Nuclear crisis management: a dangerous illusion

What Was Done to Achieve Strategic Stability during the Cold War? Lessons for South Asia?
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How to Think About Nuclear Crises

John F. Anatoli I. Gribkov and Gen. William Y.

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May and Philip D. Zelikow, eds. W Norton, Google Scholar. Raymond L. Michael R. The United States was unaware that Soviet submarines were armed with nuclear missiles, and lacked certainty about Soviet command and control more broadly. Second, the U. Khrushchev initially believed that once the missiles were installed in Cuba the United States would be unwilling to risk war to remove them.

Similarly, U.

Crisis management: a day like any other

Indeed, officials in the Executive Committee of the National Security Council made a range of arguments regarding the relative likelihood of different Soviet responses should the United States invade Cuba Third, conventional and nuclear forces interacted during the crisis on multiple occasions in ways that reduced the controllability of the crisis and raised the risk of nuclear use.

As discussed above, Soviet submarines could have launched nuclear weapons while under pressure from conventional U. This interaction between nuclear and conventional forces raised the risk of inadvertent escalation and reduced the controllability of the crisis. Fourth, crisis communication between the United States and Soviet Union was widely recognized to be problematic, leading to the establishment of the U. Official messages took six hours to deliver, while unofficial channels were prone to miscommunication. The confusion that resulted from contrasting letters sent by Khrushchev on October 26 and 27 exemplifies the problematic nature of crisis communication.

Kennedy received a letter offering to remove the missiles from Cuba and to cease further shipments in exchange for ending the quarantine and a non-invasion pledge. This message took twelve hours to receive and decode. By the time a reply had been drafted, a second letter had arrived in which Khrushchev added a further condition: the removal of Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Puzzled by the shifting demands, Kennedy publicly accepted the terms of the first letter, while privately agreeing to remove the Jupiter missiles.

The Cuban Missile Crisis exhibited few incentives to use nuclear weapons first and low levels of crisis controllability. What dynamics should we therefore expect to see in this case? First, we should expect the crisis to have been primarily characterized by the manipulation of risk, with the conventional or nuclear balance affecting the crisis outcome in less direct ways.

Second, the primary danger of nuclear use should be expected to have come from uncontrolled nuclear escalation rather than deliberate first nuclear use. These predictions are, indeed, confirmed.

Our Understanding Of Nuclear Crises

Nuclear Crisis Management: A Dangerous Illusion (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs) [Richard Ned Lebow] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying. Article Information, PDF download for Nuclear Crisis Management: A Dangerous Illusion, Open epub for Nuclear Crisis Management: A.

First, scholars have often been skeptical that U. The Cuban missile crisis illustrates…the insignificance of nuclear superiority. For example, as discussed above, nuclear superiority could affect risk tolerance or resolve within the framework of brinkmanship crises. Nonetheless, the brinkmanship model accurately captures the key dynamic — the manipulation of risk — of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The brinkmanship model, by emphasizing the dangers of uncontrolled escalation, sheds light on why luck was required to peacefully negotiate the Cuban Missile Crisis. Second, historians, political scientists, and participants in the crisis agree that the primary danger of the Cuban Missile Crisis was uncontrolled escalation rather than deliberate first nuclear use.

Third, as anticipated, both sides engaged in signaling and escalation using conventional military forces and the alerting of nuclear forces, behaviors that the brinkmanship model would anticipate. Overall, viewing the Cuban Missile Crisis as a brinkmanship crisis accurately captures key dynamics of the case.

For Authors

Our framework therefore sheds light on prominent historical crises. Accounting for the heterogeneity of nuclear crises allows us to understand key differences between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kargil War better than a single model of nuclear crisis. What, then, does the framework offered here suggest about more contemporary crises? In this section, we briefly use our framework to shed light on the Doklam crisis between India and China and a potential U.

The Doklam crisis between India and China — a standoff over disputed territory where the borders between China, India, and Bhutan intersect — would be classified as a stability-instability crisis according to our framework. Indeed, viewing the crisis as a stability-instability crisis appears to correctly account for key dynamics of this case. Despite the relatively high levels of military escalation — hundreds of troops were deployed to the region — there was little fear by either side that nuclear weapons would be used.

Signaling took place using conventional troop deployments but without using nuclear threats. Both sides in a potential U. For North Korea, using nuclear weapons early in a conventional conflict might be the only way to prevent a conventional defeat by a far more powerful enemy or to make the United States think twice about pursuing regime change. Narang notes that,. This means it essentially has no option but to use nuclear weapons first against targets such as Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, which stations American bombers, and a variety of allied bases in Japan and South Korea.

Account Options

North Korea has to use nuclear weapons there because it does not have enough conventional warheads to damage the bases meaningfully; a conventional response would not slow or stop a U. The United States may also face temptations for first nuclear use. For example, the U. Given the costs of such a war, avoiding any crisis with North Korea that could quickly escalate should be a higher priority for U. Nuclear crises do not operate according to a single logic. Instead, the presence of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the degree of crisis controllability significantly affect both the way in which nuclear crises unfold and the dynamics that underpin them.

Furthermore, historical crises exhibit variation on these dimensions, suggesting that the varieties of nuclear crises we identify above are not merely of hypothetical interest. In our concluding remarks, we highlight some implications and contributions of our argument.

First, the framework offered here provides a simple way to assess the relative danger and likely dynamics of a potential nuclear crisis in a way that may be useful for analysts and policymakers. This framework would suggest, for example, that any crisis between the United States and North Korea would be more likely to lead to nuclear escalation and be more volatile than a crisis between the United States and China, in which there would be fewer incentives for either state to use nuclear weapons first and higher levels of controllability.

Similarly, nuclear superiority may grant the United States benefits in a crisis with certain opponents, such as North Korea, but offer limited benefits in a crisis with another state, like Russia. Such insights are likely to be more tailored and, therefore, more useful to policymakers than inferences drawn from analyses that do not take into account the variation among nuclear crises. Second, our framework has implications for scholars conducting both theoretical and empirical research on nuclear crises. Theoretically, it demonstrates that seemingly divergent understandings of nuclear crises can be incorporated within a broader framework that specifies the circumstances under which each type of crisis should be expected to occur.

This framework also allows scholars to make better sense of the historical diversity of nuclear crises and of conflicting findings by scholars. Similarly, we should not expect that other events commonly coded as nuclear crises, such as the Cienfuegos Crisis, the Indian parliament attack, or the various Berlin crises, should have unfolded in the same way. This framework would suggest, for example, that any crisis between the United States and North Korea would be more likely to lead to nuclear escalation and be more volatile than a crisis between the United States and China For empirical scholars, the framework may provide a way to make sense of apparently contradictory findings.

Conclusions drawn from one or two cases should not necessarily be expected to apply to crises of a different type. For example, the disagreement between Kroenig and Sechser and Fuhrmann over the role nuclear weapons play in nuclear crises might be accounted for if the Militarized Compellent Threat dataset that Sechser and Fuhrmann use contains a greater number of stability-instability crises in which nuclear weapons should be expected to be unrelated to conflict outcomes and fewer staircase or firestorm crises in which nuclear superiority may be consequential than the International Crisis Behavior dataset that Kroenig employs.

Seeking to find, for example, the average effect of variables on crisis outcomes may be unrepresentative of the likely effects in any given crisis. Scholars should therefore be cautious about drawing conclusions about a specific crisis from scholarship that analyzes all nuclear crises without taking this variation into account.

Finally, the framework presented above opens up a number of avenues for future research. First, we only offered an initial examination of the utility of our framework using four cases. Future work could more systematically assess the extent to which our variables explain variation across all nuclear crises, and the relative frequency with which different types of crises occur.

Second, the framework offered here provides an initial effort to explore the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Further disaggregating nuclear crises could reveal additional insights. There may also be other variables that profoundly affect the dynamics of nuclear crises that could be profitably added to our framework to produce a richer understanding of these cases. Finally, while this paper focuses on the dynamics of nuclear crises rather than the substantive issues that underly them for example, disputed territory in the Doklam Crisis or Kargil War, or Soviet missiles in Cuba in the Cuban Missile Crisis , it is possible that crises in the nuclear age may occur over different issues than in prior eras.

Further research exploring the extent to which nuclear weapons affect the issues that states compete over would be theoretically and empirically useful. Thus, while our study offers an initial framework to allow scholars, analysts, and policymakers to begin incorporating the historical richness of nuclear crises into their analyses, it is far from the last word on the subject.

Much more remains to be done to fully understand the complexity and variety of nuclear crises, and the different risks and dangers that they involve. Acknowledgements : For helpful suggestions and comments, we thank the anonymous reviewers and editors at the Texas National Security Review. For excellent research assistance, we thank Sooyeon Kang. Mark S. Bell is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. Image: U. Air Force. We focus on crises between pairs of nuclear-armed states, although whether the framework we propose also applies to crises between nuclear and non-nuclear states would be an interesting avenue for future research.

For recent critiques of the theory of the nuclear revolution, see Daryl G. Press and Kier A. These debates echo prior disagreements. Damage Limitation and U. For recent work on red lines, see, Daniel W. Altman and Nicholas L. For an empirical test of the implications of the stability-instability paradox, see Mark S.

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Bell and Nicholas L. We thank an anonymous reviewer for this point. For more details on the war, see P. Lavoy, ed. In , India had an active-duty force double that of Pakistan, enjoyed a advantage in combat aircraft, and a 1. Nonetheless, there is little question that India had the capability to assemble a larger conventional military force on the Pakistani border than Pakistan would be able to. Indeed, Pakistan may have had the ability to deliver nuclear weapons by aircraft as early as Malik confirms that Pakistani nuclear weapons ruled out full-scale conventional war with Pakistan. Pakistan may have miscalculated the effects of nuclear signaling on Indian decision-makers and underestimated the number of conventional forces that India would marshal in response.

For Authors

For example, different studies have found nuclear weapons to have either no, limited, or substantial effects on the outcomes of crises. Richard Ned Lebow. The second dimension is the extent to which a crisis is controllable by the actors participating in the crisis. More information about this seller Contact this seller. This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. This article is also available for rental through DeepDyve. Citing articles via Google Scholar.

Incorporating these miscalculations into the framework we offer would be a productive avenue for future research. Norris, William M. Arkin, Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. This restraint presents a puzzle for the stability-instabilty model of nuclear crises, of which the Kargil War is often believed one manifestation. Instead of escalating further, as would be expected by the stability-instability logic, Pakistan chose to acquiesce rather than open additional fronts and divert the superior Indian forces.

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Under the staircase model, however, this behavior makes more sense. May and Philip Zelikow, eds. Norton and Company, , In the end, these deliberations amounted to little in terms of U. Ball, Roswell L.