Journal Article - Quarterly Journal: International Security

The Commitment Trap: Why the United States Should Not Use Nuclear Threats to Deter Biological and Chemical Weapon Attacks

| Spring 2000

Abstract

How should the United States deal with so-called rogue states that threaten to use chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. homeland or its troops abroad? Scott Sagan of Stanford University examines Washington's "calculated ambiguity doctrine," which holds that the United States does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological weapons attack. Sagan argues that the risks associated with this doctrine outweigh the benefits. He warns that although the ambiguity doctrine might decrease the likelihood of a chemical or biological attack, it also raises the probability that Washington would feel compelled to use nuclear weapons to respond to such an attack. Sagan concludes that the United States should renounce the nuclear option and instead recommit itself to meeting a chemical or biological attack with overwhelming conventional force.

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For Academic Citation: Sagan, Scott D.. The Commitment Trap: Why the United States Should Not Use Nuclear Threats to Deter Biological and Chemical Weapon Attacks.” Quarterly Journal: International Security, vol. 24. no. 4. (Spring 2000):
85-115
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The Author

Scott Sagan