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Extra resources for Defense's Nuclear Agency (history) [1947-97]

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There are, however, a number of important technological issues associated with nuclear weapons that may arise during the coming decade. , stealthy hypersonic boost-glide vehicles), and the establishment of more efficient sensors and command and control systems. These developments are of concern to many because they may substantially increase the ability to destroy the opposition's nuclear forces in a counterforce strike-for example, by holding mobile land-based missiles and ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) at risk.

How, in turn, did bipolarity enhance the stability of the postwar interna- The Future of the International System 25 tional system? Here again international relations theory provides at least partial answers. Kenneth Waltz has pointed out that bipolar systems are easier to manage than their multipolar counterparts because there are fewer significant actors, the means of communication are simpler, and the dangers of misperception are correspondingly less. 18 Robert Axelrod has suggested yet another reason for the stability of bipolarity: game theory shows that cooperative behavior tends to emerge among antagonists with the passage of time, provided the players have reason to believe that the game they are playing will continue into the future.

It follows, then, that nuclear weapons have been, in Mueller's words, "essentially irrelevant" in bringing about the remarkable durability, and therefore stability, of the international system that emerged during the Cold War. The reaction of most of us upon hearing this argument is that it has to be wrong. We somehow know that nuclear weapons have been critically relevant to the postwar long peace. But when one asks just how we know this, an embarrassing silence sets in. For although many people believe that nuclear weapons did, in fact, prevent World War III, most of them base that belief on little more than faith: few have ever bothered to try to prove that nuclear weapons play the role that almost everyone assumes they do.

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