Nuclear Deterrence with Russia and China: Are U.S. Course Corrections Needed?

Featuring Fiona Cunningham, Michael Kofman, Amy F. Woolf, & Eric Gomez

As the United States shifts the focus of its foreign and defense policies toward great‐​power competition, experts have paid more attention to Russian and Chinese nuclear force postures and strategies. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) paints a concerning picture of recent developments in both potential adversaries, noting the growth of arsenals and approaches to nuclear strategy that vex U.S. policymakers. The assessments and threat perceptions laid out in the NPR will drive U.S. nuclear strategy for the rest of the Trump administration and potentially beyond because they inform plans for U.S. nuclear modernization.

In the two years since the 2018 NPR’s release, the Trump administration has put its stamp on America’s approach to nuclear deterrence. The administration is clearly worried about the nuclear arsenals and strategies of Russia and China, and many of the NPR’s more controversial items, such as the low‐​yield Trident warhead, are explicitly tied to nuclear developments in potential great‐​power adversaries.

But has the United States accurately diagnosed the most important problems posed by other great powers? Is Washington designing the right solutions to these problems? What are the risks of misdiagnoses and/​or wrong policy solutions? The COVID-19 pandemic has made finding answers to these questions all the more urgent. The economic fallout of the public health emergency will likely create strong budgetary pressures and subject the multidecade, $1 trillion–plus nuclear modernization plan to closer scrutiny. Join us as we explore these questions and more.

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