The Cold War debate between Albert Wohlstetter and Patrick Blackett over the requirements of effective deterrence is of profound relevance half a century later. The two thinkers offered systematic arguments for their maximalist (Wohlstetter) and minimalist (Blackett) positions. How we conceive of these requirements shapes the kinds of nuclear weapons doctrines, forces and postures we adopt. Whereas the Wohlstetter-Blackett debate was based largely on deductive logic, the opposing arguments can today be assessed on the basis of evidence drawing from nearly seven decades of strategic behaviour between nuclear rivals. An analysis of major confrontations in five nuclear dyads – United States-Soviet Union, United States-China, Soviet Union-China, India-Pakistan, and United States-North Korea – clearly offers much stronger support for Blackett’s minimalist case than for Wohlstetter’s maximalist one. Effective deterrence does not require second-strike capability as defined by Wohlstetter and the nuclear balance has no effect on a state’s capacity to deter. Consequently, the central tenets of orthodox nuclear deterrence theory and doctrine are shown to be without foundation. For policymakers, the optimal forces and postures required for effective deterrence are therefore less demanding and the hurdles in the path of arms control and at least partial disarmament less difficult to cross.
About the Author
Rajesh Basrur is Professor of International Relations and Coordinator of the South Asia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has obtained MA and MPhil in History (Delhi) and MA and PhD in Political Science (Bombay). Prior to joining RSIS in 2006, he was Director, Centre for Global Studies, Mumbai (2000-2006), and taught History and Politics at the University of Mumbai (1978-2000). His visiting research assignments include stints at McGill University (2013), the University of Birmingham (2013), the University of Hull (2011, 2009), Stanford University (2002-2003), Sandia National Laboratories (2002), the Brookings Institution (2001-2002), the Henry L. Stimson Center (2001), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1995-96), and Simon Fraser University (1994).
Dr Basrur’s research focuses on South Asian security, global nuclear politics, and international relations theory. He has authored four books, including South Asia’s Cold War (Routledge, 2008) and Minimum Deterrence and India’s Nuclear Security (Stanford University Press, 2006). He has also edited eight books, including (with Bharat Gopalaswamy) India’s Military Modernization: Strategic Technologies and Weapons Systems (Oxford University Press, forthcoming); and (with Ajaya Kumar Das and Manjeet S. Pardesi) India’s Military Modernization: Challenges and Prospects (Oxford University Press, 2014). He has published over 80 research papers in Australian Journal of International Affairs, India Review, Journal of Peace Research and other journals and edited volumes. He is currently writing a book manuscript on the domestic politics of India’s foreign and security policies for Georgetown University Press.
Global / International Politics and Security / Working Papers
Last updated on 02/09/2014