David Coleman

In one form or another, deterrence is a motivational force in many everyday relationships: a child learns not to misbehave for fear of being scolded by its parents; a potential criminal might decide against committing a crime for fear of being caught and punished; a nation may choose one foreign policy course over another out of fear of military or economic retaliation; or an international alliance may threaten war if any one of its members is attacked. In each case, one party has influenced the choice of another by threatening consequences that outweigh gains.

In the field of foreign policy, the threat and fear of retaliation has been a powerful force. Imperial powers have found that making an example of an enemy or lawbreaker ultimately provided a cheaper and easier method of controlling peoples than maintaining a large standing police or armed forces, conforming to the common adage that prevention is usually better than cure. To that end, Roman legions deliberately cultivated a reputation for ruthlessness to promote stability, and European imperial powers did everything they could to impress their technological and military prowess upon the peoples they commanded. But it is in the nuclear age that deterrence assumed a special significance and was refined from a mostly instinctive practice to a deliberate, if still inexact, science. Throughout the nuclear age, deterrence has been a dynamic concept propelled by technological and historical developments. In turn, the concept of deterrence came to influence those technological and historical developments.


Alperovitz, Gar. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam, The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power. 2d ed. New York, 1985. Makes a controversial argument that impending confrontation with the Soviet Union influenced Truman's decision to use the bomb against Japan.

Brodie, Bernard, ed. The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and the World Order. New York, 1946. Various authors contribute to one of the earliest efforts to assess the implications of the atomic bomb for international affairs.

Bundy, McGeorge. Danger and Survival: Choices about the Bomb in the First Fifty Years. New York, 1988. A first-rate historical study of the impact of the bomb on U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War.

Buzzard, Anthony W. "Massive Retaliation and Graduated Deterrence." World Politics 8, no. 2 (January 1956): 228–237.

Dockrill, Saki. Eisenhower's New-Look National Security Policy, 1953–61. London, 1996.

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. Oxford, 1982.

Gaddis, John Lewis, et. al., eds. Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy Since 1945. Oxford, 1999.

Garthoff, Raymond L. Soviet Strategy in the Nuclear Age. Rev. ed. New York, 1962.

George, Alexander L., and Richard Smoke. Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice. New York, 1974. A groundbreaking work in the field of political science that uses historical case studies of ten nuclear crises that took place between 1948 and 1962 to examine how deterrence has been employed in times of crisis.

Gowing, Margaret. Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945–1952. New York, 1974. A thorough study of the early British nuclear program.

Herken, Gregg. The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945–1950. New York, 1980.

Holloway, David. Stalin and the Bomb. New York, 1994. Uses formerly closed archives to examine the early Soviet nuclear program.

Kahn, Herman. On Thermonuclear War. Princeton, N.J., 1960. The most widely read of several important books by this influential nuclear strategist. Challenges policymakers and the public to "think the unthinkable" and anticipate a post–nuclear war world.

Kaplan, Fred M. The Wizards of Armageddon. New York, 1983. An excellent study of professional nuclear strategists.

Kaufman, William W., et al., eds. Military Policy and National Security. Princeton, N.J., 1956. One of the earliest rebuttals of the massive retaliation doctrine.

Kissinger, Henry A. Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. New York, 1957. An influential rebuttal of massive retaliation that advocates the development of tactical nuclear weapons to make limited nuclear war viable.

Leffler, Melvyn P. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War. Stanford, Calif., 1992. A meticulously researched account of the national security policy of the Truman administration.

Mandelbaum, Michael. The Nuclear Question: The United States and Nuclear Weapons, 1946–1976. Cambridge, 1979.

Mueller, John. "The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons." International Security 13, no. 2 (fall 1988): 55–79. Makes a controversial argument that nuclear weapons were largely irrelevant to keeping the peace during the Cold War.

Osgood, Robert E. Limited War Revisited. Boulder, Colo., 1979. A concise reevaluation of the notion of limited war.

Quester, George H. Deterrence Before Hiroshima: The Airpower Background of Modern Strategy. New York, 1966. The development of strategic bombing, with particular emphasis on the years from World War I to the end of World War II.

Rosenberg, David A. "The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945–1960." International Security 7 (spring 1983): 3–71. A meticulously researched account of American nuclear programs during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations.

Sagan, Scott D. The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons. Princeton, N.J., 1993. Examines several of the Cold War's "near misses" and the chances of accidental nuclear war.

Schelling, Thomas C. Choice and Consequence. Cambridge, Mass., 1984. Applies economic principles and game theory to deterrence.

Stromseth, Jane E. The Origins of Flexible Response: NATO's Debate over Strategy in the 1960s. Houndmills, U.K., 1987.

Taylor, Maxwell. The Uncertain Trumpet. New York, 1960. A rebuttal of massive retaliation that became extremely influential in the formulation of the Kennedy administration's defense program.

Trachtenberg, Marc. History and Strategy. Princeton, N.J., 1991. Important essays on various aspects of nuclear policy.

——. A Constructed Peace: The Making of a European Settlement, 1945–53. Princeton, N.J., 1999. Argues that nuclear weapons were a decisive factor in the peaceful division of Europe.

Williamson, Samuel R., Jr., and Stephen L. Reardon. The Origins of U.S. Nuclear Strategy, 1945–1953. New York, 1993.

Wohlstetter, Albert J. "The Delicate Balance of Terror." Foreign Affairs 37, no. 1 (1959): 211–234. Argues that technological advances will ultimately destabilize deterrence.

See also Arms Control and Disarmament ; Balance of Power ; Cold War Evolution and Interpretations ; Cold War Origins ; Cold War Termination ; Doctrines ; Nuclear Strategy and Diplomacy ; Post–Cold War Policy ; Presidential Power ; Superpower Diplomacy .

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