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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Is nuclear deterrence rational? Otterstein, Roland O.


In the introduction I give a brief history of the concept of "nuclear deterrence." Next I discuss ways of approaching the subject that conform to popular views. I reject the Scripture's "an eye for an eye" principle as a basis for nuclear strategy decisions and claim that a utilitarian model is acceptable. In Chapter One I discuss cases involving rational opponents who possess large-scale nuclear capability. The discussion focuses on a refutation and counter argument to David Gauthier's view of this sort of case. I claim that we must adopt a model of decision making according to which individual nuclear acts rather than nuclear policies are subjected to rational scrutiny. In Chapter Two I discuss a wide range of nuclear deterrence scenarios and attempt to give a comprehensive analysis of the subject. I discuss what sorts of factors need to be taken into consideration in assessing the rationality of nuclear acts. I construct tables which state under what circumstances initiating or retaliating against an act of nuclear war is rational. In Chapter Three I discuss cases in which a rational country faces an irrational opponent, and conclude that, given that nuclear weapons are quite likely to fall into the hands of an irrational leader, nuclear war is quite likely to occur. In Chapter Four I focus on cases in which countries have the capability to wipe out nearly all of their enemy's weapons in a single attack. I argue that this capability makes nuclear war considerably more likely to occur so that it is rational to avoid it. In Chapter Five I discuss the possibility of limited nuclear attacks. I argue that while such attacks have some chance of being part of rational military strategies, we should concentrate our efforts on building highly effective conventional weapons, since these are less dangerous in the long run. I conclude that we should lessen our dependence on nuclear weapons. I claim that in the majority of cases, nuclear disarmamentis the most rational policy.

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