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Brinksmanship’s Weird Logic Is Back

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U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles threatened to launch atomic bombs on China in March 1955 if the government kept bombing the islands of Quemoy and Matsu, which were seized by Nationalist Chinese forces. Although the Brinksmanship issue was finally handled via diplomacy, Dulles boasted of his skills at nuclear blackmail in a gushy piece published in Life magazine the following January.

Dulles stated nonchalantly, “Some claim we were brought to the brink of war.” We were pushed to the brink of war, of course. The required art is the capacity to approach conflict without engaging in it.That is how the term “brinksmanship” got its start. Since Dulles’ nuclear saber-rattling, which was highly condemned at the time, no top leader of a nuclear country has indulged in it – that is, until Vladimir Putin did so this week.

In response to a threat, the Russian president said, “We will without a doubt use all weapon systems at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.” the territorial integrity of our nation. This isn’t a bluff, either. Naturally, Ukrainian soldiers are protecting their own area and not Russia’s, but when Russia legally annexes what is currently Ukrainian territory, any attempt to reclaim it will run afoul of Putin.

Leaders’ refusal to use nuclear blackmail, under the most extreme circumstances, is evidence of its absurdity. When Israel’s very existence appeared to be in danger during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan suggested preparing the country’s nuclear forces for a “demonstration” blast.

However, the idea was rejected by the country’s war cabinet, according to a thorough investigation into the incident. Before both countries got nuclear weapons, India and Pakistan foughother. Nuclear theorists use both of these instances of restraint as proof that, overall, nuclear weapons are more stabilising than destabilising due to the possibility of “mutual assured destruction.

” Some have even argued that we should support the spread of nuclear weapons, such as Kenneth Waltz in his 1981 essay “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better.”t three wars, but none has ever publicly threatened to use them against the other.

Concept of brinksmanship

However, all of this sophisticated theory and even the concept of brinksmanship itself strike me as absurd, in part because it treats nuclear posturing like a game of chess. Thomas Schelling recognised that even the most rational government is “necessarily an imperfect decision system” and that nuclear gamesmanship is thus permeated with unknown and uncontrolled aspects in The Strategy of Conflict, a classic 1960 book that applied game theory to conflict.

In a sharp refutation of Dulles’ assertion of mastery, Schelling argued that “the verge is a curving slope that one can stand on with some danger of falling, the slope getting steeper and the risk of slipping rising as one approaches closer the abyss.”


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