Panel discussion on Deterrence: Its Past and Future

Monday, September 12, 2011
Deterrence: Its Past and Future

On Monday, September 12, 2011, the Hoover Institution hosted a panel discussion on the publication of Deterrence: Its Past and Future (edited by George P. Shultz, Sidney D. Drell, and James E. Goodby). Drawn from the third in a series of conferences on the nuclear legacy of the cold war at the Hoover Institution on November 11–12, 2010, this report examines the importance of deterrence, from its critical function in the cold war to its current role. Although deterrence will not disappear, current and future threats to international security will present relatively fewer situations in which nuclear weapons will play the dominant role that they did during the cold war.

“The idea of nuclear deterrence during the cold war was that acts considered unacceptable to the deterrer would be prevented by what Churchill called ‘the certain power to inflict swift, inescapable and crushing retaliation.’ A twenty-year period, from 1960 to the Reagan administration, in the 1980s, when war plans became based on the need to prepare for and if necessary, fight a ‘protracted nuclear war,’ as President Carter’s nuclear strategy called it. This led to tens of thousands of nuclear weapons being deployed by the United States and an equal number by the Soviet Union. In Reykjavik, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met in Geneva to discuss plans to eliminate nuclear weapons,” noted James Goodby.

“Moving from mutual assured destruction toward a new and more stable form of deterrence with decreasing nuclear risks and an increasing measure of assured security for all nations could prevent our worst nightmare from becoming a reality, and it could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations” (“Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation,Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2011).