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PS 367 Brinkmanship_lecture - Because it may be rational to...

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Because it may be rational to use force under certain circumstances, the threat to use force becomes a foreign-policy tool that could be used to achieve better bargaining outcomes in mixed-motive situations. We examined two archetypal situations. In the first, an actor attempts to establish a credible commitment to respond to attempts to change the status quo; that is, he tries to deter his opponent from doing something he does not like. In the second, an actor at- tempts to establish a credible commitment to continue inflicting damage on his opponent while the opponent persists in a course of action; he tries to compel his opponent to undo his alteration of the status quo. We discussed several strategies that actors can use for deterrence and compel- lence purposes, and noted that there are many ways one could alter the strategic calculations of the other actor. Although we analyzed examples that involved military situations, it is important to realize that the concepts are much more general and can be applied in wide varieties of circumstances. At any rate, the threat to use force could be regarded as an instrument of policy, much like the Clausewitzian conception of war. Until, that is, you consider the arrival of nuclear weapons. How could an instrument of such enormous destructive power ever be utilized for political purposes? The nuke, but its very nature, seems to defy rational use. Even the threat to use it seems incredible against an opponent similarly equipped. The nuclear weapons seem to have caused a revolution in military thinking, in particular in relating military means to political ends by undoing the credibility of the threat to employ it. The nuclear revolution laid bare the credibility problem in a way that previ- ous weapons did not make possible. First, even in a crisis between a nuclear and non-nuclear state, it is not clear that the nuclear state can credibly threaten to resort to nuclear weapons. It is simply hard to imagine a threat that involves rat- tling the rockets over an issue of peripheral interest, and almost anything short of one’s own survival could be deemed peripheral when it comes to nukes. To- day (now that we know the e ff ect of a nuclear strike), launching nukes against a non-nuclear state would cause immense moral opprobrium, and would not be tolerated by citizens in any country that has a representative government. The U.S. did maintain a posture of massive retaliation , according to which it could potentially resort to nukes in response to crises throughout the world (like the Korean War, for example). But if the explosion of such crises is any indication, this particular threat was not believed by various adversaries who went ahead anyway. Second, in a crisis between two nuclear powers, the dangers multiply to a degree that it makes the resort to the weapon appear totally irrational. Threat- ening with nukes, as we discussed when we talked about crisis stability, could be inherently dangerous if it can cause the reciprocal escalation of fear of sur- prise attack. And when the two sides have second-strike capability, then using
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