Nuclear postures matter. They frame requirements, add to or detract from stability, and can affect outcomes when deterrence fails, which happens more than expected. Vipin Narang covers this ground in his masterful new book, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (2014). Finally, we have a book on proliferation that is rooted in the discipline of Political Science with persuasive explanatory powers and great analytical value. Vipin’s book has one chapter that only Political Scientists can relate to, but the rest is highly accessible.
Most of the deterrence literature spawned by the Cold War has little applicability to newer entrants into the nuclear club. For example, we can’t tell from this literature what nuclear posture newcomers will chose, and why. Vipin offers three basic choices: (1) assured retaliation; (2) catalytic (a posture designed to prompt the intervention of a patron); and (3) asymmetrical escalation. At present, India and China have adopted assured retaliation. South Africa, Israel, and Pakistan initially chose catalytic postures. France, and now Pakistan, adheres to asymmetrical escalation. Vipin concludes that an assured retaliation posture doesn’t fare well when paired up against asymmetrical escalation.