This summer, I’ve been thinking and writing about the delusional, aspirational notion of deterrence stability between antagonistic nuclear-armed states. For the short form of my argument, see my essay in Dawn. The long form will be part of a second collection of essays on deterrence stability and escalation control to be published by the Stimson Center.
Deterrence stability between nuclear-armed states works just fine when they have nothing to fight about. When, on the other hand, states acquire nuclear weapons because of serious friction, the quest for deterrence stability is chimerical. Conceptualizers of deterrence stability predicated that the mutual acquisition of secure, second-strike capabilities would be the precondition of success. The United States and Soviet Union met this requirement early on – and kept going. The more they competed, the less secure they felt, regardless of overkill capabilities.
I think there’s still a reasonable chance that India and China will avoid repeating on a smaller scale the mistakes made by the United States and the Soviet Union. If, however, these two rising powers embrace MIRVs and counterforce targeting, negative ramifications will spread well beyond southern Asia. More on this in another post.
At present, the clearest manifestation of the chimerical pursuit of deterrence stability is between Pakistan and India. Both are in the process of achieving secure, second strike capabilities – if they haven’t already gotten there – but their competition isn’t winding down.