Nuclear weapons and anticipatory attacks: Implications for Russia and the United States

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Anticipatory attacks come in two forms. Preemptive attacks are first strikes based on the assumption that the opponent has already set an attack in motion or is about to, and the purpose of the preemption is to mitigate or neutralize the effect of the enemy’s move. Preventive wars, on the other hand, are undertaken to preclude a threatening power from increasing its capabilities relative to ours, assuming that smaller differences in power will lead the challenger to become more risk acceptant. With respect to nuclear weapons, deterrence is intended to preclude both preemptive and preventive attacks, although the former is judged to be more likely than the latter. Leaders authorizing a nuclear preemption would need to have high confidence about the intentions as well as the capabilities of the other state, and the requirements for fine-grained intelligence would be considerable, prior to any actual launch of delivery systems. Seeing into the other side’s world view, regardless of its apparent rationality or lack thereof, would also be prudent before undertaking a decision of such magnitude.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-71
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Slavic Military Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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