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The Owls' Agenda for Avoiding Nuclear War

Journal Article, Washington Quarterly

Summer 1986

Authors: Albert Carnesale, Member of the Board, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor


The debate over national security and arms control has focused primarily on weapons: more or fewer weapons, different kinds of weapons. During the 1984 presidential campaign, for example, President Ronald Reagan defended his administration's military buildup, the biggest in peacetime. Former Vice President Walter Mondale advocated a freeze on deploying new weapons. Numbers and types of arms have preoccupied governments and specialists on both the right and the left. This definition of the problem is far too narrow. Suppose the United States completed the current strategic buildup, or that super-power arsenals were cut in half. In both cases the United States and the Soviet Union would retain thousands of strategic nuclear warheads. Each would still be able to attack or retaliate and destroy the other society. For the foreseeable future, then, we must focus on the fundamental question: What practical steps can the United States take to avoid a major nuclear war with the Soviet Union? This book begins with a simple--some will say simplistic--proposition: the primary objective of the United States in either building up or building down nuclear arms should be to protect and defend U.S. values and institutions by avoiding nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The first question to be asked about a proposed increase or reduction in nuclear arms is how it would affect the probability of such a nuclear war. An even more important responsibility is to look beyond numbers and types of nuclear armaments and ask what else affects the probability of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Recent discussion has paid too little attention to this critical question.


For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at 617-495-1400.

For Academic Citation:

Allison, Graham and Albert Carnesale and Joseph S. Nye, Jr. "The Owls' Agenda for Avoiding Nuclear War." Washington Quarterly (Summer 1986).

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