Schelling on Who Will Have the Bomb?

Schelling on Who Will Have the Bomb?

“The decisive inhibitions, then, will always be those on the actual use of nuclear weapons. By far the worst consequences of their possession would be the use of them. Possession itself can be mischievous; and the stronger the perceived limitations on the usefulness of nuclear weapons, the stronger will be the considerations militating against acquisition.

There is a stronger way to phrase this. A government that would use nuclear weapons if it had them, and could get them, would get them. No inhibition on mere possession could survive a decision to use them. […]

In these conditions—and we are probably talking about the 1990s—possessing or not possessing some nuclear weapons, or having it known or not known that a country possesses some nuclear weapons, will not decisively differentiate countries as it may have done in the past. The difference will seem greatest when it doesn’t matter much. […]

The organizations most likely to engage in nuclear terrorism will be national governments. Passive terrorism on a grand scale we call “deterrence.” When it is directed at us, rather than at our enemies, we call it “blackmail.” […]

Some of the more dramatic acts of terrorism that we have read about in recent years have been initiated by individuals or small groups that had more passion than perseverance, more interest in getting attention than in getting results. They did not appear to be well-articulated pieces of a grand strategy in furtherance of a major objective. Most of them do not seem to have involved careful planning by large numbers of thoughtful people. But an organization that had the brains and the money and the teamwork and the discipline to bring off the successful construction of a nuclear bomb would have plenty of time and plenty of reason to think carefully about how to use this potential influence, this dreadful threat that may be as diplomatically unwieldy as it is enormous.”

— Thomas Schelling (1984), “Who Will Have the Bomb?” in Choice and Consequence.

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