What If Nuclear Deterrence Is Fake?

In 1949, during his first campaign for Parliament, Enoch Powell made an argument that he would develop throughout the rest of his career: A nuclear deterrent does not close the possibility of conventional war involving one or more nuclear belligerents. He expressed this theory about “the nuclear assumption” most fully in a 1966 floor speech, in which he quoted B. L. Hart: “The nuclear weapon is a deterrent to nuclear war, but not to war.”

Iran and Pakistan’s casual violations of one another’s territorial sovereignty this week—lobbing missiles willy-nilly at “militants” who each alleges are hiding within the other country’s borders—shows that a nuclear deterrent (namely, Pakistan’s) doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in the aggressive relations between near-peer powers. (Something to consider seriously vis-a-vis China.) Dare we say, Powell, vindicated again?

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