Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Hope Springs Eternal: Perceptions of Mutual Vulnerability between Nuclear Rivals
Authors: Milne, Caroline Reilly
Advisors: Chyba, Christopher F
Contributors: Public and International Affairs Department
Keywords: Cold War
Mutual vulnerability
Nuclear balance
Nuclear deterrence
U.S.-China relations
Subjects: Public policy
Political science
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Do nuclear-armed rivals perceive a condition of “mutual vulnerability” to be inescapable? Such states generally have two long-term options when it comes to dealing with such a situation. On the one hand, they can accept that such a balance would likely endure, and seek only to maintain secure second-strike capabilities. On the other hand, they can reject the strategic circumstances as potentially robust, and pursue capabilities that promise to make nuclear war more tolerable. This dissertation examines two cases of nuclear rivalries in order to understand which position or approach tends to be adopted, and why. The bulk of the project uses archival evidence to illuminate how U.S. and Soviet decision-makers wrestled with mutual vulnerability as it emerged and deepened during the Cold War. Analysis of this case reveals that the superpowers were inclined to reject the idea that their strategic situation was inescapable. Though the technical basis for a highly durable nuclear balance was in place by the early-to-mid 1960s, there was never a clear or constant consensus within U.S. or Soviet policy circles that mutual vulnerability would persist. As a result, each side continuously tried to liberate itself from the strategic dilemma, either by building up capabilities or modifying nuclear strategy. Today the United States and the People’s Republic of China, which comprise the second nuclear rivalry examined by this study, risk falling into a similar pattern. Nuclear exchange calculations establish that while mutual vulnerability between these two countries exists, the United States might still be able to reduce its risk under certain conditions. Put another way, the quantitative disparity between U.S. and Chinese strategic forces implies that certain nuclear war outcomes could favor the United States. In-depth interviews with U.S. and Chinese experts and former officials demonstrate that perceptions of the balance partly confirm this picture. While both sides appear to believe that mutual vulnerability is a current strategic fact, there is much uncertainty about its persistence. Historical lessons are thus key to navigating the United States and China away from a Cold War-style relationship premised predominantly on competition.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Public and International Affairs

Files in This Item:
There are no files associated with this item.

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.