Redefining Deterrence: Nuclear Forensics and Administration Spending Priorities

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Leah Matchett


The Obama Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2017 included a like-for-like replacement of all legs of the US nuclear triad. This huge expenditure represents a reinforcement of traditional notions of deterrence between superpowers, without an analysis of whether or not these reflect the most pressing threats to national security. This paper will deal with several potential nuclear threats before turning to the current US responses to them in the context of deterrence theory. Particularly, the threat of nuclear terrorism is widely acknowledged by both scholars and high-ranking members of the Administration. Nuclear forensics can be used to attribute recovered nuclear material to its source, and prevent terrorists from acquiring it. However, the Administration’s budget request focuses on updating capabilities useful only in a traditional definition of deterrence that requires force parity between the Soviet Union and the United States, without expanding investments in nuclear forensics.

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