Social Scientist. v 14, no. 155 (April 1986) p. 3.


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C. RAJA MOHAN^

The Tragedy of Nuclear Deterrence

IN THE post-war world, the concepts of nuclear deterrence and arms control have come to represent the sum and substance of strategic studies. The two concepts, evolved out of the highly influential intellectual activity of the Anglo-Saxon strategic thinkers across the Atlantic in late 1940s to the early 1960s. These concepts were integral to the American thinking on the nature of nuclear weapons and their political and military utility. Within a few years after their enunciation, deterrence and arms control became the dominant mode of Western strategic thought. It was a dogma, few dared challenge.

The RAND-minds of Santa Monica and the high priests of Cambridge, Mass^, on the banks of Charles River, proclaimed the emergence of the 'golden age' of strategic studies. The mood of self-congratulation and the euphoria over discovering the *laws of motion" of the nuclear age, were indeed overpowering. A British scholar wrote in 1970: "The (strategic) theorists did their job almost too well. They provided an intellectual apparatus which seems to be standing upto the test of time and is perfecdy adequate for analysing present strategic policies and most of the technological and political problems likely to occur in future."

In the early 1970s, the 'golden age* of strategic studies appeared an endless one. The champions of deterrence had by then spawned, at least in the US, of a network of think-tanks and university apartments exerting great influence on the American defence and foreign policies. The American war-peace establishment gave rise to a host of civilian strategists and military experts who could move effordessly from academic chairs to the corridors of power in the White House, Pentagon ^nd the State Deparment. This 'deterrence-arms control" sect not only influenced the American domestic agenda, but was powerful enough to set the criteria for the *baute coutre' of strategic anr1 arms control fashion globally. There was little resistance to the onslaught of this veritable intellectual imperialism.

But the anti-climax to the golden age of deterrence was not too late in coming. By the early 1980s, the strategic edifice of deterrence was in shambles. The underlying assumptions of the theory of deterrence came to be challenged botbfrom within and without the American strategic establishment. The collapse of the SALT process in 1979, the antipathy of the Reagan

* Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi



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