Deterrence as applied during the cold war loomed larger than other tools of statecraft and was identified more closely with the possible use of devastating military force than should be the case today. The current international environment is radically different from that which it was during the cold war. Threats of very different types, from cyber warfare to terrorist attacks, have become the major dangers to world order. Current and future threats to international security will present relatively fewer situations in which deterrence, least of all nuclear deterrence, will be the most effective tool of statecraft. A new approach is clearly necessary.

This book is a collection of the papers prepared for and presented at the November 2010 Hoover Nuclear Threat Initiative Conference by an expert group of analysts, all of whom have studied deterrence issues for many years. The authors highlight ways deterrence has been shaped by surrounding conditions and circumstances. They look at the prospective reliability of deterrence as a tool of statecraft in the emerging international environment. And they examine the challenges of “weaponless deterrence”: developing approaches to nuclear deterrence that rely not on the actua, but rather on the potential existence of nuclear weapons. In addition, they look at the ongoing debates over “de-alerting” (slowing down the capability for immediate launch and rapid nuclear escalation), the role of arms control, and the practical considerations related to verification and compliance.
As long as nuclear weapons continue to exist, the United States should ensure that its nuclear forces are safe, reliable, and capable of launching a devastating nuclear strike on any nation that attacks it with nuclear weapons. Even after the world reaches the long-for goal of zero nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrence will continue to have a vital role for some time to come. As George Shultz says in his foreword to this report, “One thing is clear: no analysis of a world without nuclear weapons can proceed very far without considering the issue of deterrence.”