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Nuclear Deterrence and the Strategy of Limited Retaliation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2014

Robert Powell
Affiliation:
Harvard University

Abstract

Recent formal work in nuclear deterrence theory has focused on brinkmanship crises in which states exert coercive pressure by manipulating the risk of an unlimited nuclear exchange. This essay extends the formal analysis of deterrence theory to the strategy of limited retaliation in which states exert coercive pressure by inflicting limited amounts of damage in order to make the threat of future punishment more credible. This strategy is modeled as a game of sequential bargaining with incomplete information. The equilibria suggest that states prefer relatively smaller, less-destructive limited options; that counterforce options are desirable even if they cannot limit the total amount of damage an adversary can inflict; that smaller, less-destructive limited nuclear options may make a nuclear exchange more likely; and that uncertainty and incomplete information may significantly enhance deterrence.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 1989

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