The Challenges of Multipolar Deterrence: Theory and Evidence

September 2021 No Comments

Speaker(s): Narang, V. (Frank Stanton Professor of Nuclear Security and Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Date: 29 September 2021

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Vipin Narang (Frank Stanton Professor of Nuclear Security and Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), as part of its SMA STRATCOM Speaker Series.

More countries building nuclear weapons forces the US to conduct multipolar nuclear deterrence and balance its political relationships in a way that it never has before. During the Cold War, classic multipolar nuclear deterrence between peer, or near peer, competitors with equal nuclear capabilities occurred between the US and Russia. However, after the Cold War, more states—with varied nuclear capabilities—gained possession of nuclear weapons. Dr. Narang commented that China is one such state. China has greatly industrialized and modernized since 1990, but is still not a nuclear peer to either Russia or the US. Even though China is strengthening its nuclear capabilities, its nuclear disadvantage to the US and Russia forces the US to participate in asymmetrical multipolar nuclear deterrence. This asymmetry increased the complexity of deterrence operations as actors are forced to compare their nuclear capability to their opponents while managing complex political relationships.

The complex political relationships and asymmetric nuclear capabilities of countries attempting to compete with their peers may result in clouded judgment and an increased risk of nuclear escalation. Furthermore, assistive nuclear deterrence, or a stronger country coming to the aid of a smaller state can increase tensions between actors or allow a state—like North Korea—to act recklessly. Also, countries view each other’s capabilities and nuclear actions differently. For example, a country’s growing stockpile of nuclear weapons may seem aggressive to some countries but not others.

Speaker Session Recording

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Briefing Materials


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