During the Cold War, views on nuclear deterrence maintained that a “presumed automatic balance” of power would make nuclear war highly unlikely, on the prerequisite that states were more responsible about avoiding falling into deliberate or accidental nuclear war. However, the world is on the cusp of a new nuclear age as we face the reality of increased uncertainty and increasing complexity. The basic assumptions of the Cold War era no longer hold, and a fresh look is urgently needed—The Fragile Balance of Terror: Deterrence in the New Nuclear Age provides just that.
Nuclear states are undergoing modernization programs and a renewed arms race. Since the Cold War more states have acquired nuclear weapons and have added onto the nuclear landscape a motley of alarming new variables to look out for. Crises and escalations between nuclear states instill fear in the masses as conflicts turn hot and actors become more reckless. Furthermore, over the years, the aspirations of states to acquire nuclear weapons have resulted in many crises.
Could the current lack of a nuclear war breakout be a matter of pure luck? According to the authors, even if this were the case, our luck may just be running out. In The Fragile Balance of Terror, Vipin Narang and Scott D. Sagan argue that the classical deterrence theory seems to be losing its validity.
What are the risks of “nuclear contagion”? Focusing on the second generation of nuclear states, prominent experts on strategy and nuclear policy—namely Giles David Arceneaux, Mark S. Bell, Christopher Clary, Peter D. Feaver, Jeffrey Lewis, Rose McDermott, Nicholas L. Miller, Vipin Narang, Ankit Panda, Scott D. Sagan, Caitlin Talmadge, Heather Williams, and Amy Zegart—collaborate to explain the expanding array of forces and issues, and incorporate new thinking and analysis to the current nuclear era.
This eye-opening collection shows how deterrence may not be a reliable strategy in the future by visiting old challenges such as nuclear reliability, preventative war, survivability, and nuclear learning revamped with a twist to examining the brand-new challenges currently unfolding such as multipolarity, psychology and leaders, and new technologies complicating communication, command, and control.
The Fragile Balance of Terror highlights important topics at the forefront in the 21st century such as military technologies that create vulnerable arsenals, misinformation, nuclear rivalries that include three or more nuclear powers, dictatorial decision-making lacking checks and balances, and rash choices.
The nuclear threats posed by India, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea are precarious. Furthermore, besides their highly hostile environments, domestic instability and few resources challenge these new and potential nuclear powers. Can deterrence hold between these new nuclear states? What are the risks of inadvertent escalation or accidental war in the new nuclear age? The findings are grim, but the book also explores mitigation steps to reduce the heightened potential risks.
The Fragile Balance of Terror: Deterrence in the New Nuclear Age is an insightful read for understanding the present nuclear landscape and the fragility of the classical deterrence model in the face of new actors and sources of nuclear instability. The e-book version of the book can be downloaded for free at the Cornell University Press website.
Vipin Narang and Scott D. Sagan, The Fragile Balance of Terror: Deterrence in the New Nuclear Age (Cornell University Press, 2023) ISBN13: 9781501767029, 270 pages