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How Could States Use Nuclear Weapons? Four Models After the Bomb
According to the Theory of the Nuclear Revolution (TNR), nuclear weapons have stabilized relations between great powers, making deterrence easier than compellence. This view is currently under attack. Recent work has documented Washington’s competitive approach to arms control agreements and the fragility of the nuclear stalemate. However, these critiques have not explained how policymakers could hope to extract coercive benefits from nuclear weapons. This paper revisits this question using a game-theoretic model. It shows that if the compellent state is able to bolster the credibility of its threat through standard techniques, i.e. burning bridges, probabilistic threats, or the rationality of irrationality, then compellence may succeed. However, greater military capabilities bolster coercion by increasing the risk of disaster, with first-strike capabilities being especially destabilizing. TNR was correct to warn about the risks of nuclear competition.

Nov 9, 2021 01:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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Alexandre Debs
@Yale University