Michael KreponThe Well-Read Wonk

An early shoebox posting highlighted Kenneth Waltz’s classic Adelphi Paper, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons — More May be Better (1981). Another Adelphi Paper on the Bomb that’s worth reading, in my view, is Neil Joeck’s Maintaining Nuclear Stability in South Asia (1997).

Neil is a product of the University of California system, but he is much too interested in public policy to be valued by their professoriat. His base of operations is Lawrence Livermore, when he does not hear Washington’s siren song.

The subject of Neil’s Adelphi Paper has become increasingly worrisome with the passage of time. Improved and expanded nuclear capabilities in southern Asia have not resulted in increased stability. Instead, as was the case in the U.S.-Soviet competition, growing nuclear capabilities have exacerbated security concerns.

Here’s what Neil had to say on this subject almost fifteen years ago, before India and Pakistan put an exclamation point on their deterrents by testing nuclear devices:

Limited nuclear capabilities increase the potential costs of conflict, but do little to reduce the risk of it breaking out. Nuclear weapons may make decision-makers in New Delhi and Islamabad more cautious, but sources of conflict immune to the nuclear threat remain.

Past conflicts and crises have been heavily influenced by inadvertent escalation, misperception and the law of unintended consequences; national decision-makers have found it difficult to control the development and pace of crises. Wars and crises might have been avoided in the past but for the intervention or influence of a number of non-rational or uncontrollable factors.

A particularly troubling belief embraced almost unquestioningly by Pakistanis is that India is bent on subduing or even demolishing their country… This fatalism may make decision-makers in Islamabad [or rather, Rawalpindi – MK] more resigned to using nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances.

The implied threat each poses to the other’s high-value targets, such as cities, does not mean that only cities would be targeted if war broke out. Limited nuclear capabilities … raise the possibility that nuclear weapons may be used in a future war.

It’s hard to put in place stabilization measures when the initiation, prosecution, and outcome of wars come as a surprise to one or both adversaries. The Kargil incursion, for example, surprised India; its prosecution and outcome surprised Kargil’s planners. To make matters worse, the “non-rational and uncontrollable factors” that Neil wrote about have become more prominent with the passage of time.

The Bomb is a poor substitute for economic growth, internal security, and national cohesion. But as India’s military capabilities grow alongside Pakistan’s multiple weaknesses, and as the US-Indian relationship improves, it becomes harder for Pakistan’s nuclear custodians to figure out how much is enough. In the past, Pakistani authorities talked about a minimal, credible deterrent, but a government press statement after the December 2010 National Command Authority meeting notably dropped the modifier “minimal.” When explaining his country’s continued opposition to the initiation of fissile material cutoff negotiations on January 25th, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, Zamir Akram, used the following formulation: “We believe that we need to build a capacity that is a credible deterrence at the lowest levels.” Are these mere semantics?

I asked the editor of the Adelphi Papers, Nicholas Redman, to suggest other AP’s for well read wonks. He suggests the following, which have been conveniently bound together in The Evolution of Strategic Thought: Classic Adelphi Papers (2008):

AP-1: Alastair Buchan, The Evolution of NATO (1961)
AP-19: Thomas C Schelling, Controlled Response and Strategic Warfare (1965)
AP-26: Zuckerman, Myrdal, Pearson: The Control of Proliferation — Three Views (1966)
AP-41: Michael Howard & Robert Hunter, Israel and the Arab world — The Crisis of 1967 (1967)
AP-44: Coral Bell, the Asian Balance of Power (1968)
AP-49: Pierre Hassner, Change and Security in Europe — In Search of a System (1968)
AP-79: Robert Moss, Urban Guerrilla Warfare (1971)
AP-117: Hanns Maull, Oil and Influence — The Oil Weapon Examined (1975)
AP-171: Kenneth Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons — More May be Better (1981)
AP-196: Neil McFarlane, Intervention and Regional Security (1985)
AP-305: Adam Roberts, Humanitarian Action in War — Aid, Protection and Impartiality in a Policy Vacuum (1996)
AP-379: Lawrence Freedman, The Transformation of Strategic Affairs (2006)


  1. FSB (History)

    Similar arguments applied to US-Soviet relationship.

    Despite the much deeper philosophical treatises produced by Western and Russian academicians, in the end, Virginia, it is a bomb.

    And it works upon the heart and, more precisely, the amygdala.

    India-Pakistan had Kargil, and we had Cuba.

    What is bad for the goose is bad for the gander.

    And let’s not forget the role Indian BMD plays in Pakistan aspiring to more nukes.

    Did I mention that what is bad for the goose is bad for the gander?

  2. Anon (History)

    You say: “The Bomb is a poor substitute for economic growth, internal security, and national cohesion. ”


    That is why the NAM countries are eagerly awaiting for the UN Security Council nations to abolish their nuclear weapons.

    Just imagine we could have internal security and national cohesion (e.g. no Tea Party) in the US if we had higher productivity and growth instead of wasting billions on useless military hardware.

    Or did you mean your arguments apply only to poor countries?

  3. Murray Anderson (History)

    The bomb is not a substitute at all for economic growth, internal security, or national cohesion. It’s to frighten off foreign enemies. The frequently-expressed concern about the number of bombs on web sites like this suggest that it is very effective, since the U.S. is not a friend of Pakistan. India might not want to absorb Pakistan, but would like to reduce it to the status of Bangladesh, thus removing a Chinese ally, and ending the terrorism in Kashmir.
    In terms of cost, production of HEU in gas centrifuges is not expensive, and you might as well keep the centrifuges running. The centrifuge technology can be traded for missile technology, or simply sold, and the threat to do so is a good way of getting foreign aid.
    The cost of actually making the bombs and delivery vehicles could be a more significant burden, but the amount is probably a lot smaller than the cost of operations against the Taliban. This BBC story http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11391644 from last September suggests that the big increase in proposed budget is driven by operations. The U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan should serve as a reminder how grotesquely expensive military operations are.

  4. krepon (History)

    greetings from Pakistan.
    Tom Moore, a stickler for detail, writes with regard to the Zuckerman Adelphi Paper:
    “This was actually AP-29, if I am not mistaken.”

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