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Prying the Bond that Ties; Breaking Variations in Nuclear Capabilities from Changes in Strategic Stability

Ruscoe, Raymond (2020) Prying the Bond that Ties; Breaking Variations in Nuclear Capabilities from Changes in Strategic Stability. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Do variations in state nuclear capabilities drive changes in strategic stability? The importance of strategic stability’s causal relationship with nuclear capabilities is impossible to overstate, given the bulk of Cold War scholarship. Viewed broadly, strategic stability is the degree of mutual deterrence from war between potential adversaries. Since the close of World War II, tomes of research from scholars and practitioners alike have frequently coupled variations in nuclear capabilities with changes in strategic stability, treating the two conditions as if they existed in a mutually dependent relationship. The results of the present research show that this unconditional causal relationship does not exist. To determine the existence of the tight coupling of nuclear capabilities with strategic stability that scholarship has suggested, the present research examines case studies in which strategic stability changed in a dyadic state system where both sides had nuclear capabilities. Early in the Cold War, any changes in nuclear capabilities should have driven changes in strategic stability as the United States and Soviet Union fought to develop and field ever larger atomic arsenals. Throughout the 1950s and for most of the 1960s, the United States constructed atomic dominance, which afforded the government an opportunity to obtain strategic stability by denying the Soviet Union the ability to strike back if hit first. However, the Soviet Union built more significant nuclear capabilities and, in the late 1960s, American dominance waned. This enabled each side to achieve second-strike capabilities, breaking the capability–stability causal relationship. The case studies reported as part of this research detail events that occurred between 1957 and 1967, centered on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, a time when the causal relationship between nuclear capabilities and strategic stability should have been at its strongest. Viewed from the perspective of escalation theory, changes in strategic stability represent both positive and negative adjustments in dyadic state relations relative to dyadic state war. The results of this research apply to all existing nuclear dyads, making early Cold War dyadic state relationships relevant in the here and now. Advancing my claim further, any time that technological innovations of war have the potential to cause dyadic state strategic instability, this research shows that the causal factors of dyadic states driving toward and away from war will remain varied and not reliant on any singular weapon or capability. Through the examination of these cases, I present the argument that nuclear capabilities are sometimes sufficient to cause changes in strategic stability, but are not a necessary component.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Ruscoe, Raymondrmr77@pitt.edurmr770000-0002-0291-1786
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGrauer,
Committee MemberWilliams,
Committee MemberPoznansky,
Committee MemberMorgan,
Date: 3 June 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 October 2019
Approval Date: 3 June 2020
Submission Date: 3 April 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 231
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Graduate School of Public and International Affairs > Public and International Affairs
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Deterrence, escalation, Soviet, nuclear, strategic, stability
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2020 14:33
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2020 14:33


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