Deterrence and trust building amongst nuclear rivals

Jason Douglas (Cork)




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the role that nuclear deterrence might play in fostering trust between nuclear rivals. Using examples from the historical record, this paper seeks to argue that deterrence is arguably the best relationship from which to generate and nurture trust. Trust cannot be imposed, but rather must develop along a continuum of stages. Because war becomes potentially catastrophic in the shadow of nuclear weapons, states are loath to consider it as a tool of statecraft. Thus, deterrence-based trust sees both sides poised to strike the other should either contravene the warnings/threats of the other. Confronted with such a situation, both sides learn about the others’ behaviour, the relationship assumes a familiarity, often sufficiently so to predict the other sides’ actions with a degree of confidence. Trust can then be built on empathy, dialogue and shared interests. From this stage, it is hoped that a lasting peace can be developed. The alternative is in neither party’s interests. Thus although deterrence is not the peace that all states aspire to, it is the peace to achieve peace given the correct circumstances. Quite apart from ‘leaps of faith’ between nuclear rivals, this paper will advocate a more cautious approach to the effective management of inter-state relations which may inform policy both now and in the future

Mr. Jason Douglas

Jason is a second year PhD student in the School of History in UCC. His PhD thesis is on the evolution of US nuclear deterrence strategies after the Cold War and he is the recipient of the Irish Research Council’s postgraduate scholarship. His research interests include nuclear proliferation, nuclear deterrence, international relations theory and U.S. foreign policy, particularly Sino-U.S. relations and associated strategic issues. He has written an article on the role of U.S. missile defences and their impact upon China’s strategic thinking which will be published in the forthcoming issue of Irish Studies in International Affairs.