Nuclear Weapons

The Balance of Terror, the Quest for Peace

By A. J. Edwards

Subjects: International Relations
Paperback : 9780887061868, 275 pages, June 1986
Hardcover : 9780887061851, 275 pages, June 1986

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Tables, Figures, and Appendix Figures

List of Abbreviations


1  The Balance of Terror

2  Basic Theory and the Evolution of Strategic Postures


Basic Theory

Comparison with Earlier Balances of Power

Unilateral Terror

The Balance of Terror

Mutual Assured Destruction

Flexible Response

Subsequent Developments

Soviet Postures

3  How It Came To Be


Birth of Nuclear Age

Political Tensions

The Balance of Terror


4  Is It Necessary?


Western Perceptions of the Soviet Threat



Soviet Perceptions of the Western Threat


5  Nuclear Weapons and World Politics


Military Strength and Political Power

Limitations on Political Power of Strong Countries

Will-power of Weaker Countries

Will-power of Strong Countries

Perceptions and Signals

Conventional Capabilities World-wide

Other Nuclear Countries

Relative Military Strengths

Attitudes to Use of Military Force

Taunting Goliath

Global Political Effects


The Status quo and Spheres of Influence

Conventions of International Behaviour

The Incentive to Bargain and Détente


6  Intrinsic Stability

Intrinsic and Dynamic Stability

Preliminary Exposition

Risk-aversion and Unacceptable Damage

Perceived Will to Retaliate



7 Military Capabilities

First and Second Strikes, Counter-force and Counter-city

Second-strike Capability to Inflict Unacceptable Damage

Alternative Formulations

First-striker's Advantage and the Incentive to Strike First

Counter-force Exchange Rates

The Development of Counter-force Capabilities

Ways of Reducing First-striker's Advantage

Launch on Assessment

Counter-city Second-strike Capabilities and the 'Strike and Bargain' Scenario

First-striker's Advantage and Deterrence against Conventional Attack

Vulnerability of Cities


8  War-fighting and Minimum Deterrence

Deterrence and War-fighting Capability

Other Needs for a War-fighting Capability

Some Elements in a War-fighting Capability

Civil Defence and War-fighting Capability

Minimum Deterrence and 'Sufficiency'

9  Arms Control

Shared Interests





START, INF and the Geneva Negotiations

Mutual and Stable Minimum Deterrence (MSMD)

10  Dynamic Stability


Full-scale Attack Scenario

Tension and Provocation Scenarios

Proliferation, Accident and Madness Scenarios


Escalation and the Boundaries of Crisis

Factors Affecting Escalation

Crisis Management

11 Extended Deterrence and First Nuclear Use


Extended Deterrence

First Nuclear Use


Role of Theatre Nuclear Weapons

Theatre Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence against Conventional Attack

Theatre Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence against Theatre Nuclear Attack

Stopping a War Once Begun

Fighting the War and Keeping it Limited


Circumstances of First Nuclear Use

Intermediate-range Theatre Nuclear Forces

Objections to Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Modernisation

The 'Zero Option'

United States or NATO Deployments

12  Limiting Nuclear War

Could Nuclear Conflict be Limited?

Firebreak Visibility

Firebreaks by Announcement

Firebreaks and Flexibility of Weapon Systems

Firebreaks and Political Will

General Conclusions

Implications for NATO Strategy

13  Policies Towards the Blance of Terror: (1)Rejection and Abdication


Need for a Balance of Terror

Advantages of a Balance of Terror

Disadvantages of a Balance of Terror

Alternative Policies

General and Complete Disarmament by Agreement

Unilateral Complete Disarmament

Nuclear Disarmament by Agreement

Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament

The Moral Dimension

Forswearing Aggression in Any Form

Forswearing First Nuclear Use

European Options

A European Nuclear-free Zone

Unilateral Withdrawal of Nuclear Forces from West European Soil

Independent Nuclear Deterrents


14  Policies Towards the Balance of Terror: (2) Acceptance and Improvement


Reasons for Guarded Optimism

Main Threats to Stability

Hardening of Soviet Policies

Political Problems in the West

Political Turbulence World-wide

First-striker's Advantage

Hazards of Crisis

Combinations of Unstable Factors

Postscript on Nuclear Proliferation

Postscript on Defences against Nuclear Weapons

Some Policy Implications

Strategic Postures

Political Signals and Détente

Military Capabilities

Adequacy of Existing Capabilities

Appendix:  The Algebra of Mutual Deterrence and Stability

A Simple Model

Functional Forms

Risk-aversion and the Will to Retaliate

Ability to Inflict Unacceptable Damage

War-fighting Capability

First-Striker's Advantage

Balance of Risk between Striking and Not Striking

Deterrence against Conventional Attack

Notes and References



This is a clear, non-technical and comprehensive study of nuclear strategy and the balance of power. The book is intended for both supporters and opponents of nuclear deterrence—indeed for all who believe that nuclear issues cannot be wished away or laid aside but must be addressed with knowledge, even if this means thinking about the unthinkable.

Within a coherent system of thought, this volume addresses the most fundamental issues of our time, such as the first-strike advantage, arms-control agreements, the Star Wars program, the "nuclear winter" hypothesis, and nuclear conflict itself. The book is packed with valuable factual information, including notes, diagrams, illustrations, and appendices.

Economist A.J.C. Edwards is a graduate of Oxford University and Harvard University. Formerly affiliated with the British Royal College of Defence, he currently serves as Assistant Secretary in Her Majesty's Treasury.