Arms Control and Deterrence Theory in the Nuclear Policy of Global Powers




Acree, Mackenzie

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This research project explores the relationship between deterrence theory and arms control in the nuclear policies of the United States, Russia, and China. The centrality of nuclear deterrence in defense policy negates the possibility of nuclear disarmament. Within the current nuclear order, mutual deterrence dynamics are modulated by arms control agreements which promote cooperation between nuclear weapon states (NWS) on limiting their strategic weapons and preventing nuclear conflict. The three NWS relevant to this study hold diverse and sometimes conflicting strategic aims. While American nuclear policy is outwardly based on deterrence theory, it often seeks to undermine the effects of mutual deterrence in order to further its own national interests. The American nuclear umbrella presents a specific strategic challenge as North Atlantic treaty Organization (NATO) allies have faced increasing revisionist aggression from Russia. Russia has leveraged its coercive capacity in the illegal invasion of Ukraine and suspension of a key arms control treaty, the New Strategic Arms Reduction treaty (New START), which have disrupted the status quo nuclear order. I argue that this presents the greatest current threat to stability. Our European adversary’s recent actions have also complicated the American relationship with China, the world’s fastest growing NWS. Differences in strategic thinking between American and Chinese leaders must be understood by both sides in order to effectively cooperate on nuclear security concerns. I put forth that bilateral Sino-American arms control talks may be the best avenue for maintaining the balance of power and preventing nuclear use. I further argue that a condition of minimal nuclear deterrence is our best bet for maintaining that norm of non-use. This transition would allow for continued mutual deterrence while increasing the cost of first use and thus reducing the likelihood of both accidental and intentional nuclear use.



nuclear policy, deterrence theory, arms control, minimum deterrence


Acree, M. (2023). Arms control and deterrence theory in the nuclear policy of global powers. Honors College, Texas State University.


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