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Why Was It Difficult To Achieve A Viable Nuclear Strategy During The Cold War?

1424 words - 6 pages

The inception of nuclear weapons into the war fighting arsenal of both Western and Soviet powers during the Cold War era revolutionised the way in which modern warfare would occur in the future and placed conventional warfare in uncertain territory in which its relevance was questioned. Despite what appeared to be the end of conventional warfare as the world had known it, nuclear strategies did not necessarily prove completely infallible when considering the stability of deterrence. The difficulties in developing a viable nuclear strategy in the Cold War stem predominantly from the complex interactions between US and Soviet strategic thinking during the time period, the disparity evident in ...view middle of the document...

The widespread popularity of deterrence theory pervaded US strategic thinking resulting in policies and strategies aimed at upholding deterrent theory, arguably deterrent theory was effective as no major world conflict between the US and Soviet powers erupted however such an assumption cannot be entirely validated. Albert Wohlstetter, an influential strategist during the Cold War period was hesitant to completely accept the premise of deterrence theory and argued that "...the first step in dispelling the nearly universal optimism about the stability of deterrence would be to recognise the difficulties in analysing the uncertainties and interactions between our own wide range of choices and the moves open to the Soviets." Wohlstetter accepted that both powers possessing nuclear weapons of mass destruction did not guarantee the conditions for stable deterrence and that conflicting ideologies of the powers and the thought processes of the leaders was paramount in determining the effectiveness of deterrence. The 1983 Nuclear Crisis shows how the conflicting ideas of US and Soviet powers presents difficulties in developing viable nuclear strategies. The idea of Soviet strategic superiority became the focus of US perceptions during the mid-1970s during which the re-assessment of intelligence reports and advice of US experts suggested that Moscow was intending to achieve a reliable first strike capability, this caused US President Jimmy Carter to review existing US deterrence policy and make adjustments that focused US military objectives on destroying the Soviet leadership in the event of a first strike, this new focus was 'leaked' to ensure Soviet leaders were aware of this. Despite US perceptions this was not the case, the US possessed superior capabilities and had overestimated Soviet ability and incorrectly determined their goal to be that of achieving first strike potential, understandably this sudden shift in US deterrence policy unsettled the Soviet leadership who became increasingly paranoid that the US were preparing to wage nuclear war and destroy the Soviet leadership. The tensions culminated during the 'Able Archer' exercise conducted by US and NATO forces in which the Soviets considered that the exercise may have been a guise for a nuclear strike. The Soviet Union decided against a preventative nuclear strike. This crisis exemplifies how complex the political and military environment was during the Cold War and how inaccurate perceptions and conflicting information generated a situation in which the pursuit of effective deterrence policy lead to the brink of nuclear war between the US and Soviet Union . This demonstrates the difficulty in developing viable nuclear strategies during the Cold War.
The theory of deterrence relies upon the concept of mutually assured destruction, without MAD there seems to be no credible threat or reason to be deterred from nuclear action. If a nation does not reasonably believe that if they initiate a...

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