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On Limited Nuclear War in the 21st Century


Much of the theory that has been developed regarding nuclear war assumes that any such war is likely to escalate quickly. Limited nuclear war is recognized as a possibility, but the majority of theory is built on the assumption that full-scale nuclear war is inevitable. Thomas Schelling wrote the introduction to this collection of essays and notes that should nuclear weapons be used with limitations, this would be an impressive example of cooperation between two warring sides. The destructive force of nuclear weapons and the strong inclination to reciprocate with a higher level of force would tend to push both sides higher up the escalation ladder. Although the prospect that thousands of weapons could be launched in a matter of hours is receding, the number of nuclear powers is increasing. This raises the possibility of limited use by states that simply do not have the capabilities the US and USSR possessed during the Cold War. Present conditions warrant more thought and analysis on limited nuclear war and its possible role in national security policy.

Central Argument:


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About the authors: Jeffrey A. Larsen is Director of Research at the NATO Defense College in Rome. Kerry M. Kartchner is Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State.