This chapter considers the effects of a robust nuclear posture on nuclear arms races. Critics have argued that attaining nuclear advantages is difficult because the effort will provoke dangerous arms races. Drawing on existing international relations scholarship and an empirical examination of US arms competitions, it argues that arms races are not generally a significant cost to the maintenance of a robust nuclear force. It advances new theoretical propositions on “nuclear underkill” to delineate the reasons why US adversaries are often unwilling or unable to respond to US nuclear advantages. Further, it shows that enemy buildups often occur irrespective of US nuclear posture decisions. Third, it explains that winning arms races is sometimes a necessary, if undesirable, part of international politics. Finally, the chapter shows that arms races are rare and that the United States has consistently been able to achieve meaningful and enduring strategic advantages over its nuclear-armed rivals.
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