The Signal Component in Strategies of Limited Nuclear Employment

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2022-66-5-5-13
K. Bogdanov,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation.

Received 28.11.2021. Revised 25.01.2022. Accepted 01.03.2022.

Abstract. Concepts of limited nuclear employment are increasingly important in the current landscape of nuclear strategy. They had evolved towards the end of the Cold War, mostly in the U.S., to offer hope for a way out of the stalemate of massive nuclear exchanges. An important role among these was played by the politico-military strategy of small-scale nuclear use for signaling purposes: demonstrating to the enemy our own resolve and intra-war bargaining for an end to the conflict on favorable terms. After the end of the Cold War, declining risk of a large inter-bloc war, deep cuts of nuclear weapons, and the transformation of strategic stability toward multilateral balances have prompted the major nuclear powers to adopt and work through scenarios of limited (single, in particular) use of nuclear weapons intended to de-escalate military conflicts and restore deterrence if it fails. To that end, different nuclear powers, both official and non-official, are adopting or at least considering adoption of limited nuclear options to different extents. It leads us to more complicated strategic environment lying completely out of the scope of existing arms control framework and even its theoretical models. Such politico-military signaling strategies are based on a corpus of the Cold War theoretical experience, but are still not well grounded, demonstrating paradoxes that can cause the opposite of what was intended originally. The lack of credible and effective methods of escalation control, that has persisted since the height of the Cold War, make situation potentially volatile. It is, therefore, increasingly clear that considerations of doctrinal issues about limited scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons, especially “signal strikes”, need to be incorporated into the ongoing and prospective dialogues on strategic stability.

Keywords: de-escalation, escalation control, limited nuclear options, nuclear strategy, nuclear weapons, strategic stability


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For citation:
Bogdanov K. The Signal Component in Strategies of Limited Nuclear Employment. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2022, vol. 66, no. 5, pp. 5-13.

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