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nuclear deterrencethe capacity of a NATION STATE or alliance to protect itself from an attack using nuclear weapons by threatening retaliation which would result in wholesale destruction of the adversary's population and resources. Nuclear deterrence is above all a psychological concept, since a nation state or alliance must believe that an adversary has the capacity to retaliate if attacked and can credibly be expected to use it. The logic of nuclear deterrence is based upon twin assumptions:
- the RATIONALITY of decision-makers; and
- that both sides would be losers in the event of a nuclear conflict (see also MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION). Nuclear deterrence is often held to have prevented all-out wars between major powers in the post-World War II era. On the other hand, it does not prevent more limited conventional wars, and the invention of nuclear warfare has brought the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation on a world scale. See also ARMS RACE, STRATEGIC THEORY, NATION-STATE SYSTEM.