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Stability at Low Nuclear Numbers

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This paper is part of a series of working papers developed as part of the "Stable Transition to a New Nuclear Order" project. View additional papers from this project.

What conditions are needed for a stable transition to a new nuclear order, one in which the total number of nuclear weapons would be reduced to very low numbers, perhaps even zero? We have addressed the myriad issues raised by this question with funding from a grant on “Creating Conditions for a Stable Transition to a New Nuclear Order,” co-directed by Catherine Kelleher and Judith Reppy, from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell University.

Our project had three goals: to take a fresh look at the theoretical underpinnings of the arguments about strategic security and nuclear doctrines; to encourage members of the younger generation (NextGen) scholars working on nuclear security issues to see themselves as part of a network that stretches from scholars in the field to active participants in the policy process; and to disseminate the products of the project to the policy community, in Washington and elsewhere. We convened five workshops—in Berlin (December 2014); Ithaca, NY (November 2015 and November 2016); Monterey, CA (February 2016); and Washington, DC (May 2016)—and held five discussion (“reach-in”) meetings with Washington insiders at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC. 

This essay concentrates on our project’s first goal: a re-assessment of the deterrence literature and the conditions for stability during a transition period to low nuclear numbers, perhaps nuclear zero. It is based on the work of the participants in the workshops and on our own reading of the literature, both from the early days of the nuclear age and more recent contributions following the end of the Cold War.

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