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Deterrence and Stability for the Korean Peninsula


Most trends on the Korean Peninsula favor South Korea, but North Korea’s nuclear program is a great concern, as is the possibility that the North will become desperate at some point because of negative trends. Although unlikely, war—even limited nuclear war—is imaginable in the years ahead, perhaps with winners and losers. This poses challenges for strategic planning. RAND and KIDA have been conducting a collaborative research addressing this issue and this paper is the output of the first year’s research.

The first section of this paper reviews and extends strategic theory and lessons from the Cold War by drawing on classic papers and more recent literature, the principal author’s experiences with U.S. strategic planning, recently declassified materials, history, and psychological research. This is followed by a section that outlines the challenges for deterrence salient to Korea today, particularly ways in which deterrence could fail, using historical cases. The final section discusses implications for Korea, highlighting the need to think through how South Korea should consider its new military capabilities and the need to strengthen U.S. extended deterrence. Complacency regarding both matters would be dangerous. Deterrence could fail for such reasons as misperceptions, misunderstanding the adversary, other aspects of limited rationality, and accidents. Further, the challenges for extended deterrence are much greater than earlier, as are those in achieving balance in planning.

Keywords: deterrence, escalation, crisis stability, strategic stability, nuclear war, Korean Peninsula.

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In looking at the Korean Peninsula today it is clear that most trends favor South Korea, but that North Korea’s nuclear program is a great concern. Furthermore, the negative trends for North Korea and the Kim regime are a new kind of danger signal for the South because the North could at some point become more desperate. Although war remains unlikely, it—even a limited nuclear war—is imaginable in the years ahead.1 Such a war might plausibly have a winner and a loser. National survival might be possible. In that regard, the situation is more like the early Cold War than the later years when the superpowers had tens of thousands of weapons and both sides’ leaders were determined to avoid even getting close to nuclear war.

For the present setting, simple versions of deterrence theory are not reliable. A broader approach is necessary that recognizes how difficult deterrence can be in crises, and that includes preparing for the possibility that deterrence could fail. Major efforts are needed to maintain and strengthen U.S. extended deterrence for Korea because the challenges are now far more difficult than earlier. Such deterrence should not be taken for granted and complacency would be dangerous.2 If it were even possible to manage a crisis or a limited war, it might be difficult for reasons that include misper-ceptions, mis-assessment, misunderstanding the adversary in particular, other aspects of limited rationality, and accidents. Efforts to understand these matters should be given high priority. RAND and KIDA have been conducting a collaborative research addressing this issue, and this paper is the output of the first year’s research.

The first section reviews theory, but updates it to take a broader view of strategy and to deal with limited rationality and irrationality. This is followed by a section that discusses ways in which deterrence can fail, using historical cases to stimulate thought on the issue. The final section discusses implications of the previous sections for the Korean Peninsula.

Theory Related to Deterrence and Stability

Deterrence within a Broader Framework of Objectives

Shortly after World War II, Bernard Brodie recognized that nuclear war was unlike historical wars—even the horrific WWI and WWII.3 For the United States and Western Europe, deterrence became the primary concept in both official and scholarly thinking. Unfortunately, deterrence theory is more complicated than suggested by Brodie’s admonition, and national security planning is about more than just deterrence. Figure 1 is a strategic framework for nations that wish to preserve or peacefully improve upon the status quo. It recognizes multiple objectives. Deterrence of adversaries and assurance of allies are seen as intermediate objectives contributing to only some of the higher-level objectives.

Generalized Strategic Stability is an evolving satisfactory balance of power with the near absence of aggression, coercion, provocations, proliferation, or arms competition. It can include such healthy changes as trade agreements and peaceful balance-of-power changes, as is occurring with China’s ascent.4 This objective is different from Cold War “strategic stability.”5 Crisis Stability or Crisis Dominance is complicated. A nation would prefer to have a credible escalatory option as a trump card, i.e. to have escalation dominance. Second best is if none of the nations in crisis are motivated to take military action or to escalate subsequently. Unfortunately, the side that moves first usually has a significant initial military advantage, whether in conventional or nuclear war, if it can achieve operational surprise.6 This applies also to moves undertaken below the threshold of war (e.g., Russian actions in Crimea or DPRK provocations).7 Historically, leaders have sometimes convinced themselves that a quick and relatively painless victory was possible with operational surprise.8 Ability to Act and Defend recognizes that a country may want the ability to intervene militarily to protect its interests or to compel others and—if deterrence fails—to defend and limit damage to its own homeland and to defeat the adversary.9

Favorable Strategic Environment include such goals as discouraging nuclear and ballistic-missile proliferation and promoting a good international economic environment. Domestic Political Stability is often on the minds of leaders. When strategic issues are focal points in politics, they can cause serious disruptions. Examples include: (1) Candidate John F. Kennedy claiming in 1960 that the Eisenhower administration had permitted a missile gap to develop; and (2) candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980 claiming that the United States faced a window of vulnerability to a Soviet first strike. Both claims proved bogus. In recent years, U.S. Presidential candidates have competed rhetorically on who is tougher with respect to Iran, Syria, the Islamic State (ISIS), and Russia. Korea has had similar internal political debates about how to deal with North Korea.

Strategic Competitiveness applies when a nation has a major adversary, as does South Korea. The objective is to be a strong competitor, which includes assuring the reality and perception of relative power and ability to thwart the adversary. The concept was introduced by Andrew Marshall in the early 1960s.10 He argued that the essential Cold-War reality was open-ended competition between the United States and Soviet Union. Total war was probably unlikely, arms control and other tension-reduction measures might be useful, and crisis stability might be something to worry about, but fierce competition was the core reality. Strategic competitiveness has been important but controversial in U.S. strategic thinking.11 One manifestation is an element of U.S. planning that refers to a cost-imposing strategy with respect to China.12

Significantly, the objectives of Figure 1 are often in tension as indicated in Figure 2. The old Roman adage, “The one who wishes for peace must prepare for war,” implies that a nation should create capabilities for war—including damage-limiting capabilities to reduce losses in the homeland by a combination of attacking the adversary’s offensive forces, active defenses, and civil defense. Increasing these should increase deterrence directly, and also indirectly by raising the credibility of the will to fight. Increasing these should improve a nation’s competitive position strategically. The adversary, however, may infer a threat and take analogous measures of its own, decreasing arms-race stability as indicated by a negative sign. Crisis stability would also be reduced if military advantage exists for the side escalating first. Passionate Cold War arguments arose because the ability to defend or defeat—seen by some as self-evidently important—was seen by others as counter to the concept of mutual superpower stability based on mutual assured destruction. Such tensions continue.13

Figure 1.

Multiple Strategic Objectives for a Stability-Seeking Nation

Source: Adapted from National Research Council, 2014 and earlier RAND works.

When Different Frameworks Are Appropriate

Figure 1 is for a country seeking strategic stability. It does not apply to a country intent on expansion, preventive war, or changing the balance markedly (i.e., pertaining to Hitler’s Germany, Russia when contemplating activities in Crimea, Ukraine, or the Baltic states; or China as she creates artificial islands in the South China Sea). It is not a good fit for North Korea, whose leaders are probably most concerned about maintaining their personal power.

To avoid intellectual sanctimony when using Figure 1, we should also recognize complications and differences of perception. When invading Iraq in 2003, the United States had the objective of longer-term stability: it saw Saddam Hussein as a continuing source of trouble in the Middle East and some leaders saw him as a possible future source of mass-destruction weapons for terrorists. Many other countries, however, saw the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as an illegitimate and destabilizing overthrow of a regional status quo. More pointedly, North Korea may believe that the United States and South Korea wish to invade North Korea, overthrow its government, and bring about forced unification.

Another complication is that nations often believe that their covert actions are not covered by the same rules. Today this is true of President Putin (Crimea and Ukraine) and Iran (Hezbollah activities). Historically, the United States used covert action to help overthrow the elected Iranian government in 195314 and to influence events in Latin American countries. We need to acknowledge such complications if we are to reason objectively and understand the adversary.

Tightening and Extending the Concept of Deterrence

Figure 3, adapted from a recent report of the National Research Council,15 makes useful distinctions that avoid the common problem of using “deter” to mean many different things. In this depiction, deterrence is merely one instrument in the set of influences indicated by the words along the middle: induce, compel, reassure, deny, point out and sensitize, deter (threaten to punish), and attack now to enhance or reestablish deterrence. Inducements are positive and may include compromise, cooperation, and reward. The other influences are negative or neutral (as with some forms of persuasion).16

Cumulative deterrence is a less familiar concept discussed by Israeli strategists who argue that conflict is necessary from time to time to remind adversaries why they should be deterred. The argument for South Korea responding strongly to a next DPRK provocation can be described in these terms. See National Research Council (2014) for more details.

Figure 3 is generic and assumes rational actors and a straightforward process of affecting the adversary’s “decision calculus.” We need to go farther, recognizing (1) limited rationality in which people believe or perceive factual matters erroneously, or make common reasoning errors such as those due to cognitive biases or misunderstanding the adversary’s intentions and reasoning; and (2) non-rational behavior, whether due to the key decision-makers personally or to the nature of their processes and organization.

Figure 3.

Deterrence as One Instrument in a Quiver of Influences

Decisions may be faulty even with rational leaders and decision processes.17 The decision by President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003 had profound negative consequences, but the decision-makers thought that they had acted wisely. Today, even most of those contributing to the decision agree that the United States did not adequately consider some of the important risks involved, misperceived realities in Iraq, believed erroneous intelligence estimates about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and failed to plan adequately for both military execution and a quick and effective return to Iraqi control.18

One step in extending deterrence theory is understanding the rationality of the adversary, something long recognized as important, but difficult.19 The problems include: (1) the adversary not having clear objectives, (2) the adversary not having a stable utility function; and (3) our inability to infer the adversary’s values.

Policymakers often defer deciding on objectives, expecting to learn from events and not wanting to tip their hand.20 Also, many policy challenges involve “wicked problems” with no a priori solutions. People work at the problems until—as the result of social interactions, events, and weariness—acceptable solutions “emerge.”21 So also with wars: final objectives may bear little relationship to initial objectives. The instability of utility functions is common but often unrecognized.22 All of us do things that, in retrospect, were not in our best interests. Our errors reflect human cognitive biases, psychiatry, or, even brain chemistry and evolutionary biology.23 Emotions matter. The difficulty of inferring adversary thinking is illustrated by the case of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Only afterward was it recognized that he had put his nuclear program on hold but kept that fact secret to influence the United States, Iran, and potential domestic rivals.24 Many such examples exist.25

Understanding the adversary, then, is easier said than done. Consider three examples: (1) We see the adversary preparing for war, but is he doing so because he believes that he can win a nuclear war, or is he just blustering? Or is he frightened and attempting to deter us? (2) Does the adversary believe in the apocalypse, i.e., the “End of Days,” or some heavenly rewards (Islamic terrorists)? or, more relevant to Korea, a grand legacy in history?26 (3) Does the adversary have grandiose notions of entitlement or believe himself to be God-like (a potential problem with members of the Kim dynasty?). Might he prefer to die in a glorious burst of revengeful action rather than to survive and surrender?27

Decisions can be decidedly non-rational because of: (1) Organizational consequences (e.g., when decisions emerge without a coherent structure or process); (2) psychiatric problems; or (3) health or exhaustion problems. A well-known example of (1) was President John F. Kennedy’s decision to proceed with the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. This illustrated Group Think,28 a special instance of organizational problems. Group-Think errors are more likely if the circle of advisors is sycophantic, a concern when thinking about North Korea. Examples of mental and physical problems are given in the next section.

What History Tells Us about Reality

Cold-War U.S.-Soviet Direct Deterrence

It is sometimes assumed that a situation of mutual assured deterrence is natural and desirable but that is not the case. The United States enjoyed one-sided primacy from 1945 into the early 1960s). It could threaten assured destruction if the Soviet Union transgressed. The threat was credible because only the United States had the ability to deliver nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union was intimidated and may have limited its ambitions. It pulled forces out of Iran in 1946 and did not re-enter even when the faction it supported was crushed, apparently due to a nuclear ultimatum from President Truman.29 The Soviets also backed down in the 1948 Berlin crisis. The Soviets were very worried about security and saw themselves encircled by a hostile power with nuclear weapons. Theirs was a history of having been invaded multiple times over the centuries. Throughout the Cold War, the intent of Soviet nuclear planning was deterring or defending against strategic attack.30

When the Soviet Union developed its own nuclear weapons, the situation changed as anticipated in a 1958 paper by Albert Wohlstetter,31 who warned that assuring retaliation would be very difficult in the 1960s, requiring major efforts and expenditures for both offensive and defensive systems, including civil defense. The Soviets concluded similarly, creating a “balance of terror.”

The balance of terror was never liked by strategists for reasons discussed by Fred Iklé and others.32 Was a balance based on a mutual suicide pact actually stable and credible? Was it tolerable, morally or otherwise? Many strategists argued that military force should be applied only against military forces rather than to slaughter innocents. They argued that both active and civil defenses were obviously both good and important. Such strategists believed in counterforce and counter military strategies. The arguments were particularly persuasive when the Soviet Union had zero, tens, or even hundreds of nuclear weapons, but not tens of thousands. Is Korea today more like the early Cold War than the later years?

Early in the Kennedy administration a group of RAND analysts led by William Kaufmann convinced Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to emphasize counter-force rather than attacking urban-industrial complexes. He did so and also sought to build conventional power in Europe.33 He soon came to realize, however, that the European allies were not willing to pay for the necessary conventional forces and that a nuclear counterforce strategy was no longer feasible: ballistic-missile defenses were not up to the task technically and, even if they had been, they could be overwhelmed by numbers. Building missiles was less expensive than building defenses. Another concern for counterforce theory was that the Soviets would be deploying hard-to-find mobile ICBMs. As for civil defense, officials in a series of administrations saw its virtues but neither the public or Congress would support the huge programs that would have been necessary. Some also believed that civil defenses would be provocative, causing the Soviet Union to fear a first strike. Thus, U.S. nuclear forces focused on assured second-strike retaliation and providing a nuclear umbrella as insurance to back up inadequate conventional defenses in Europe. That said, the United States chose to have forces with substantial counterforce and counter military capability across all administrations.

By the mid-1970s a young, strategic-nuclear analyst (such as the senior author), working on studies for the DoD and National Security Council, would consider a wide variety of scenarios (Soviet Union goes first, United States goes first, both sides are on alert, one side is on alert, neither side is on alert, etc.). The emphasis by U.S. policymakers, however, was entirely about (1) assuring assured retaliation in worst cases; (2) maintaining unquestioned strategic equivalence or better; and (3) having limited escalatory nuclear options to enhance deterrence in Europe. Disarming first strikes were no longer feasible.34

In the course of the 1970s under three Presidents (Nixon, Ford, and Carter) the United States studied deterrence issues intensively because of concern that the Soviet Union was pursuing a war-fighting/war-winning strategy.35 This definitely was the case with respect to the Soviet military.36

The deeper issue, then, was whom to deter? Was the challenge to deter Soviet leaders who thought about realities in the same way as American leaders or possible future Soviet leaders who might embrace the thinking so evident in Soviet military doctrine?

The inexorable conclusion (with analogies for Korea) was that the U.S. force posture must deter even the most warlike of the conceivable leaders. The result was the countervailing strategy. This called for the United States to maintain significant counterforce capability, but with emphasis on second-strike counterforce with accurate long-range cruise missiles launched from bombers and submarines. A second strike with these systems could greatly reduce or eliminate any military counterforce advantage that the Soviets might have after a first strike, while not posing a first-strike threat of their own. The strategy also called for targeting the Soviet leadership to preclude recovery and control.

The countervailing strategy sought to thread needles: at once convincing the most bellicose Soviet leaders that they simply could not find a path to military victory, while simultaneously eschewing any American theory of victory that would undercut general deterrence and embolden political mischief during campaigns. Also, to note U.S. capability for various types of limited war, such as first nuclear use in Europe while—simultaneously—also conveying a deep sense of skepticism that nuclear war could be contained once started.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan was determined to correct the military imbalance that he thought had been created in the 1970s. He increased defense spending substantially and also concluded that a defensive posture was essential. This generated the “Star Wars” program of the 1980s.37 Reagan’s position reflected advice by those who believed that the best way to deter was to have the ability to fight a war effectively if necessary—even though any victory might be Pyrrhic.38 After all, they argued, the Soviet military was clearly preparing to fight and win a nuclear war. Even if that was irrational, it was those Soviet leaders that had to be deterred.

Enthusiasm for strategic-defense initiative had waned by the 1990s. Today, much as in the early 1980s, the countervailing strategy remains, in effect, at the heart of nuclear deterrence. Disagreements, however, endured39 and situations have changed. Today, a combination of counterforce and ballistic missile defense is economically and perhaps technically feasible when dealing with lesser powers such as North Korea. The word “perhaps” applies because what is feasible depends on the technological, tactical, and industrial sophistication of the adversary.

Cold-War Extended Deterrence

Deterrence was immeasurably more difficult in the context of allies. The fundamental issues were discussed flamboyantly by Herman Kahn in the 1950s.40 Three key problems were foreseen: (1) The threat of an all-or-nothing massive nuclear attack was not credible in deterring such limited aggression as a Soviet takeover of Berlin or a limited invasion of Western Europe. (2) The threat became clearly non-credible once the Soviet Union possessed the capability for nuclear strikes against the United States. (3) Even if nuclear war began, it might begin at a low level: perhaps with a demonstration shot, perhaps with a few attacks on military bases that killed few people, or even with localized tactical use of nuclear weapons against maneuver forces. It might be geographically narrow. What then? From the 1950s onward, two main schools of thought existed: One held that nuclear deterrence was effective only for deterring nuclear attack. Thus, NATO should build up its conventional defense capabilities. Doing so was feasible if NATO did not over-threat itself by inflating Soviet capabilities.

A second school of thought held that it was politically not in the cards for Europe to build up its conventional forces substantially. Europeans wanted to avoid any big war, not just nuclear war, because the two conventional world wars that they had suffered in the 20th century were catastrophic. Building up conventional forces might increase the probability of an old-fashioned but terrible conventional war. The reliability of conventional defenses was also questionable because Western Europe was committed to a forward defense that forewent the benefit of having space in which to withdraw, recover, and maneuver. Also, Soviet conventional forces—although greatly exaggerated in the 1950s, were being modernized and would no longer be hollow. This school of thought believed that NATO should continue to rely on nuclear deterrence. However, it would need to improve the credibility of the idea that war, even limited nuclear war, would become general nuclear war. This meant managing the perception of risk.

According to Kennedy’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, a related memorandum to President Kennedy by Thomas Schelling made a deep impression:

. . . the role of nuclears in Europe should not be to win a grand nuclear campaign, but to pose a higher level of risk to the enemy. The important thing in limited nuclear war is to impress the Soviet leadership with the risk of general war—a war that may occur whether we or they intend it or not. . . . We should plan for a war of nerve, of demonstration, and of bargaining, not of tactical target destruction.

Merely giving speeches and assurances to Western Europe would not necessarily be convincing. Would the United States really initiate general nuclear war to protect Europe if it meant that the United States would suffer nuclear attack? The Europeans and NATO dealt with this profound issue in four ways: (1) Great Britain and France developed independent nuclear deterrent forces. (2) NATO developed and exercised a doctrine that intermingled conventional, theater-nuclear, and intercontinental nuclear forces—to include multi-national dual-capable nuclear weapons—which made escalation almost natural and therefore credible. (3) The United States led the effort to improve war-fighting capability of NATO conventional forces. (4) As part of the intermingling, NATO developed limited nuclear options that could be used to incentivize ending war, i.e., options to reestablish deterrence if conventional defense was failing.

To armchair critics, this strategy was easy to criticize. American observers sometimes scoffed at the small British and French deterrents. As for the limited nuclear options and intermingling, the critics could argue that peacetime was one thing, but in time of crisis or conflict, these matters would fall to the side.

To others, the NATO strategy was more credible. Armies fight as they have been trained to fight; doctrine is not just some optional rulebook, but a recipe that is learned, practiced, and expected to apply. Mindsets, including such moral imperatives as obligation to allies and comrades, are developed consistent with doctrine.41 In short, if conventional war began in Europe, NATO would fight in accordance with that doctrine in which case escalation, even to general nuclear war, might well occur.

To better appreciate the second view, consider the mirror image: the way that the United States and Western European nations interpreted Soviet war preparations—i.e., Soviet doctrine, training, capability, and exercising. The credibility given to Soviet preparations ranged from high to almost paranoid.

How Deterrence Can Fail

It is usually assumed that deterrence on the Korean Peninsula is strong despite the DPRK’s provocations and blustering. The assumption is probably correct, but this section collects evidence that should give us pause.

Origins of War and Crisis

World War I was long depicted as an accidental war.42 We now know that this was poor history and that the war was the result of disastrous decision-making. The nations so strongly feared future war as to prefer war sooner rather than later.”43 Accidental war is nonetheless possible and reasons for concern can be: (1) poor communications; (2) the ability to misunderstand messages; (3) domestic conflicts; (4) lack of control over militaries; and (5) circumstances where quick offensive action might produce quick decisive outcomes.44 Many of these apply to the Korean Peninsula.

Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor initiated a war that ended with atomic weapons and Japan’s complete defeat. Japan initiated war despite knowing that it would almost surely lose if the war continued for a long period. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto warned that a war with so little chance of success should not be fought.45 Prime Minister Tojo Hideki was also sensitively aware of the problems. Still, when hearing the results of a pessimistic human war game, he remarked “Actual wars do not go as you fellows imagine. We did not go to war with Russia thinking that we would win, but we did win.”46 The Japanese decision was strongly affected by considerations such as (1) avoiding shame (the United States was demanding Japan’s withdrawal from China and Indonesia); (2) a sense of persecution and wounded pride in that the Western powers were seen as preventing Japan’s proper ascent to first-class power status in Asia, and as seeing the Japanese as a second-class race (something Hitler had said);47 (3) an apparent belief in the “Yamato spirit,” an alleged inborn Japanese trait of being unique, resilient, disciplined, and hard-working;48 and (4) a willingness to gamble based in part by Japan’s success in the 1904–1905 war with Russia. The Japanese decision was also affected; (5) “Hope” that a badly bruised United States would forego a long war and sue for peace; (6) rationalization of action as defensive, forced by the Western powers; and (7) seeing preventive war as necessary: While facing an emerging petroleum supply crisis caused by the U.S. embargo, the Japanese military could see the beginning of a U.S. military build-up in the Philippines and movement of its battle fleet from the U.S. west coast to Pearl Harbor. U.S. forces could menace the right flank of any Japanese campaign to seize the resource-rich Indonesia and Malaysia.

Twenty years later when Soviet missiles were detected in Cuba, President John Kennedy was under great political pressure to be perceived as tough and decisive. In imposing the naval blockade of Cuba, Kennedy was raising the stakes dramatically, but he believed that without such dramatic action he would have been impeached.49

Despite the pressures and personal insecurities (Kennedy had seemed weak after meeting with Khrushchev), Kennedy behaved in ways usually described as quintes-sentially rational-analytic. Neither he nor Khrushchev fell victim to beliefs that war was inevitable.50 The world avoided nuclear war because the two leaders recognized the other as a politician like himself and understood that the other cared deeply about his country. They cared who won the crisis, but cared more about avoiding catastrophe. Had the advice of Kennedy’s more hawkish experts been followed, nuclear war might well have occurred. Had the United States invaded Cuba, the Soviet commander was authorized to use nuclear weapons for defense. Escalation would have been likely.51

Another lesson should be to doubt those who characterize adversaries as purely aggressive and sinister. In 1962 Soviet actions were motivated in large part by fears, what they saw as proper reactions to American aggressive acts (e.g., Jupiter missiles in Turkey), and concerns about the possibility of an American invasion of Cuba (something that the United States had indeed studied).

A fitting end to this passage is McNamara’s observation that the very concept of crisis management was largely a myth and that “it was luck that prevented nuclear war.”52 That suggests that the focus of attention should be more on general deterrence than immediate deterrence.

Yet another twenty years later, between 1981 and 1983, Soviet leadership became concerned that the United States was planning a surprise nuclear first strike.53 The Soviets launched Operation RYaN, a worldwide effort to watch for warning signals of such an attack. Concerns were especially high during a 1983 NATO exercise, Able Archer, which took NATO forces through high-spectrum nuclear warfare. Although Soviet concerns were downplayed shortly thereafter, a later study reversed the conclusion. Robert Gates later said “They [the Soviet leaders] may not have believed a NATO attack was imminent in November 1983, but they did seem to believe that the situation was very dangerous. And U.S. intelligence had failed to grasp the true extent of their anxiety. A reexamination of the whole episode by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in 1990 concluded that the intelligence community’s confidence that this all had been Soviet posturing for political effect was misplaced”54 in a memoir.

The Able Archer exercise also affected U.S. thinking. In its high-level war games, both sides’ forces followed doctrine, escalated, and found catastrophe. Policymakers were aghast, but why? The forces had done what they had been trained and indoctrinated to do. According to Paul Bracken, an on-scene observer, the results had a profound effect on the Reagan administration’s thinking.55 Previous enthusiasms for war fighting preparation and provocative demonstration of such preparations waned rapidly. U.S. officials also came to understand the dangerous worries engendered in Soviet leaders by such exercises. With chagrin, President Reagan came to believe that the Soviets were actually afraid of the United States:

Three years had taught me something. . . . Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans . . . many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But . . . I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike....56

Some might argue that the above examples are not all relevant to the Korean Peninsula because the DPRK is weak. Often, however, the weak attack the strong even though the weak knows itself to be weak. More generally, countries sometimes behave in ways that appear “crazy” to others.57 One study of such matters looked at Colombia’s effort to conquer newly independent Panama (1903), Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia (1935), North Korea’s attack on the South in 1950, and China’s gravest threats against Quemoy and Matsu in 1958.58 All of these wars were seemingly non-rational, although the study identified reasons. Another study noted that weaker nations initiated 14 of the 43 twentieth-century conflicts as of 1991. The causes were the weaker state’s motivation, misperceptions of several kinds, and a perceived vulnerability of the stronger state.59

Health of Leaders

It is usually assumed in deterrence theory that decision-makers are in good health, but deep looks into history suggest that is a bad assumption.


As discussed by Jerrold Post and Alexander George in a book on leaders and their decision-making,

. . . there seems little doubt that Stalin [toward the end] was in a clinically paranoid state and that his fears were being manipulated by Lavrenti Beria to secure his own position and eliminate bureaucratic rivals.60

Such problems can have major consequences for political behavior, especially in crisis situations. Hitler, when under great stress at the time of the Normandy invasion became increasingly rigid and would greet new information with wrath, expulsion from the ranks of advisers, court martial, or worse. What if Hitler had possessed a few nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them?

Nixon and the 1973 Arab-Israeli Crisis

In 1973 Egypt invaded Israel with operational surprise. The United States and Soviet Union weighed in, blustering and exchanging strong messages. During this period in which the Watergate Affair was raging, President Nixon was disengaged, sleep-deprived, and drinking heavily. Nixon was dysfunctional as president and security matters were conducted by Henry Kissinger, Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, and Admiral Thomas Moorer. On its own, this group placed the 82nd Airborne Division on alert and sent nuclear bombers aloft as part of the back-and-forth with the Soviet Union. The President was not a rational actor, although the United States was.61

Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko

At the end of the Cold War the Soviet Union had a succession of leaders in poor physical health: Leonid Brezhnev (strokes, heart attacks, insomnia, narcolepsy), Yury Andropov (kidney disease), and Konstantin Chernenko (heart disease, hepatitis, and cirrhosis). Governance was largely accomplished by others. This was a period with great tension and some crises between the United States and Soviet Union, including the shooting down of Korean Air Lines flight KAL 007, the war scare of 1983, and the invasion of Afghanistan. Whether or not related to his health, Andropov had an obsession with the possibility of a U.S. nuclear first strike.62

Post and George discuss the clinical problems that can arise due to sleeplessness, tension, and crisis. They point out that heads of state are sometimes medicated with drugs that can cause irritability, selective amnesia, long reaction times, and bad judgment—along with such symptoms as grandiosity, over confidence, and even euphoria.63 As in the case of Nixon, they may also be drinking heavily or affected by drugs taken to control pain or illness. Such problems are possible with North Korean leaders, who may not be surrounded by effective aides. Kim Jong Il took powerful pain medications and Kim Jong Un has serious medical problems despite his youth.

Command and Control Issues

Usual discussions of crisis stability assume that leaders are in control of their nuclear capabilities. Again, history is sobering. President Kennedy became worried in 1961 about possible unilateral actions by military leaders to prepare a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union. He instigated efforts to tighten the President’s personal control.64 Soviet leadership worried about survivability of its forces and developed capability for launch on warning and automatic response. Such systems could be the source of accidental war. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet leadership pre-delegated defensive nuclear-use authority to their commander in Cuba. Had American ships and troops been hit with nuclear weapons, escalation to a general nuclear war might well have occurred. According to Richard Ned Lebow in an unpublished 2000 manuscript, during the crisis, Soviet air defenses in Cuba shot down a U.S. U-2 despite standing orders not to fire unless fired upon; the U.S. Strategic Air Command provocatively issued DEFCON II orders in the clear; and a U-2 strayed into sensitive Siberian air space.

It should be recognized that military officers with responsibility for last-gasp retaliation could plausibly feel the weight of responsibility for actually launching an attack if communications with leadership are interrupted and they perceive their country coming under attack.65

Applications to Korea

What a simple thing that was, that bilateral mutual relationship! Just two parties, fully identified, sophisticated and “rational,” fully reciprocal, with nothing at stake worth a war, no real territorial threats, at least after 1962, no great technological secrets, good diplomatic communication, especially after the “hotline” of 1963.66

Initial Observations

Cold War deterrence was in some ways simpler than that for Korea. First, North Korea’s rationality is different from that of the South. That implies the need to understand possible DPRK reasoning, which some DPRK watchers say includes valuing regime survival above the people’s welfare.67 Second, if history is a guide, rationality in crisis will be limited at best (on both sides). For the DPRK, the problems are worsened by the potential for Kim’s aides not to tell him things he does not want to hear (group think) and the potential for Kim to begin believing the Kim dynasty mythology of being God-like.68 For South Korea and the United States, the biggest problem may be misunderstanding the DPRK leadership and its actions. Third, although it may have given up on conquest of the South, North Korea probably believes that, under some circumstances, South Korean, American, and even Chinese forces would enter the country.69 Fourth, Kim has reasons to worry about internal threats. Fifth, North Korea presumably worries that the United States has secret capabilities that could undercut his military capabilities and control mechanisms. He might be driven to pre-delegate authorities in dangerous ways. Communications are notoriously poor because of North Korea’s isolation, the absence of routine contacts, and propaganda (although some communications have been successful when necessary, as in the crisis of August 2015).

As pointed out by Bradley Roberts, another huge difference exists with the Cold War experience. Whereas NATO contemplated first use of nuclear weapons as a way to re-establish deterrence if the Warsaw Pact invaded NATO and the conventional war was being lost, the DPRK has recognized that the same logic could apply to it. If a crisis arises, North Korea will probably brandish its nuclear capabilities to intimidate its enemies. It might actually use nuclear weapons first to demonstrate resolve or reestablish deterrence if the crisis were severe or war had begun.

If this were to happen, what would the North be up to? Limited military objectives? Deterring U.S. intervention? Forcing the hand of China, causing it to explicitly protect the DPRK? Getting out of a failed adventure? Manufacturing a crisis to unify internal support?

Against the background of these possibilities, it seems important for South Korea to think of two classes of practical problems: (1) How should it develop and plan to use its new military capabilities; and (2) what can be done to strengthen U.S. extended deterrence? These problems are discussed in successive sections.

New Challenges for South Korean Capabilities

South Korea has been improving its military capabilities for some time. The most notable initiative is the kill-chain capability for attacking North Korean nuclear weapon forces. Some South Korean capabilities as reported in public sources are the Hyunmu-2 ballistic missile and the Hyunmu-3 cruise missile, a ship-to-land version of the Haesong missile, ship-to-land cruise missiles, a new ballistic missile with a range of 500 kilometers (to be extended to 800 kilometers), and an improved Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD).70 In June 2015, South Korea tested a longer-range ballistic missile capable of striking all parts of North Korea.

Offensive capabilities are, then, coming along quickly. South Korean missile defenses, however, are minimal. Discussions are ongoing with the United States regarding the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system for ballistic missile defense of South Korea and whether South Korea will pay for them. The subject, however, is delicate. China, predictably, has argued strongly against any deployment of THAAD, although the United States favors it.71

Extended Deterrence for South Korea

Maintaining and strengthening the U.S. extended deterrence is no longer straight-forward—no matter how fervent and sincere the official statements of assurance. Extended deterrence is inherently difficult when the adversary can strike the extending power with nuclear weapons. NATO faced up to the credibility issue in the 1970s. Something analogous is necessary for Korea.

Clearly, the United States and South Korea want the DPRK to see near-certain U.S. willingness to escalate to whatever level is necessary.72 How difficult is that? Some believe that the United States would be more willing to use tactical nuclear weapons in defense of an ally than it would to use elements of its strategic forces, such as B-2 bombers. Or, they say, the DPRK leadership might regard the threat of such use as more credible. Others (including the U.S. government) regard the distinction as irrational because, they say, what matters are the circumstances and targets, not the delivery systems used or where they are based. Some also believe that the United States would be deterred from strategic-nuclear attacks against the DPRK leadership and command and control if it feared a response against the U.S. homeland, even if South Korean cities had already been struck. Although others regard that as incorrect, the issue has existed since the 1950s when it was asked whether the United States would trade, say, Washington for Paris.

In some instances, South Korea may be more willing to escalate than the United States would be (at least within the realm of conventional weapons). In other cases, the reverse may be true. The relative stances may depend on objective circumstances or leadership personalities.

Interestingly, if the United States and South Korea had excellent defenses, such concerns about South Korea or the United States being deterred would diminish. Whether such defenses are possible depends on technological feasibility, budgets, and the quality of both sides’ security and intelligence. Skepticism is appropriate because of technical and tactical countermeasures, but “good” defenses might be feasible. How good would be good enough?

The primary issue for deterrence may not involve delivery systems or targets, but rather matters of doctrine and practice. The credibility of extended deterrence could perhaps best be enhanced by intermingling U.S. and South Korean personnel with respect to nuclear capability. That is, the credibility of the ROK/U.S. response would be greater if South Koreans were directly involved, as with dual-capable aircraft in NATO.73

Conclusion: Challenges for the ROK-U.S. Alliance

The following questions are appropriate to study using a combination of cognitive adversary modeling, human exercises, and other forms of analysis as planned in our continuing ROK-U.S. collaboration. Such study could help inform South Korea’s construction and evaluation of options. We anticipate such research as a next stage in our collaboration.

A first question is what overarching strategy South Korea wishes to adopt. How can strategy be informed by (or tested in terms of) the structure of Figure 1? A second question is the balance of defense-planning efforts with respect to the concepts in Figure 2. How will changes in capability, doctrine, and operations affect crisis stability and arms-race stability? A third question is where the strengths and weaknesses of strategy exist, as can be tested by applying more concrete versions of Figure 3, which discusses the broad concept of influence that includes deterrence and dissuasion, including dissuasion by denial that depends on active and passive defenses that would complement kill-chain capabilities. More concretely, options should be examined for both peacetime and crisis/conflict actions as below.

How should options be evaluated with respect to strategic competitiveness? Would they weaken the DPRK, make its leadership fearful, show countervailing capability and even preemptive capability to disarm or greatly reduce DPRK WMD capabilities?

Or would they address securing WMD capabilities in a collapse scenario? How would they control escalation and, in the process, improve cumulative deterrence and dissuasion?

For all crisis points, the issues will include vertical and horizontal escalation (escalation in level of violence and scope of action, respectively), magnitude, and character, such as when should the response be tit for tat; when should it be different? When should it be horizontal (to include political and economic investments)? When should it be deliberately and explicitly escalatory? What responses might be inaccurately seen as escalatory, by the DPRK and by the world? How might misperceptions be avoided? When might actual preemptive or preventive war be considered? When would U.S. intervention be most and least effective, for both escalation and de-escalation, if U.S. and South Korean actions are not fully coordinated? What capabilities and capacities would U.S. and South Korean forces need to be effective in escalation and de-escalation?

These issues will arise in thinking about (1) Responses to “small” provocations; (2) responses to more significant military provocations; (3) responses to major military actions (e.g., limited invasion or attack of airfields); and (4) responses to major events in the DPRK, such as collapse.74 All in all, then, the questions to be addressed in subsequent research are many and difficult.


1. Bradley H. Roberts, The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015). The principal authors’ discussions with Roberts were very useful.

2. Hwee-Rhak Park and Byung-ki Kim, “South Korean Military Posture against the North Korean Nuclear Threat: Based on Balance among Deterrence, Attack and Defense,” Journal of International Politics 17, no. 2 (October 2012): 79–105.

3. “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.” The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order, ed. Bernard Brodie, (New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1946). See also Bernard Brodie, Strategy in the Missile Age (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1959).

4. U.S. strategy recognizes China’s ascendance but seeks to avoid Chinese hegemony by strengthening a network of alliances. See Christopher Layne, “China and America: Sleepwalking to War?” National Interest, May/June 2015.

5. Strategic Stability: Contending Interpretations, eds. Elbridge A. Colby and Michael S. Gerson (Carnegie Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 2013).

6. Paul K. Davis, “Improving Deterrence in the Post-Cold War Era: Some Theory and Implications for Defense Planning,” in New Challenges in Defense Planning: Rethinking How Much is Enough, ed. Paul K. Davis (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1994) 197–222.

7. There have been 3,040 North Korean provocations since 1950. Of these, 1,968 were covert invasions. Others, such as a small engagement near the DMZ or air attack, were also sudden. See Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense, 2014 Defense White Paper (Seoul: Ministry of Defense, 2015).

8. John Mearsheimer, Conventional Deterrence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983).

9. Albert Wohlstetter, “The Political and Military Aims of Offense and Defense Innovation,” in Swords and Shields: NATO, the USSR, and New Choices for Long-Range Offense and Defense, eds. Fred S. Hoffman, Albert Wohlstetter, and David S. Yost (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books of D. C. Heath and Company, 1987).

10. Andrew W. Marshall, Long-Term Competition with the Soviets: a Framework for Strategic Analysis (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1972). See also Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice, ed. Thomas G. Mahnken (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012).

11. Cold War strategic-competitiveness arguments supported: modernizing U.S. bombers and cruise missiles to cause the Soviet Union to spend heavily on air defenses; exploiting technology that the Soviets could not match; using attack submarines to threaten Soviet SSBN bastions; and the United States preparing for sustained nuclear war. See Director of Central Intelligence and Secretary of Defense, U.S. and Soviet Strategic Forces Joint Net Assessment (Washington, D.C.: Director of Central Intelligence, 1983), previously Top Secret. See also Director of Central Intelligence, National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 11-3/8-76 (Washington, D.C.: Director of Central Intelligence, 1976), previously Top Secret.

12. Thomas G. Mahnken, Cost-Imposing Strategies: A Primer (Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, 2014).

13. Scott Douglas Sagan, Moving Targets: Nuclear Strategy and National Security (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

14. The Battle for Iran, 1953: Re-Release of CIA Internal History Spotlights New Details about anti-Mosaddeq Coup, ed. Malcom Byrne (National Security Archive Project, George Washington University (formerly Secret), 2014).

15. National Research Council, U.S. Air Force Strategic Deterrence Analytic Capabilities (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2014)

16. Embedding deterrence within the concept of influence is described in Paul K. Davis and Brian Michael Jenkins, Deterrence and Influence in Counterterrorism: A Component in the War on Al Qaeda (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2002.

17. See, e.g., Robert Jervis, Richard. N. Lebow, and Janet G. Stein, Psychology and Deterrence (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); Patrick M. Morgan, Deterrence Now; and Paul K. Davis, Toward Theory for Dissuasion (or Deterrence) by Denial: Using Simple Cognitive Models of the Adversary To Inform Strategy (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp, 2014).

18. See Nora Bensahel et al., After Saddam: Prewar Planning and the Occupation of Iraq (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008); and an account by a Bush-administration Douglas Feith: Douglas J. Feith, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon At the Dawn of the War on Terrorism (New York, NY: Harper, 2008).

19. See Yehezkel Dror, Crazy States: A Counterconventional Strategic Problem (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1971); Paul K. Davis and John Arquilla, Deterring or Coercing Opponents in Crisis: Lessons From the War With Saddam Hussein (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1991); Paul K. Davis and John Arquilla, Thinking About Opponent Behavior in Crisis and Conflict: A Generic Model for Analysis and Group Discussion (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1991); Keith B. Payne, “Understanding Deterrence,” Comparative Strategy 30, no. 5 (2011): 393–427; and National Research Council, U.S. Air Force Strategic Deterrence. Actually, the matter was discussed by Sun Tzu millennia ago.

20. Patrick M. Morgan, Deterrence Now.

21. Rational Analysis for a Problematic World Revisited: Problem Structuring Methods for Complexity, Uncertainty and Conflict, 2nd eds. Jonathan Rosenhead and John Mingers (New York, NY: John Wiley& Sons, 2002).

22. Paul K. Davis, Toward Theory for Dissuasion (or Deterrence) by Denial.

23. See: Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); The Psychological Assessment of Political Leaders, ed. Jerrold M. Post (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2008); and Thomas Scheber, “Evolutionary Psychology, Cognitive Function, and Deterrence,” Comparative Strategy 30, no. 5 (2011): 453–80.

24. See Kevin M. Woods and Mark E. Stout, “Saddam’s Perceptions and Misperceptions: The Case of ‘Desert Storm’,” Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 1 (2010): 5–41; Kevin M. Woods et al., Saddam’s Generals: Perspectives of the Iran-Iraq War (Alexandria, VA: Institute for Defense Analyses, 2011); and Kevin M. Woods, The Mother of All Battles: Saddam Hussein’s Strategic Plan for the Persian Gulf War (Newport, RI: Naval Institute Press, 2008).

25. Payne, “Understanding Deterrence,” 398.

26. It has been said that Kim Il Sung asked his generals what they would do in a war if North Korea were losing (something ordinarily inconceivable). Everyone was quiet until Kim Jong Il spoke up, insisting that the right thing to do would be to “destroy the Earth. What good is this Earth without North Korea?” Kim Jong Il was then named commander of the Korean People’s Army. Whether the story is apocryphal is unclear, but it is part of North Korean lore: Kim Hyun Sik, “The Secret History of Kim Jong Il,” Foreign Policy (October 2009).

27. Hitler related himself to Jesus and the Messiah and, in discussing dying in battle, said that his death would be inspirational: “We shall not capitulate . . . no, never. We may be destroyed, but if we are, we shall drag a world with us . . . a world in flames . . . we should drag half the world into destruction with us and leave no one to triumph over Germany. There will not be another 1918.” See Walter C. Langer, A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend (Office of Strategic Services (Predecessor of CIA), 1943).

28. Irving L. Janis, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1982).

29. Therese Delpech, Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Cold War for a New Era of Strategic Piracy (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2012), 63–64.

30. The Soviet strategic planning system organized around defense after an attack by NATO. The sides did not appreciate how fearful they were of each other: Musgrove Plantation, “Salt II and the Growth of Mistrust, Conference #2 of the Carter-Brezhnev Project,” National Security Archives.

31. Albert Wohlstetter, “The Delicate Balance of Power,” Foreign Affairs 37, no. 2 (1959): 211–34.

32. Fred C. Iklé, “Can Nuclear Deterrence Last Out the Century,” Foreign Affairs (January 1973).

33. William W. Kaufmann, The McNamara Strategy (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1964).

34. Some scholars have misinterpreted declassified documents as suggesting that the United States retained interest in first-strike and war-winning capability longer than was the case: Harold Brown, “Rebuttal: A Countervailing View: No We Did Not Think We Could Win a Nuclear War,” Foreign Policy, September 24, 2012. Many U.S. analysts had similarly misinterpreted Soviet intentions: John Hines, Ellis M. Mishulovich and John F. Shull, Soviet Intentions 1965–1985: An Analytic Comparison of U.S.-Soviet Assessments During the Cold War (George Washington University National Security Archive, 1995).

35. See Richard Pipes, “Why the Soviet Union Thinks it Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War,” Commentary, 1977; and Team B, Soviet Strategic Objectives: an Alternative View: Report of Team B (previously Top Secret), (CIA Historical Review Program, 1976). Team B was wrong about Soviet intentions and future defense spending, but was correct about the Soviet military’s preparations for war fighting. See also Joshua Rovner, Fixing the Facts (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 2011).

36. The Soviets greatly improved their nuclear forces in the 1970s and 1980s, had an extensive (but perhaps hollow) civil defense program oriented heavily toward protection of leadership and other essential functions, and had a war fighting military doctrine. This is not inconsistent with its leadership being deterred. See, e.g. Intentions and Capabilities: Estimates on Soviet Strategic Forces, 1950–1983, ed. Donald P. Steury (Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1996).

37. Ronald Reagan, “Address to the Nation on Defense and National Security,” (accessed, December 5, 2015).

38. Team B, Soviet Strategic Objectives.

39. Swords and Shields, eds. Fred S. Hoffman, Albert Wohlstetter, and David S. Yost (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books of D. C. Heath and Company, 1987). See also Payne, “Understanding Deterrence.”

40. Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960).

41. The Soviet leadership saw an imperative to defend its ally Castro, even to the extent of pre-delegating authority for use of tactical nuclear weapons. See Sergei Khrushchev, Statesman 1953–1964, vol. 3, Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007); and A. A. Fursenko and Timothy J. Naftali, One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964 (New York, NY: Norton, 1997).

42. Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (New York, NY: Presidio Press of Random House Publishing Group, 1962).

43. See Jack S. Levy and Jack Snyder, “Everyone’s Favored Year for War—or Not,” International Affairs 39, no. 4 (2015): 208–17. For the perspective from the then-new Soviet Union, see D. C. B. Lieven, The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution (New York, NY: Viking, 2015).

44. Robert Farley, “North Korea and the Fallacy of Accidental Wars,” The Diplomat, April 5, 2013.

45. Eri Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 20.

46. Eri Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 117.

47. Eri Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 10.

48. Eri Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 168.

49. Richard Ned Lebow, “Domestic Politics and the Cuban Missile Crisis: the Traditional and Revisionist Interpretations Reevaluated,” Diplomatic History 14, no. 4 (1990): 476.

50. According to Khrushchev, as in Sergei Khrushchev, Statesman 1953–1964, Soviet leaders never expected war (p. 338). Fidel Castro, however, urged a preemptive thermonuclear blow to the United States (p. 341), based on his certainty of a U.S. attack (p. 345). Khrushchev goes on to say “Castro had lost his bearings. . . . We understood that he hadn’t even thought about the obvious consequences of his proposal.” According to other accounts, Soviet leadership was much more concerned about the likelihood of war (Fursenko and Naftali, One Hell of a Gamble, 242).

51. Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight (New York, NY: Knopf, 2008).

52. James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang, The Fog of War: Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005).

53. See the national security archive of George Washington University,

54. Robert Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story (New York, NY: Simon & Shuster, 1996), 273. The study that changed his mind has been substantially declassified: President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, “The Soviet War Scare,” 1990,

55. Paul Bracken, The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics (New York, NY: Times Books, 2012).

56. Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1990), 588–89.

57. Yehezkel Dror, Crazy States: A Counterconventional Strategic Problem (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1971).

58. John Arquilla and Paul K. Davis, Extended Deterrence, Compellence, and the ‘Old World Order’ (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1992).

59. Barry Wolf, When the Weak Attack the Strong: Failures of Deterrence (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1991).

60. The Psychological Assessment of Political Leaders, ed. Jerrold Post and Alexander George (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2008): 92.

61. Tim Weiner, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2015).

62. Oleg Gordievsky, Next Stop Execution: The Autobiography of Oleg Gordievsky (London: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1995). See also Markus Wolf and Anne McElvoy, The Man Without a Face (New York, NY: Public Affairs, Perseus Book Group, 1999), 246.

63. Post and George, 120–21.

64. General Curtis LeMay, head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, reportedly said “If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I’m going to knock the shit out of them before they take off the ground.” When told “But General LeMay, that’s not national policy,” LeMay replied “I don’t care. It’s my policy. That what I’m going to do.” See Jerry Wiesner: Scientist, Statesman, Humanist Memories and Memoirs, ed. Walter A. Rosenblith (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003). Kennedy’s concerns about possible military actions came in the second week of his administration when learning about plans for action in the failure of communications. See Richard K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1987).

65. Paul K. Davis, Studying First-Strike Stability With Knowledge-Based Models of Human Decision Making (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1989).

66. Thomas C. Schelling, “Foreword,” in Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice, eds. Andreas Wenger and Alex Wilner (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), vii–viii.

67. Tak Sung Han and Jeon Kyung Joo, “Can North Korea Catch Two Rabbits at Once: Nuke and Economy? One Year of the Byungjin Line in North Korea and Its Future,” The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 26, no. 2 (June 2014): 133–53.

68. Yoongyu Lee, “Idolization under the North Korean Dictatorship Kim Jong Un-Centered around the Analysis of Idolization under Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un Regime,” Strategic Studies 21, no. 63 (July 2014):171–203.

69. Former officials expressed interest in achieving regime changes, as in David Frum and Richard Perle, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2004). Much discussion has occurred about possible collapse scenarios in North Korea, which might cause South Korean, U.S., and even Chinese intervention. See Bruce W. Bennett and Jennifer Lind, The Collapse of North Korea: Military Missions and Requirements (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2011). North Korea has long feared that ROK-U.S. exercises might be a pretense for preparing for invasion. Jina Kim, “An Analysis of Political Instability in the DPRK: Identity, Interest, and Leader-Elite Relations,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 25, no. 1 (March 2013): 87–107.

70. See the website of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI):

71. For news-media discussion of issues, see Robert E. Kelly, “South Korea’s THAAAD Decision,” The Diplomat (April 13, 2015); and Tong Kim, “THAAD Is No Perfect Solution,” The Korea Times.

72. Gwangsoo Ahn, “The Issues and New Approaches to North Korean Local Provocations,” Strategy Research 56 (2012): 119–46.

73. See also Bradley H. Roberts, The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons.

74. Bruce W. Bennett, Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2013).

Notes on Contributor

Paul K. Davis (Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, theoretical chemical physics) is a senior principal researcher at RAND and a professor of policy analysis in the Pardee RAND Graduate School. After working on strategic technology and systems analysis at the Institute for Defense Analyses, he joined the U.S. government to work on strategic arms limitation, which included a period with the U.S. delegation in Geneva. He then joined the U.S. Defense Department where he analyzed strategic nuclear programs and then became a Senior Executive involved with defense strategy and programs for Southwest Asia and, later, other regions worldwide. Dr. Davis then moved to RAND where his research has been in strategic planning under deep uncertainty, resource allocation, decision-making theory, conventional and nuclear deterrence, advanced methods of modeling and analysis, and heterogeneous information fusion. He has authored more than 200 published books and reports that often involve interdisciplinary work connecting analysis, the hard and soft sciences, planning, and modeling. He has served on numerous studies for the National Academy of Sciences and Defense Science Board. He reviews frequently for or serves on the editorial board of a number of academic journals.

Peter Wilson (M.A. University of Chicago) is a senior national security analyst. Earlier, he was an analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Strategic Evaluation Group and the Department of State’s Policy Planning office. He has also worked for or consulted with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, and RAND (adjunct). He was the co-developer of the Day After Methodology, which has been used for numerous governments and government offices. He has published with the National Defense University, Naval Institute, Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, the Army’s Parameters, Military Review, Washington Quarterly, and the Progressive Policy Institute. He has also taught at Georgetown University. He specializes in strategic planning, often with particular attention to weapons of mass destruction, precision weapons, cyberwar and counterspace activities.

Jeongeun Kim (Ph. D. University of Pittsburgh, Statistics) is a research fellow in Force Requirement Analysis and Evaluation Group at KIDA. Her major research areas include joint capability and requirement planning, assessment of joint mission capabilities, and development of cognitive model.

Junho Park (MSE Seoul National University) is an associate research fellow in Force Requirement Analysis and Evaluation Group at KIDA. He has been working for analysis and evaluation of force requirements based on tactical or mission effectiveness of. His recent research topic is related to cognitive modeling about military provocations. His major research areas includes cognitive decision modeling, force requirement planning systems, combat power analysis and defense readiness.