The Uses and Limitations of Nuclear Deterrence In Asia


The U.S. bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II ushered in a new era with the introduction of nuclear weapons into Asia’s military equation. The escalation of the Vietnam War in 1964 following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, as well as communist China’s involvement in in both Korean and Vietnam conflicts, had raised the stakes for nuclear confrontation in the region. With the U.S.’s recent pivot in military focus from the Middle East towards Asia in response to a hostile nuclear North Korea, and an ascendant  China whose growing confidence and military assertiveness in various territorial disputes towards its neighbors such as Japan and the Philippines, the potential for nuclear conflict is salient given U.S. commitment to the defense of its allies in the region.

This 1964 report by Charles Wolf, Jr. explores the efficacies and limitations of the use of nuclear weapons as a credible deterrent in current and theoretical military confrontations within Asia during the 1964 time period by analyzing the military and political costs of its use, as well as examining and comparing scenarios of nuclear weapons as a deterrent in both an Asian and European context.

Wolf writes:
“Illustrations of the types of situations in which deterrence is or is not likely to function effectively are useful in clarifying both its uses and limitations. However, we should avoid accepting an arbitrary distinction between what is likely to be below and what is likely to be above the provocation threshold.” [page 10]

This report was released to the Nautilus Institute under the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Download (PDF, 620KB)