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In the post-Cold war era, attention to chemical and biological weapons has increased, but for most of the past half-century nearly all serious thinking about WMD has been about nuclear warfare. To understand the full range of issues involved in confronting the existence of WMD, it is best to start with a solid understanding of the physical capacity of nuclear weapons and of how the Cold War superpowers handled them and thought about their functions. Although too technical for average readers, the most definitive source on the first point is Samuel Glasstone, ed., The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, Revised Edition (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1977). A primer on issues in nuclear strategy produced by the Harvard Nuclear Study Group is Albert Carnesale, Paul Doty, Stanley Hoffmann, Samuel P. Huntington, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and Scott D. Sagan, Living with Nuclear Weapons (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983). The best general intellectual history is Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, Second Edition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989). Other useful surveys of basic issues and developments are two books by Michael Mandelbaum: The Nuclear Question (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979) and The Nuclear Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
For those who wish to engage the main theorists directly, the essential precepts of nuclear deterrence theory initially germinated in Bernard Brodie, ed., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1946). Other landmark works include: William W. Kaufmann, "The Requirements of Deterrence," in Kaufmann, ed., Military Policy and National Security (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956); Henry A. Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and American Foreign Policy (New York: Harper, for the Council on Foreign Relations, 1957), which was the book that established the young Kissinger as a policy theorist; Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960) and On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios (New York: Praeger, 1965), works known for their clinical, hyper-rationalistic theorizing about hypothetically varied ways to fight nuclear wars; Albert Wohlstetter, "The Delicate Balance of Terror," Foreign Affairs vol. 37, no. 2 (January 1959), which popularized the notion that making retaliatory forces invulnerable to attack was the key to "crisis stability"; Glenn H. Snyder, Deterrence and Defense: Toward a Theory of National Security (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961); and Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960) and Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), theoretical explorations of deterrence, coercion, and stability that are still widely read in the 21st century. A trenchant set of essays is Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), which reflects on the many ways that nuclear weapons have changed international politics.
On the role of nuclear doctrines and threats in Cold War crises and alliance diplomacy, see: Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), which dissects the interaction of nuclear strategy, European politics, and diplomacy; David N. Schwartz, NATO's Nuclear Dilemmas (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1983), which traces the history of nuclear strategic innovations in the western alliance; McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988), a book that combines the perspective of historian and participant; and Richard K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1987), on attempts by the superpowers to use nuclear threats for diplomatic leverage. Essays surveying the reasons for disagreement between nuclear strategists are in Lynn Eden and Steven E. Miller, eds., Nuclear Arguments: Understanding the Strategic Nuclear Arms and Arms Control Debates (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989).
On arms control and disarmament, major sources include: Bernard Bechhoefer, Postwar Negotiations for Arms Control (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1961), a historical overview of efforts to negotiate arms control agreements in the first phase of the Cold War; Donald G. Brennan, ed., Arms Control, Disarmament, and National Security (New York: Brazillier, for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1961), the first major set of essays surveying the logic and prospects for negotiated arms limitation; and Thomas C. Schelling and Morton H. Halperin, Strategy and Arms Control (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1961), the premier theoretical statement of the mutual deterrence position, reconciling military strategy and nuclear stability through arms control.For a compendium of all nuclear and other WMD agreements actually concluded by the superpowers during the Cold War, see Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements: Texts and Histories of the Negotiations (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1990). A very readable history and analysis of the first major arms agreements between the United States and Soviet Union, which reflects Henry Kissinger's perspective on the events, is John Newhouse, Cold Dawn: The Story of SALT (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973); a contrasting version of the history, a memoir by the chief American negotiator, is Gerard Smith, Doubletalk: The Story of the First Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980). Bruce Berkowitz, in Calculated Risks (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), presents a critical assessment of arms control in practice along with recommendations for improving it.
Moral and ethical critiques of nuclear strategic ideas can be found in The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, Pastoral Letter on War and Peace (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, May 1983), and Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Nuclear Ethics (New York: Free Press, 1986). Analytical criticisms rooted in moral disagreement with mainstream official thinking include Philip Green, Deadly Logic: The Theory of Nuclear Deterrence (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1966) and Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).
On the proliferation of chemical and biological WMD, there has been far less non-technical literature of strategy, policy, and ethical debate compared with the nuclear literature. Since the end of the Cold War, however, with its fixation on problems of coping with tens of thousands of superpower nuclear weapons, the pace has picked up. See Kathleen Bailey, Doomsday Weapons in the Hands of Many (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1991) and Richard A. Falkenrath, Robert D. Newman, and Bradley A. Thayer, America's Achilles Heel: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), the first a useful primer and the second a focused analysis of the potential for mayhem caused by small states and terrorist groups in possession of chemical and biological weapons. Recent ideas focusing on the most potent non-nuclear WMD are in Joshua Lederberg, ed., Biological Weapons: Limiting the Threat (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999). The most up-to-date analytical survey of the issues posed by nuclear proliferation in the non-western world is Victor A. Utgoff, ed., The Coming Crisis: Nuclear Proliferation, U.S. Interests, and World Order (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).