Strategic "defensivism" and post-reset blues: US-Russian nuclear arms reductions, missile defenses and minimum deterrence

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US nuclear deterrence and arms control policy may be moving, by design and by inadvertence, toward a posture of strategic "defensivism". Strategic "defensivism" emphasizes the overlapping and reinforcing impact of: (1) reductions in US, Russian and possibly other strategic nuclear forces, possibly down to the level of "minimum deterrence," (2) deployment of improved strategic and/or theater antimissile defenses for the US, NATO allies and other partners; and (3) additional reliance on conventional military forces for some missions hitherto preferentially assigned to nuclear weapons. This article deals with the first two of these aspects only: the interaction between missile defenses and offensive force reductions in US-Russian strategy and policy. The findings are that stable deterrence as between the USA and Russia is possible at lower than New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty levels, but reductions below 1000 deployed long-range weapons for each state, toward a true minimum deterrent posture, will require multilateral as opposed to bilateral coordination of arms limitations. Missile defenses might provide some denial capability against light attacks by states with small arsenals, but they still fall short of meaningful damage limitation as between powers capable of massive nuclear strikes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-43
Number of pages15
JournalDefense and Security Analysis
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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