Almost all—if not all— nuclear-armed states have developed plans and capabilities for a range of nuclear response options —to include limited nuclear strikes—in the hope of managing and terminating a nuclear crisis short of all out nuclear war. Can a nuclear war be limited in scope or is escalation inevitable once the first salvo is launched? What limits or thresholds might exist and be understood by the belligerents? Would new nuclear capabilities be useful in managing escalation? What effects would significant reductions in arsenal sizes have? Is preparing for limited nuclear strikes a sensible precaution to ensure decision-makers have credible options in a range of scenarios or does it breed false confidence in the controllability of escalation?
Jessica Cox, Director of the Nuclear Policy Directorate, NATO International Staff