is, crusaderism), it is likely that the majority position of the Christian community rests in a muddled middle-ground on questions of the use of force, regularly characterized as part of the “just war” tradition.32 Just war advocates can be uneasy with pacifist withdrawal from earthly politics, as well as with rejection of all uses of force by the state. Instead they turn to a less than satisfying list of criteria in which legitimate uses of force by Godly-sanctioned government entities (see Romans 13) engage in the restraint of evil through a proportionate response and maximization of protection of civilian innocents, closely adhering to a limitation of their conduct rooted in military necessity and nothing more. Interestingly, this just war tradition has been used by classically liberal-inspired governments as the outline of a moral framework of warfare. Tenets of just war can be found in codified and customary international law. This legal framework and its just war underpinnings have made their way into American military training and doctrine.33

This leads to a place of common ground for reaction to the deterrence question for the majority of the Christian tradition. Pacifists and just war adherents should both be able to come together in the name of opposing misapplications of the just war criteria in the name of government policy. This is precisely the problem that emerged with training material produced for the United States Air Force, the military branch responsible for operation and oversight of the strategic missile force. In 2011, information was leaked indicating that the just war criteria were being framed in a manner to encourage use of nuclear weapons upon the command to launch.34

Without doubt, the false equivalence of various WMDs articulated in the 2002 NPR would be a clear violation of just war criteria of proportionality and discrimination between combatants and non-combatants. All WMDs potentially violate these two criteria. Additionally, the extended damage caused by nuclear weapons violates yet another criterion, the application of the minimal amount of force necessary to restore a just peace. The damage of nuclear weapons carries on generationally.

There is no true Augustinian just war justification for nuclear weapon usage. There may be a hypothetical where an evil entity could only be defeated in a battle by nuclear weapons and with low risk of escalation. Even then, in a one-off tactical scenario, the destruction caused remains unconscionable, not of military necessity in the strategic long run.

Yet, with such limitations in the just war criteria seemingly ruling out the normative justification for employing nuclear weapons, movements in support of a nuclear freeze or large reductions in warheads generally are the province of the pacifist contingent. This contingent is readily ignored by policymakers as a small minority, lacking mainstream political influence. Should the activist community be able to connect with just war advocates in recognition of the moral flaws in nuclear strategy according to both groups’ views, greater political pressure could be brought to bear. Just war-inspired anti-nuclear activism can take some positions with intellectual credibility that other perspectives cannot; for example, critiquing the cost of nuclear weapons platforms as a detriment to conventional weapons which are much more likely to be needed in defense of the national interest. There is no reason for policymakers to see this critique from the pacifist wing as genuine, given the likelihood of future opposition of any conventional force application. Just war advocates need not hesitate to make this point assertively.

A second area of common ground involves the reaction to deterrence logic itself. Since Christian doctrine clearly rests upon a foundation of the fallibility of humanity, deterrence strategy rooted in the triumph of rationality over all the potential breakdowns in communication and the survival instinct is epistemologically contradictory.

There is a well-developed inquiry in cognitive psychology literature regarding the creation of humanity in the imago Dei. Whereas creation in God’s image evokes our ability to do rational thinking, according to Matthew P. Phelps, rationality is contrasted with “a call to be humble in light of the limited nature of the basic constituent processes of the human mind.”35 Fallibility is not the same conceptually as sinfulness, but it is an element of humanity that places our intellect in the realm of imperfection. For Olli-Pekka Vainio, commenting on Thomist philosophy and the imago Dei, “virtue is a disposition to perform actions that are in accord with reason.”36 A natural extension can be made from these two findings to the nuclear problem in that deterrence logic is not necessarily immoral, though perpetually betting everyone’s lives on it is inadvisable. Fallible humans do not always act virtuously and rationally.

This is not particularly a problem for academic social science, per se, in which research for the sole purposes of examining the relationship between variables where some aspects of the human experience are exogenous to the variables under discussion is common and meets the standards of quality social science. However, where the presumption of rationality underpins major policies, it is imperative to give consideration to social science in which presumptions of rationality are avoided, or empirically break down, or fail to predict behavior. So long as there is epistemological pluralism in the social science disciplines, the problem of nuclear deterrence is more properly a policymaking and advocacy challenge, as opposed to a failing of a research agenda. It is not fair to social science to ask it to do what it is neither designed for, nor incentivized to do. High-quality research is not required to be either policy-relevant or rooted in this author’s specific theology or politics.

Unfortunately, what is found in much of the more recent research on nuclear deterrence is assumed consensus between both the academic disciplines and policymakers.37 The best way to overcome this gap at the policy advocacy level is for the pacifist/activist and just war-adhering elements of the Christian faith community to recognize that their common ground leads to a conclusion that blind faith in rationality is dangerous and the nuclear pessimists have it right from the moral perspective. Justifications for the use of nuclear weapons, even potentially in pure, second-strike retaliation, are weak once the actual real-world consequences of such an exchange are considered. The just peace is unlikely to be found in retaliation, leaving pride as the only thing to gain in such a scenario. This argument echoes the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, who, writing in 1983 on deterrence stated, “Deterrence is not an adequate strategy as a long-term basis for peace,” and “a strictly conditional moral acceptance of deterrence” was all that could be endorsed by Catholic doctrine. The language of the letter was steeped in that of classic, just war criteria.38

In the 70th year of the Atomic Age, the connection of social science to nuclear weapons policy is, unfortunately, one in which parsimony has stripped away all of the environmental and economic externalities of nuclear exchange. Deterrence has held, even as some policymakers, as in the Bush administration, have pursued destabilizing doctrines and false equivalences which would increase the odds of nuclear weapons use. Conversely, when policymakers have recognized this, such as with the Obama administration, they have failed to live up to most of their promise to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons in strategic thinking. For the better part of seven decades, and well into the foreseeable future, the world’s survival will rely to a frightening degree on the ironclad logic of MAD’s madness and the mercy of God.39

Cite this article
Daniel R. Allen, “The Only Way to Win: The Enduring Problem of Nuclear Deterrence”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 44:4 , 373-386


  1. Stephen Twing, Myths, Models, and U.S. Foreign Policy: The Cultural Shaping of Three Cold Warriors (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998).
  2. Many sources describe the basics of deterrence, but a critical source is Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980).
  3. Nathan Hodge, “Putin: We’ll Overwhelm U.S. Missile Shield. (But Thanks for the Concessions, Barack!),” WIRED (December 29, 2009).
  4. Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945–2013,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 69.5 (2013): 75–81.
  5. Thomas C. Schelling, “Nuclear Deterrence for the Future,” Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 2006): 50-52.
  6. Several prominent political scientists have described their experiences along these lines, most notably Barrington Moore and Gabriel Almond, in various places. See Gerardo L. Munck and Richard Snyder, Passion, Craft, and Method in Comparative Politics, (Baltimore, MD: JHU Press, 2008).
  7. Alexander George, Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1993).
  8. There are many outstanding studies along these lines. For more recent literature, see Matthew Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve: Explaining Nuclear Crisis Outcomes,” International Organization 67.01 (January 2013): 141–171; and Stephen L. Quackenbush, “General Deterrence and International Conflict: Testing Perfect Deterrence Theory,” International Interactions 36.1 (February 26, 2010): 60–85. What is noteworthy of Kroenig’s work is his clear attempt to differentiate pure nuclear deterrence cases from conventional and mixed deterrence cases.
  9. See criticism from Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, “Rational Deterrence Theory: I Think, Therefore I Deter,” World Politics 41.02 (January 1989): 208–224; and Lebow, Richard Ned, and Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence: The Elusive Dependent Variable,” World Politics 42.03 (April 1990): 336–639. Key responses to this criticism are found in Frank P. Harvey, “Rational Deterrence Theory Revisited: A Progress Report,” Canadian Journal of Political Science 28.3 (1995): 403-436; and Frank P. Harvey, “Rigor Mortis or Rigor, More Tests: Necessity, Sufficiency, and Deterrence Logic,” International Studies Quarterly 42 (1998): 675-707.
  10. See Kenneth N. Waltz, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability,” Foreign Affairs 91 (2012): 6; Matthew Kroenig, “Nuclear Zero? Why Not Nuclear Infinity?” Wall Street Journal, Eastern Edition (July 30, 2011); and Matthew Kroenig, “Think Again: American Nuclear Disarmament,” Foreign Policy (September 3, 2013).
  11. Schelling, “Nuclear Deterrence for the Future,” 50-52.
  12. See, for example Max Abrahms, “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy,” International Security, 32.4 (Spring 2008); and Max Abrahms, “Deterring Terrorism: A New Strategy (2014),” Perspectives on Terrorism 8.3 (2014): 2-15. Accessed November 8, 2014.
  13. John Mark Mattox, “Nuclear Terrorism: The ‘Other’ Extreme of Irregular Warfare,” Journal of Military Ethics 9.2 (June 2010): 160–176.
  14. See, for example, M. E. Hellman, “How Risky Is Nuclear Optimism?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 67.2 (March 1, 2011): 47–56. Both American and Soviet militaries averted disaster by avoiding launches upon what turned out to be false alarms of nuclear attack. Notable examples are cited by Geoffrey Forden, “False Alarms in the Nuclear Age,” NOVA (November 6, 2001). Accessed February 13, 2015.
  15. Paul A. Kowert and Margaret G. Hermann, “Who Takes Risks? Daring and Caution in Foreign Policy Making,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 41.5 (Oct. 1997): 611-637.
  16. Richard A. Falk and David Krieger, The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2012), 25-42.
  17. See footnote 14.
  18. Gideon Hanft, “Rationality and Nuclear Weapons: Revisiting Kenneth Waltz,” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (October 24, 2011). Accessed February 13, 2015.
  19. See footnote 3.
  20. It is important to note that much of what we know of the 2002 NPR is currently only accessible through secondary sources, as the political embarrassment from some of the more controversial elements of the report led to prompt redaction. See Donald H. Rumsfeld, “Nuclear Posture Review Report: Foreword,” Accessed February 27, 2015.; Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Counterforce Revisited: Assessing the Nuclear Posture Review’s New Missions,” International Security 30.2 (2005): 84–126; and Charles J. Moxley, Jr., “2002 Nuclear Posture Review: Strategic and Legal Ramifications,” Accessed November 8, 2014.
  21. Amy F. Woolf, “The Nuclear Posture Review: Overview and Emerging Issues,” DTIC Document (2002).
  22. Joel Roberts, “Libya Renounces WMD Program,” CBS/AP (December 21, 2003). Accessed November 8, 2014.
  23. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review: Implementation Plan” (February 2003). Accessed November 8, 2014.
  24. Norwegian Nobel Committee, “The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.” Accessed November 8, 2014.
  25. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report” (April 2010). Accessed November 8, 2014.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms,” The New York Times (September 21, 2014).
  29. Ralph Vartabedian, “Aging Nuclear Arsenal Grows Ever More Costly,” Los Angeles Times (November 8, 2014).
  30. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report” (April 2010).
  31. For an introduction, see Paul Christopher, The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction to Legal and Moral Issues (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994).
  32. Ibid.
  33. In addition to this author’s personal experiences, just war doctrine is empirically a regular consideration for evaluating the moral and legal viability of military operations within the United States military. See, for example, Cora Sol Goldstein, “Just War Theory and Democratization by Force: Two Incompatible Agendas,” Military Review 92.5 (2012): 2.
  34. Jason Ukman, “Air Force Suspends Ethics Course That Used Bible Passages to Train Missile Launch Officers,” The Washington Post – Blogs (August 2, 2011). http://www.washingtonpost. com/blogs/checkpoint-washington/post/air-force-suspends-ethics-course-that-used-bible-passages-to-train-missile-launch-officers/2011/08/02/gIQAv6V2pI_blog.html.
  35. Matthew P. Phelps, “Imago Dei and Limited Creature: High and Low Views of Human Beings in Christianity and Cognitive Psychology,” Christian Scholar’s Review 33.3 (Spring 2004): 345-366. Quotation at 366.
  36. Olli-Pekka Vainio, “Imago Dei and Human Rationality,” Zygon 49.1 (March 2014): 121-134. Quotation at 124.
  37. Amir Lupovici, “The Emerging Fourth Wave of Deterrence Theory-Toward a New Research Agenda: The Emerging Fourth Wave of Deterrence Theory,” International Studies Quarterly 54.3 (September 6, 2010): 705–732.
  38. National Conference on Catholic Bishops, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” Accessed February 7, 2014.
  39. I thank Scott Waalkes, Richard Pointer, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, along with colleagues Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, Thomas Preston, Marie Morris, Yardley Collett, Ina Yoon, and Manuel Vazquez for their support in developing the ideas in this essay.

Daniel R. Allen

Delta College
Daniel R. Allen is Associate Dean of Social Sciences at Delta College.