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“Bunker Busters” and Intra-War Deterrence: A Case for Caution and Two Solutions

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This article explores the relationship between new specialized nuclear weapons and U.S. intra-war deterrence threats. Deterrence threats have to be both severe and credible, and a deterrence posture can be based on denial or punishment. At present, the United States primarily relies on nuclear punishment for intra-war deterrence. The severity of the U.S. threat to use its current, relatively high-yield nuclear arsenal is high, but its credibility is low. By deploying new specialized nuclear weapons for hardened and deeply buried target or agent defeat, the United States would enhance the credibility of its threat, but reduce its severity. Therefore, these weapons alone may not strengthen U.S. deterrence of rogue states' use of weapons of mass destruction. Either the deterrence strategy or the nuclear arsenal have to be adapted. Threats of punishment could be made more credible if low-yield nuclear weapons, designed for use against military targets on the battlefield, were introduced. Alternatively, a shift to deterrence through denial should be contemplated, based on a threat of first use of nuclear weapons to destroy hardened and deeply buried targets and chemical and biological agents.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Publication date: October 1, 2005

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