Nuclear deterrence & enemy rationality

Nuclear deterrence is a game that even sane, rational governments may have to play, but there can be no assurance that enemies will always be rational. This presents a grave security problem, because the entire logic of nuclear deterrence rests squarely on the assumption that each state will always value its continued survival more highly than anything else. It follows that even a nuclear-weapons state able to destroy an aggressor after suffering an enemy first-strike attack could still lose the game.

A nuclear Iran is pretty much a fait accompli. For Israel, soon to be deprived of any remaining cost effective preemption options, this means forging a strategy to coexist with a nuclear Iran. This essential strategy of nuclear deterrence will call for reduced ambiguity about its strategic forces; enhanced and partially disclosed nuclear targeting options; substantial and partially disclosed programs for active defenses; recognizable steps to ensure the survivability of its nuclear retaliatory forces; and, to bring all these elements together, a comprehensive strategic doctrine.

In addition, because of the logical possibility of enemy irrationality, Israel’s military planners must continue to identify suitable ways of ensuring that even a nuclear “suicide state” can be deterred. Such a perilous threat is very small, but it is not negligible. And although the probability of having to face such an irrational enemy state is low, the probable harm of any single deterrence failure could be intolerably high....

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