Michael KreponRaymond Aron

Quote of the week:

“The idea that the two great powers of an international system are brothers at the same time as being enemies should be accepted as banal rather than paradoxical.”  — Raymond Aron

Those seeking escape from surface-layered arguments about nuclear weapons and deterrence would do well to seek refuge in the writings of the masters. France’s contributors to the field include Raymond Aron, a resistance fighter for Free French forces during World War II, philosopher, sociologist, journalist, and all-around deep thinker.

His massive English language tome, Peace & War: A Theory of International Relations (1966) is badly dated, but remains interesting if, when glancing through it, you mentally substitute China for the Soviet Union. Some passages on deterrence are still relevant, not only for the renewed U.S.-Russian competition, but also for the burgeoning nuclear competition in South Asia. Here’s a sampling:

“The search for stability through mutual deterrence has been no more successful than the search for stability through the balance of power.”

“All doctrines of ‘limited reprisal’ or of ‘graduated deterrence’ are dangerous. They reduce the ‘credibility’ of the threat of thermonuclear reprisal, whereas in fact, if hostilities began… they would inevitably escalate.”

“The tactical use of nuclear explosives tends to efface the distinction between limitation and non-limitation of weapons, or destruction, and hence of the hostilities themselves… On the whole, it remains likely that the tactical use of atomic weapons increases both the risk of enlarging the conflict and the human or material cost of operations.”

“The threat of massive retaliation is inoperative once it is reciprocal. Similarly, the threat of using atomic weapons in localized land battles would be inoperative once the potential enemy had the same capacity.”

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