Argument: Nuclear deterrence need not target civilian populations

Issue Report: Abolition of nuclear weapons


I believe I am safe in asserting that in considering nuclear deterrence in a non-Russian context, collateral damage issues will be of even greater importance than ever before. These issues must be better understood in contemplating nuclear attacks against a North Korea, an Iran, an Iraq, or even a China.
The fact that civilians in these nations have no voice in developing the policies of their government would make their slaughter abhorrent to Americans, as it would be to any well-meaning peoples of the world. Targeting the leadership, along with military forces and military capabilities—the very tools of aggression— as was done against the Soviet Union; these are the appropriate primary targets that should be held at risk under any U.S. deterrent policy.
In examining the characteristics of post-Cold War deterrence, it appears important to make our policy and plans both country and leadership specific. At the same time, we should appropriately keep our thoughts confidential regarding whom or how. If and when a future conflict first begins to unfold, that will be the time for us to communicate—directly, but perhaps still not publicly—what it is that we do not want them to do (i.e. what we are trying to deter). That will also be the time for us to communicate our capabilities to hold at risk what they value and, if possible, to protect what we value. While we should remain ambiguous about the details of what our specific responses to their acts of aggression would be, we must make abundantly clear that our actions would have terrible consequences for them. Finally, the most important foundation for our policies and actions, and the most important part of our communications to the other side in an impending crisis must be that we have the national will, as well as the full means, to carry out our intended actions.”