Abstract Does nuclear weapon development embolden national leaders to engage in more assertive foreign policies? Despite the importance of this question to international security studies, the nuclear emboldenment hypothesis has received little attention. This article develops a theoretical explanation of emboldenment grounded in social psychology and uses translated archival sources and secondary studies to test it on the cases of Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong. The results suggest that the dangers of nuclear emboldenment, while real, are substantially less than usually assumed. Biases associated with the availability heuristic cause leaders of new nuclear powers to authorize dangerous coercive policies in the short-term. However, the fear they experience at the nuclear brink causes them and their successors to authorize moderate policies in the longer-run. Findings achieved through case study analysis lead to the conclusion that nuclear proliferation is dangerous when leaders believe that nuclear coercion is safe, but becomes safe when they learn that nuclear coercion is dangerous. nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation, foreign policy analysis, coercion, deterrence Do nuclear weapons embolden leaders to authorize coercion and revisionism and cause international conflict? Although nine nation-states now have nuclear weapons, scholars remain divided about whether nuclear proliferation will embolden new nuclear powers to provoke conflict that they would not have incited otherwise. Optimists point to the tendency for most nuclear powers to refrain from dangerous or assertive foreign policies because of fears of mutually assured destruction, the dangers of inadvertent nuclear escalation, and the limits of nuclear coercion (Posen 2006; Mearsheimer 1993; Waltz 1990; Jervis 1989; Ganguly 2008). This research, however, poorly explains situations when nuclear proliferation does seem to cause conflict and crises. Along these lines, pessimists point to cases in which nuclear powers authorized coercive foreign policies and subsequently found themselves in dangerous nuclear crises (Sagan 2013; Kapur 2008, 2009; Fair 2014). This research, however, poorly explains the risk-averse tendencies of experienced nuclear powers to avoid conflict and nuclear crises. Quantitative research largely concludes that nuclear weapons have little impact on foreign policy. Rather, other variables related to enduring rivalries tend to cause nuclear proliferation and drive interstate behavior (Huth, Bennett, and Gelpi 1992; Bennett and Stam 2003; Gartzke and Jo 2009). However, this literature cannot explain the high conflict propensity of new nuclear powers and the low conflict propensity of experienced nuclear powers (Horowitz 2009). In this article, I seek to improve upon these shortcomings. My argument is grounded in insights from social psychology and focuses on the effect of experience with nuclear coercion and nuclear crises on how leaders leverage nuclear weapons. I explain why inexperience with nuclear coercion tends to be dangerous and under what circumstances experience can supply the pacifying effect predicted by rational deterrence theory. My argument synthesizes optimist and pessimist claims about nuclear proliferation and international conflict into a unified model and specifies the conditions under which each applies. I use the cases of Khrushchev's Soviet Union and China under Mao Zedong to probe my theory. In this way, I can address three outstanding puzzles with which international relations scholars have long grappled. First, why do some nuclear powers engage in more dangerous foreign policies than others? Second, why do some nuclear powers authorize risky, costly, and assertive policies to revise unbearable status quos, only to later accept the status quo even though the perceived probability and cost of nuclear escalation remained constant? Gavin (2012, 73) asked a similar question of the Cold War: “why, only a few years after a dangerous crisis shaped by the nuclear balance and brinkmanship, was the same issue resolved in a relatively amicable manner?” Third, why do nuclear powers such as Pakistan and India seem to learn so little from historical cases and end up going through similar cycles of instability and stability? My findings suggest that new1 nuclear power leaders tend to authorize assertive foreign policies toward their primary nuclear rival. In the short term, this increases the likelihood of interstate conflict and war. However, when the nuclear adversary reciprocates with an assertive foreign policy that generates fear of imminent nuclear war, the new nuclear power backs off. This is not the familiar mechanism of rational updating of beliefs with respect to the new probability of escalation. When defenders authorize costly signals of resolve, new nuclear powers could persist with assertive policies. Only when the leader of the new nuclear power experiences fear of imminent nuclear war do they abandon their aggression. The experience of fear, I contend, has a psychological effect independent from other concerns such as geopolitical objectives, costly signals, individual ideology, or domestic political considerations. To elaborate upon these ideas, this article proceeds as follows. First, I provide a brief overview of the conventional wisdom on nuclear emboldenment. Second, I draw from social psychological theory to develop an argument and hypotheses for the conditions under which nuclear powers are likely to be emboldened. Third, I probe the hypotheses through an analysis of Khrushchev's Soviet Union and a shorter assessment of Mao Zedong. I conclude by discussing the policy implications of the findings. The Debate on Nuclear Emboldenment Previous attempts to assess the emboldenment hypothesis fail to come to terms with the systematic effect of a leader's experience with nuclear crisis. While new nuclear powers tend to authorize assertive foreign policies and/or find themselves in nuclear crises and wars, experienced nuclear powers tend not to (Horowitz 2009). During the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev developed a nuclear missile capability in 1959 and concurrently instigated the 1959–1961 Berlin crises (Uhl and Ivkin 2001; Podvog 2001; Zaloga 2002). The 1962 Cuban Missile crisis served as a turning point for Khrushchev; after 1963 the Cold War exhibited fewer and less dangerous crises. China developed nuclear weapons in 1964 and, in 1969, found itself in armed conflict with Soviet troops on the disputed Zhenbao Island in the Ussuri River that caused hundreds of fatalities. Chinese forces have not engaged in conflict with Soviet troops since 1970, when those border skirmishes escalated to conventional attacks and nuclear threats. By 1991 most lingering territorial disputes with Moscow were resolved. Pakistan, after developing nuclear weapons in 1990, increased its sponsorship of the Kashmir insurgency throughout the 1990s and, in 1999, intruded deeply into Indian-held Kashmir, provoking the 1999 Kargil War. Pakistani-sponsored militants daringly attacked the Kashmir and Indian Parliaments in October and December 2001 and killed thirty-two unarmed civilians in May 2002. However, the 2008 Mumbai attacks notwithstanding, Pakistani policy in Kashmir since the May 2002 nuclear crisis has progressively resulted in fewer fatalities (Ganguly 2008). India has faced a similar conflict pattern following its acquisition of nuclear weapons in 1990. Britain (in Egypt) and France (in Algeria and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO]) both found themselves in more crises and conflicts when their leaders were inexperienced with nuclear crisis during the early part of the Cold War than thereafter. Israel fought one war every two years with its Arab adversaries immediately after developing nuclear weapons in 1967. However, in the forty years after the 1973 Yom Kippur War (when Israel seriously considered using nuclear weapons), it fought a war only once every eight years. Inexperience with nuclear crisis seems to matter deeply for the question of nuclear emboldenment and international security, but theoretical precision remains elusive. How does experience with nuclear crisis matter for international conflict? Existing arguments fail to develop causal mechanisms sensitive to the temporal variation in the conflict propensity of nuclear powers. Scholars tend to cherry-pick time periods supportive of their analyses while neglecting other times that are anomalous to their theory and temporal variation across cases (Ganguly 2008; Kapur 2008). For example, Kapur (2008) shows that nuclear weapons emboldened Pakistan to pursue territorial revisionism due to the belief that its nuclear weapons would deter retaliation. Yet, he does not explain why Pakistani revisionism in Kashmir progressively declined after 2002. According to Kapur (2009, 201; 2008), US pressure on Pakistan to join American antiterror efforts after September 11, 2001, caused this foreign policy turnaround. But this is an ad hoc revision to the theory and does not explain the pacifying effect of Pakistan's past experience with nuclear crisis. If Kapur's theoretical model is the last word on the consequences of nuclear proliferation on state foreign policy, experienced nuclear powers should behave like new nuclear powers until they have realized their revisionist ambitions or are prevented from doing so. But they do not. Waltz (1990) and others argue that experienced nuclear powers tend to avoid assertive foreign policies, but they cannot explain why new leaders of new nuclear powers behave differently. The quantitative literature has not identified the experience effect because it washes out in regressions that do not model time. Indeed, over the past two decades, scholars note the conspicuous absence of empirically supported theoretical models that explain the behavior of new nuclear powers (Karl 1997, 118–19; Montgomery and Sagan 2009, 321). One partial exception is Narang's (2014) recent research on the sources and deterrent effects of different nuclear postures. But the same postures can correspond with very different foreign policies. Narang (2014, 76–91) does not explain why Pakistan's “asymmetric escalation” posture gave rise to assertive policies in Kashmir between 1998 and 2002 but less dangerous policies after Musharraf's time at the nuclear brink. A Psychological Theory of Nuclear Emboldenment Leaders of new nuclear powers may lack sufficient conventional military power to pursue revisions to an undesirable status quo. The acquisition of nuclear weapons, however, can embolden such countries to attempt revision through land grabs, coercive threats, support for insurgencies in other countries, displays and uses of force, and most importantly, threats to respond to conventional or nuclear affronts with challenges that risk nuclear war. I term the resort to threats based on one's nuclear power as nuclear assertion. The problem for these new nuclear powers, however, is that their nuclear adversaries can react in similar ways that substantially increase the probability of nuclear war. Leaders could avoid this by restricting the role of nuclear weapons to deterrence and pursuing security goals through confidence-building measures and diplomacy. I term this foreign policy nuclear restraint. While this reduces the risk of nuclear war, nuclear restraint relies on tools to address menacing security threats that permitted the establishment of the undesirable status quo in the first place (diplomacy and the pursuit of collective security). This dilemma is the fundamental strategic question facing new nuclear powers: leverage nuclear weapons to revise the status quo but risk war, or use nuclear weapons as a safer deterrent measure, but accept an undesirable status quo. Assertive or restrained foreign policies are the only choices, and the one that leaders select will have strong implications for posture and related policy choices. Rivals of the new nuclear power also face a fundamental dilemma. Rhetoric and defensive military mobilizations suited to maintain the status quo—restraint—may fail to deter a sufficiently emboldened new nuclear power (Fearon 2002). More serious military mobilizations and offensive threats—nuclear assertion—may be necessary to stop the new nuclear power's assertiveness but increase the risk of nuclear escalation. In the argument that follows, my unit of analysis is the leader, and I assume recurring crises to be interdependent rather than discrete; lessons learned from one crisis can influence behavior in successive crises. I define nuclear powers to be those states that have developed what their leaders believe to be survivable second-strike nuclear deterrents. It is at this point, and only this point, when the strongest effects of emboldenment against a primary and usually nuclear weapon-equipped adversary kick in. Leaders may be emboldened before this to either challenge other perhaps nonnuclear states or issue lesser challenges to their primary adversary. The effects outlined here are restricted to those directed at primary nuclear weapon-equipped adversaries as these likely pose the greatest threat to the new nuclear power and should thus receive the greatest attention.2 They are also most likely to afflict leaders in states that have newly developed nuclear deterrents—‘new leaders of nuclear powers.’ Finally, by new nuclear power leaders I refer to inexperience with nuclear crises rather than nuclear weapons. I first briefly address the effects of leadership turnover and make three points. First, while higher leadership turnover in democracies will increase the probability that leaders in experienced democratic powers will authorize nuclear assertion, autocracies exhibit less leadership turnover. Moreover, successors to autocratic leaders will tend to have experienced the same pathologies of availability and fear in the nuclear crisis and therefore refrain from nuclear assertion. Second, unless leaders in experienced nuclear powers confront assertive new nuclear powers, like President Trump and Kim Jong Un today, nuclear assertion should be mostly restricted to new leaders of new nuclear powers because their experiences at the nuclear brink tend to encourage them to authorize confidence-building measures and other diplomatic concessions (like the hotline and nuclear-testing agreements after the Cuban Missile Crisis) that raise the international and domestic costs of assertion for both and largely restrict successors to nuclear moderation. I argue that nuclear proliferation is dangerous when leaders perceive nuclear assertion as a safe strategy to achieve their foreign policy objectives—that is, they do not believe their nuclear threats will actually lead to nuclear war because they can control escalation. In contrast, possessing nuclear weapons becomes safe only when new nuclear powers view nuclear assertion as dangerous. As I outline below, the affect heuristic will make new nuclear programs generate strong psychological pressures for leaders to overestimate their geopolitical possibilities and neglect the limitations, leading to assertive policies. Leaders will then overlearn about nuclear coercion from these apparent victories and persist with it. Research has found that availability biases lead people to learn more from their own policies, primarily those that they have been involved with or exposed to for a long time. Leaders in new nuclear powers will, therefore, tend to act based on their own experiences with their own nuclear program rather than the experiences of others or the historical record. This dangerous cocktail of availability and effect will cause leaders to authorize assertive policies and learn that they work. A second important variable explaining nuclear assertion is fear. Though rational deterrence arguments would expect a new nuclear power to back down upon encountering costly signals from an adversary, I argue that the logic of availability will cause leaders to not respond to costly signals in a rational way. Rather, fear of imminent nuclear war, I contend, is what causes risk aversion even when the subjective probability and cost of nuclear escalation remain constant. Only those costly signals that cause leaders to personally experience the fear of imminent nuclear escalation will cause them to authorize restrained foreign policies. Availability According to the availability heuristic, people assess the probability of an event or outcome not on a systematic historical analysis but its ease of mental accessibility (Tversky and Kahneman 1982). Rather than directing attention to current, past, or plausible data to ensure that subjective probabilities are close to objective probabilities, psychological research has shown that availability biases cause personally experienced data to absorb much more attention, leading to misinterpretation or neglect of other information (Fiske and Taylor 2008, 74). This results in biased probability judgements (Tversky and Kahneman 1982, 18). The heuristic functions as an automatic operation and intentional problem-solving strategy and occurs in high-stakes political contexts where leaders do not intentionally learn lessons selectively to suit political agendas (Kahneman 2011, 130; Levy 1994; Khong 1992). If the probability that a person learns from a data point is a function of one's level of participation and time spent with the event, leaders in new nuclear powers are more likely to internalize the experiences with nuclear weapons from their own country's nuclear journey, rather than the historical record. Leaders of new nuclear powers may not have been primarily responsible for their countries’ nuclear program, but they would, as senior politicians or leaders in waiting, have been intimately exposed to years of financial, technological, and bureaucratic investments and likely tense regional geopolitical reactions to weapon and missile tests. I hypothesize that a leader's own experiences with nuclear and/or missile tests, even as a civilian at the time of such tests, are likely to be very cognitively accessible because they were personally experienced, recent, dramatic, salient, and vivid. Subsequently, when coming to terms with the fundamental nuclear trade-off between assertion and restraint, a leader's own nuclear experiences will loom much larger than others in the historical record. The affect heuristic or “halo effect” is closely related to the availability heuristic (McDermott 2002). It causes people who are favorably disposed toward a technology to believe that it offers substantial benefits and few risks. When people dislike a technology, they only think of its disadvantages (Alhakami and Slovic 1994). As a result, positive information designed to influence one's overall evaluation of nuclear power systematically causes people to believe the benefits are high and the risks low (Finucane et al. 2000). When a favorably perceived policy has high costs, decision-makers tend to believe that accomplishments justify sacrifices. Thus, by 1914, after extending much effort to build a fleet to deter Britain from entering a continental war, German foreign secretary Gottlieb von Jagow incorrectly estimated that England would not fight because “we have not built our navy for nothing” (as quoted in Jervis 1976, 397). In sum, availability biases will likely cause leaders of new nuclear powers to make two dangerous inferential leaps. First, positive feelings associated with their own successes will lead to positive assessments regarding the effectiveness of nuclear assertion and the belief that they can ignore or control any risk of inadvertent escalation. Even if such leaders focus on a nuclear weapon's defensive deterrent capability, they will likely reason that a substantial defensive capability implies more room for offensive assertion, coercion, and conventional aggression (Snyder 1965, 198–99; Cohen 2013). Second, they will focus upon the cognitively available success of their own nuclear weapons, interpret any subsequent geopolitical gains as stemming from nuclear weapons, and use this experience as the only evidence necessary to assess the utility of assertive and restrained foreign policies. They will be inattentive to the historical record (Jervis 1976, 241–42). H1:Leaders of new nuclear powers will authorize assertive foreign policies. Fear Nuclear powers facing an assertive new nuclear adversary may initially respond with restrained policies but later resort to assertive strategies to contain the former's aggression. Assertive responses increase the risk of escalation, possibly leading to armed conflict and/or a nuclear crisis (Schelling 1960; Posen 1991). Leaders could fear imminent nuclear war even when nuclear war is not imminent. Assertive responses do not, however, influence subjective beliefs about the subjective probability of nuclear escalation (Johnson and Tierney, 2011). Thoughts of danger that are cognitively accessible exacerbate fear, defined as “dread of impending disaster that tends to cause intense urges to defend oneself by escaping a situation” (Ohman 2008, 710). Fear is different from anxiety, defined as “an ineffable and unpleasant feeling of foreboding.” Fear in general causes risk-averse choices and judgements (Lerner and Keltner 2001). Fear of imminent nuclear escalation—distinct from disutility or a general respect for the dangers associated with nuclear weapons—is highly cognitively available and should cause leaders to assess the benefits of nuclear assertion as marginal. Leaders who experience fear of imminent nuclear war should avoid policies that exacerbate its source. They will worry about losing control over a crisis that could escalate to nuclear war and prefer restrained foreign policies toward their primary nuclear adversary. Fearful leaders should authorize restrained policies even when the subjective probability and cost of nuclear escalation remain constant. Fear has affective as well as cognitive influences on decision-making; the two are tightly interlinked. When the brain detects a threat, it triggers fear that causes an immediate fight-or-flight response. This process is quick and subconscious and can cause similar reactions in the distant future in the face of similar phenomena. According to Mercer (2010, 11), “feeling is believing because emotion is evidence.” The core insight here is that, when leaders believe that the nuclear escalation is imminent, they will use this emotional response as a basis for avoiding the assertive foreign policies that created the fear in the first place. From a rational perspective, a specific fear of imminent nuclear war should not impact one's assessments of risk any more than a general sense of danger, and risk estimates in one situation should not influence estimates of logically unrelated situations. Stated differently, fear should not rationally cause risk aversion when the subjective probability of nuclear escalation and its costs remain constant. However, psychological research has shown that these rational expectations are incorrect. People that experience fear will perceive greater risk across current and new situations. Strikingly, “the same patterns for fear and for anger appeared across tasks assessing risk perception, risk preferences and one's comparative chances of experiencing a variety of positive and negative events.” (Lerner and Keltner 2001, 155; Lerner et al. 2003; Fischhoff et al. 2005) and have been extensively replicated (Skitka et al. 2006). Västfjäll, Peters, and Slovic (2008), for example, find that people reminded about recent tsunamis believed that the risk of future negative events was higher than that of positive events. Fear “motivates risk-aversive behavior, including actions aimed at prevention and protection, conciliatory acts, hiding, and flight” (Brader and Marcus 2013, 178). This body of research suggests that approaching the nuclear brink should cause leaders to authorize restrained foreign policies. Lerner et al. (2003, 144) concluded that “emotions elicit specific cognitive appraisals that, although tailored to help the individual respond to the event that evoked the emotion, persist beyond the eliciting situation and become an implicit perceptual lens for interpreting subsequent situations.” LeDoux and Debiek (2004, 815) similarly conclude that “defensive reactions to stimuli previously associated with physical threat, even if weakened by experiences throughout life, can recover spontaneously or in the face of stressful events.” Fear of imminent nuclear escalation should cause leaders to authorize restrained foreign policies long after their nuclear crisis because it reduces the risk of nuclear escalation. H2:Leaders of new nuclear powers will tend to persist with assertive foreign policies until they experience fear of imminent nuclear war. The above hypotheses challenge the Rubicon theory of war (Johnson and Tierney 2011). In this theory, leaders switch from a deliberative to implementation mindset as conflict draws near. In the implementation mindset, leaders experience reduced receptivity to incoming information and increased vulnerability to cognitive dissonance and illusions of control, thereby resulting in provocative policies that increase the chances of war (Johnson and Tierney 2011, 13–23). These dynamics are central to the first stage of the availability, learning, and fear (ALF) model, culminating in nuclear emboldenment. The Rubicon theory, however, cannot explain when emboldened leaders of nuclear countries authorize restrained foreign policies. Put differently, in the case of nuclear emboldenment, leaders appear to defy the Rubicon theory and retreat in the face of fear of imminent escalation. Adherents to rational deterrence theory might challenge my claims by arguing that exogenous factors cause leaders to develop nuclear weapons and authorize assertive foreign policies. The logic here is that leaders will authorize assertive or restrained policies based on cost-benefit analysis, taking into consideration the balance of power and national interests, crisis bargaining behavior, and reputational variables (Huth and Russett 1990; Huth,1999). In the case that a new nuclear power faces a dangerous and costly security environment, which includes a nuclear-armed rival with first-strike incentives, assertive foreign policies can be rational. On the other hand, rational deterrence theory would predict restrained policies when a new nuclear power faces an adversary that emits costly signals. Costly signals, which often involve audience costs, differentiate resolved actors from “bluffers” in crisis bargaining and are the only rational source of learning in standard bargaining models (Fearon 1994; Schultz 1998; Smith 1998). Rational deterrence theory reasons that costly signals are both necessary and sufficient to elicit restrained nuclear and foreign policies and does not expect the psychological experience of fear to have an independent deterrent effect. The ALF model elaborated here, however, expects fear of imminent nuclear war to be necessary and sufficient for restraint, even if underlying security challenges have been resolved. As a final clarification, how can we identify whether an assertion by a nuclear power is nuclear emboldenment? I attempt to resolve this thorny problem below with evidence that Soviet and Chinese leaders believed that nuclear weapons offered assertive advantages that were earlier elusive and that the leader authorized assertion only on these grounds. To demonstrate emboldenment, I expand my focus beyond coercive threats (Sechser and Fuhrmann 2013, 195) and include actual military action. Threats are often cheaper but may be ineffective unless accompanied by limited revisions to the status quo. A restrictive focus on threats would omit actual revisionism from an analysis on nuclear emboldenment. Case Selection Examining Khrushchev's Soviet Union and Mao Zedong's China provides a strong plausibility probe for this argument for two reasons. First, unlike cases from the first decade of the nuclear age (1945–1955), Khrushchev's foreign policy decisions in the late 1950s cannot easily be attributed to uncertainty over the nature of the early Cold War system, with spheres of influence up for grabs, rather than nuclear emboldenment. Second, historical data on the rule of Khrushchev and Mao abounds, facilitating an assessment on whether psychological biases had an impact on the development of those countries’ nuclear foreign policy. Specifically, there is extensive historiography on the attention spans and beliefs of Khrushchev that allows a test of the psychological model developed here. The briefer discussion of Mao Zedong allows me to counter some further objections to my argument. Nuclear powers that lack a formal superpower alliance may be more likely to be emboldened than those states that could be constrained by their superpower patron. The United States, Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan, and South Africa may therefore be easier cases for this theory than Britain, France, and possibly Israel. Nikita Khrushchev, 1956–1962 British, French, and Israeli forces advanced on Egypt in 1956 in what became known as the Suez Crisis. The attack caused Khrushchev to immediately demand that Britain and France restore the status quo or risk Soviet nuclear retaliation (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 134n50).3 Britain and France called for a ceasefire two days later because of severe pressure on the supply of British oil and the pound, and because of Eisenhower's strong reluctance to join the fight (Kunz 1991). Prime Ministers Eden and Mollet were aware that Khrushchev's threats were empty—he did not yet have R-5M nuclear missiles capable of targeting London and Paris (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 136n55). The ALF model explains why Khrushchev seems to have learned from this episode that nuclear coercion is effective. Despite threats by the American Supreme Commander in Europe that any attack on London or Paris would lead to the destruction of Moscow (Betts 1987, 64), Khrushchev's son Sergei recalled the following: The ceasefire resulting from our message made an enormous impression on Father … Father became convinced that the mere mention of nuclear-armed missiles had a powerful effect … The consequences of Suez were felt throughout the years to come. Its echo could even be heard in the … Cuban Missile Crisis. Over and over again he recalled the previous year's events in Suez, the phenomenal effect produced by the mere mention of the R-5. (Khrushchev 2000, 211–12, 264) In his memoirs, Khrushchev stated that “the main point is that within twenty-two hours after the receipt of our warning the aggression was ended … [T]his was a big victory for the Soviet Union. Our voice proved to be so powerful that it forced the aggression to cease” (Khrushchev 2007, 816). He does not seem to have understood the critical, but less cognitively available, role of US pressure on London and Paris in salvaging Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. In his memoirs, he wrote that London and Paris knew that Eisenhower's behavior was a “ruse” that “would have no consequences” (Khrushchev 2007, 816). He was unlikely to have known that his adversaries knew that his nuclear threat was a bluff. Khrushchev subsequently explained to Mao Zedong in July 1958 that “when we wrote letters to Eden and Mollet during the Suez events they immediately stopped their aggression” (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 181).4 The cognitive availability of his nuclear threat seems to have provided the Soviet leader with an obvious explanation for the sudden and desired Anglo-Israeli retreat from Egypt. He expressed no awareness of the central role of British oil and currency problems, and there is no evidence in the extensive available archival records, including both primary and secondary sources, that suggests that he was aware (see Khrushchev 2004; Khrushchev 2000; Khrushchev, N 1990; Khrushchev, S 1990; Khrushchev 1970; Taubman 2003; Thompson 1997; Fursenko and Naftali 2006). Rational deterrence theory might explain Khrushchev's threat by pointing to Khrushchev's belief that Nasser's fall would be a very costly outcome. On the other hand, one could argue that domestic politics, rather than the availability heuristic, drove Soviet assertiveness. Khrushchev, after all, faced a “double bind” in which he needed to steward scarce resources to both compete with the militarily superior United States and consolidate the precarious Soviet economy (Richter 1994, 1–29). Thus, he only half-jokingly declared that “if we can step up the output of meat 3.2 times, we can catch up with the United States by 1975!” (Taubman 2003, 305, 454). But these political constraints left room for multiple solutions. The ALF model helps explain why Khrushchev relied on lessons from his Suez threats rather than other policy options. The argument that nuclear missiles compensated for a lack of massive ground forces and allowed Khrushchev to focus on economic competition “addressed the same internal and external pressures recognized by Malenkov in 1953” (Richter 1994, 106–7; Taubman 2003, 381; Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 243–48). Regional and domestic political structures shaped and shoved the Soviet leader, but the pathologies of availability powerfully influenced how he pushed back. Moreover, it is now clear that he was “alone at the top” from 1958 to late 1964 after he ousted the instigators of the 1957 coup and forced the retirement of ground force advocate Georgi Zhukov in October of that year. This allowed him to enforce foreign policy decisions with minimal concessions (Taubman 2003, 365, 413). As Richter (1994, 3) noted, “if one coalition enjoys a preponderance of power in the decision-making process, international events are unlikely to force it to lose influence or alter its policies.” Indeed, Khrushchev's nuclear assertion was remarkably consistent between 1958 and 1962. The ALF model expects Khrushchev to have become emboldened to behave assertively against his primary adversary after developing what he believed was a survivable nuclear deterrent. The next section examines the onset of the Berlin crises after the Soviet leader achieved this milestone. The First Berlin Crisis, 1958–1959 On November 10, 1958, Khrushchev declared that, if the Soviet Union and allied powers did not recognize East Germany via a peace treaty, he would sign a separate treaty with East Germany. This would effectively end Western access rights to and presence in Berlin (US Department of State 1985, 542–46). Two days later, Soviet guards stopped three US Army trucks that were leaving West Berlin by the Babelsberg checkpoint. The resulting standoff ended eight hours later when a platoon of American tanks arrived (Sampson 1993, 69n1). In subsequent Soviet policy, representing a compromise between Khrushchev and the cautious Deputy Chairman Anastas Mikoyan, Moscow promised to wait six months before unilaterally signing its peace treaty with East Germany (Fursenko and Naftali 2006). When Khrushchev visited Eisenhower in Washington in September 1959, four months after the ultimatum expired, he announced that he would not insist on any Berlin negotiation deadline. If the US deployment of tanks to the Babelsberg gate was a costly signal, rational deterrence theory cannot explain why Khrushchev persisted with assertive threats in Berlin. Signals of resolve from the United States to defend Berlin did not undermine Khrushchev's willingness to engage in nuclear assertion to revise the status quo. Rather, Khrushchev's behavior was guided by his recent success during the Suez Crisis. Apparently, successful use of the nuclear threat emboldened him. It did not instil in him any fear of imminent nuclear war. The ALF model developed here best explains his persistence with nuclear assertion on these grounds (see Selvage 1998a, 1998b; Zubok 2007; Volkogonov 1998; Zubok and Pleshakov 1996; Harrison 2005; Kempe 2011; Beschloss 1991). He likely refrained from the strategy in 1960 to help his preferred candidate John Kennedy defeat Richard Nixon in the presidential election but wasted no time in reverting to the assertive playbook after Kennedy was elected. The Second Berlin Crisis, 1961 Khrushchev issued a second coercive nuclear threat over Berlin in early June 1961. He threatened to sign a peace treaty with East Germany that would turn over control of all air, rail, and road access routes through Berlin to the East German government if Kennedy did not concede to his demands for a “free city” by December 31. This would have forced NATO troops entering the NATO sector to forcibly evict East German and possibly Soviet guards, which would have substantially increased the risk of nuclear escalation. While the Berlin Wall stopped the refugee flow out of East Germany, it did not resolve the underlying geopolitical and economic pressures that motivated Soviet policy. A weak East Germany—that President Kennedy refused to recognize—exacerbated United States and West German influence in Eastern Europe, undermined Soviet satellite states, and threatened the legitimacy of Soviet communism. Unlike Eisenhower's 1958 inaction, Kennedy authorized a costly signal and announced substantial military preparations for a showdown in Berlin. He announced in a televised address that he would request an increase of 3.25 billion dollars in the defense budget, call up reserve troops and the National Guard, and initiate a new program of civil defense. Forty thousand reinforcements soon landed in France to begin Kennedy's European military buildup, and half of the US long-range bombers were put on fifteen-minute ground alert. Although Khrushchev announced on September 24, 1961, that “the storm in Berlin is over,” he authorized the commander of Soviet forces in East Germany to “scare them [referring to the Americans]” (Smyser 2009, 159n21). Following harassment of US transports into East Berlin by East German police, Kennedy authorized a series of daily probes on October 25 by civilians accompanied by an armed escort (Smyser 2009, 137). Two days later, ten Soviet tanks (later increased to thirty) positioned themselves in front of Checkpoint Charlie in anticipation of the now daily US-armed probe. After a famous standoff that lasted almost twenty-four hours, which was shown all over the world, Khrushchev withdrew Soviet tanks on October 28. Kennedy's response to Khrushchev's second attempted Berlin grab was a costly signal. The president publically declared his resolve to defend West Berlin from Soviet challenges and authorized a substantial military mobilization that culminated in the standoff at Checkpoint Charlie. Yet Khrushchev initially persisted with an assertive foreign policy. He told East German leader Walter Ulbricht in early 1962 that “we must put pressure to get a peace treaty” (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 422n30). He told his presidium colleagues that “it's worthwhile playing this game … there is more than a 95 percent probability that there will be no war” (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 356; see also 412n10, 414). Khrushchev's confidence in nuclear assertion is only understandable in light of the fact that he did not experience fear of imminent nuclear war during the 1961 Berlin crisis. Kennedy's response, while a costly signal, was mostly designed to defend West Berlin from Soviet challenges, so it is not surprising that Khrushchev did not reach the nuclear brink. The ALF model outlined above expects emboldened leaders of nuclear powers who assert their primary adversary to only adopt restrained policies after the said adversary authorizes an assertive policy and plunges the pair into a nuclear crisis. Rational deterrence theory cannot explain why Khrushchev persisted with nuclear assertion over Berlin after Kennedy's costly signal. One might argue that factors other than Soviet emboldenment influenced Soviet policy. Did East German refugees and the growing Sino-Soviet rift “drive Khrushchev up the wall?” (Harrison 2005, 139–223). Ulbricht indeed pressured Khrushchev to close the border. The Soviet leader himself admitted that “the wall was ordered by me due to Ulbricht's pressing wish” (Harrison 2005, 186). However, Khrushchev's general decision to persist with assertive policies— before and after the construction of the Berlin Wall—show that the wall did not resolve Soviet problems and that East German pressure was not a sufficient cause of Soviet assertion. The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 Although the Cuban missile deployment was motivated by both offensive Berlin as well as defensive Cuban objectives, it was primarily an assertive foreign policy on the part of the Soviet Union (see Fursenko and Naftali 1998, 2006; Dobbs 2008; Blight, Allyn, and Welch 1993; May and Zelikow 2002; Allison and Zelikow 1999, 82–109). Rational deterrence theory explains Khrushchev's deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba in the following manner: the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba was a necessary response to a situation in which Khrushchev had only a small nuclear arsenal to leverage against an unbearable status quo. But rational deterrence theory cannot explain why he persisted with nuclear assertion despite costly signalling by Kennedy. After agreeing in April to a deployment presumably designed to deter a US invasion, Khrushchev informed his presidium colleagues on May 21, 1962, of “an offensive policy” (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 435n80). He informed his colleagues that his “meniscus” approach, the ratcheting up of tensions, might eliminate the US presence in West Berlin (Fursenko and Naftali 2006). He persuaded them to agree to deploy fifty thousand troops and tactical, intermediate, and strategic nuclear missiles to Cuba (Fursenko and Naftali 1998). This deployment seems odd if the primary goal was to defend Cuba from a US invasion (Allison and Zelikow 1999). As Fidel Castro remarked in 1992, “if it was a matter of defending Cuba without creating an international problem, the presence of tactical weapons would not have created the same problem that the strategic weapons did” (Blight, Allyn, and Welch 1993, 250–51). The evidence suggests that Khrushchev planned to coerce Kennedy out of West Berlin after the failure of previous courses of action: privately stipulating his demands, announcing the presence of his nuclear missile base in Cuba, and bringing the Berlin issue to the United Nations (Mikoyan 2012, 101; Burlatsky 1988: 173–74). On July 25, Khrushchev asked the US Ambassador if he wanted a Berlin crisis before or after the November 6 congressional elections (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 447n27, n28). On September 11, Khrushchev told the West German Ambassador that after the November congressional elections he would push for the establishment of a free city of West Berlin, having “already prepared everything for this” (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 457n56). After Kennedy's blockade became operational, Khrushchev wrote him a letter mentioning Berlin and offering to remove the Cuban missiles if Kennedy promised not to invade and then wrote another letter asking for the further removal of the Turkish Jupiter missiles (Sampson 1996, 158–59). Kennedy accepted these terms on the condition that the Jupiter concession remain secret. He then threatened to attack Cuba if Khrushchev did not accept these terms within twenty-four hours, but promised to accept Castro's regime if they were. Khrushchev removed the missiles and eventually the other Soviet weapons, thereby resolving the crisis (May and Zelikow 2002, 390). Khrushchev's assistant Oleg Troyanovsky noted that, after receiving Kennedy's initial letter about the embargo and the demand for the removal of the missiles, the Soviet leader proudly exclaimed that “we've saved Cuba” (Taubman,2003, 562). However, it is noteworthy that his initial reply was not to exchange the missiles for Cuba's security. Rather, he upped the ante and demanded the removal of the Jupiter missiles without waiting for Kennedy's response. As Horelick (1964, 356) explains, “to regard the outcome of the Cuban missile crisis as coinciding in any substantial way with Soviet intentions or interests is to mistake the skillful salvage of a shipwreck for brilliant navigation.” Khrushchev knew that a US attack on Cuba would kill thousands of Soviet troops and likely result in tactical if not strategic nuclear escalation. He likely experienced fear of imminent nuclear war, although there is no evidence that the subjective probabilities or costs of nuclear escalation changed. Khrushchev reached the nuclear brink between Tuesday, October 23, and Thursday, October 25, when Soviet ships began to turn away from Cuba. While he furiously mocked the idea of accidental nuclear war at the Vienna summit, his letter to Kennedy during the crisis eloquently expressed his newfound risk aversion: The more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly well of what terrible forces our countries dispose. (Sampson and Joyce 1998, 177) He later stated to his presidium colleagues that “we started out and then got afraid,” noting that “the tragedy is that they can attack, and we shall respond. This may end in a big war” (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 470). A Soviet deputy foreign minister told his colleagues that Khrushchev “shit his pants” when he heard that the US Strategic Air Command was moving to DEFCON 2 (Dobbs 2008, 112). Khrushchev later told the president of Czechoslovakia on October 30, 1962, “[w]e were truly on the verge of war” (Hershberg and Ostermann 1962–2012, 402). The Soviet Ambassador to the United Nations, Valery Zorin, explained to UN Secretary General U. Thant that “it is necessary to act quickly … since the situation cannot be allowed to get out of control” (1997, 290). In early December, Khrushchev informed American political journalist Cousins (1972, 46) directly of his fear of imminent nuclear war during the crisis: Of course, I was scared. It would have been insane not to have been scared. I was frightened about what could happen to my country—or your country or all the other countries that would be devastated by a nuclear war. If being frightened meant that I helped avert such insanity then I'm glad I was frightened. Khrushchev's authorization of a restrained foreign policy and acceptance of the status quo in Berlin after the Cuban Missile Crisis is, from a rational deterrence perspective, deeply puzzling. Why, given three costly attempts over four years to get his way in Berlin, did he finally accept the status quo there? His nuclear arsenal and Cuban ally remained vulnerable. Khrushchev could have attempted to salvage his position through another Berlin threat or kept secret Soviet troops and weapons in Cuba. However, he accepted the status quo in Berlin and Cuba, and thereafter authorized a restrained foreign policy. The ALF model helps explain why he did so: fear of imminent nuclear war. He was inexperienced with nuclear standoffs until the Cuban Missile Crisis altered his approach to the trade-offs of nuclear coercion. It explains why Khrushchev learned the limits of nuclear assertion from his experience of fear and not from costly signals. Khrushchev still wanted to revise the status quo in Berlin but was no longer willing to authorize nuclear assertion to do so. By June 1963 he admitted to his presidium colleagues that “we will not get an agreement [on Berlin] from the Americans: let's change the tactic” (Fursenko and Naftali 2006, 525n120). Nuclear assertion had been the basis of Soviet foreign policy in Berlin and elsewhere since 1958, but after the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was eclipsed by a restrained foreign policy despite the failure of costly signals and the continuation of an undesirable status quo. There is strong evidence in the historical record that Khrushchev's fear of imminent nuclear war independently caused Soviet policy change. One might argue that Khrushchev is a poor test of the ALF model because there was little history of nuclear assertion in 1956. But while Khrushchev had less historical information to rely on than would later leaders, he did have Truman, Eisenhower, and Stalin's nuclear diplomacy in the first decade of the Cold War to consider. He seems to have paid hardly any attention to these cases. Mao Zedong, 1969–1970 Was Mao more assertive before he developed nuclear weapons? If he were, it would undermine the ALF model of nuclear emboldenment developed here. A skeptic might point out that although Mao carefully avoided combat with US forces in the 1954 and 1958 Taiwan Straits crises—a continuation of unresolved civil war skirmishes—more Chinese troops died in the Korean War than all other postwar interstate conflicts with Chinese involvement (Christensen 1996, 228–29). Does this show of resolve preceding China's acquisition of nuclear weapons in 1964 not undermine the ALF model? My response is that Mao was at least if not more assertive after he developed nuclear weapons in 1964. Regarding China's aggression during the Korean War, Mao only became engaged in October 1950 when the Soviet Union committed to provide air cover for Chinese troops after the North Koreans had taken a sufficient beating. The Chinese became reluctantly involved in order to prevent the very real and serious prospect of US troops permanently stationed on China's border (Kennedy 2012, 73). This behavior falls short of emboldened nuclear coercion. Nuclear emboldenment appears to take hold in 1965, a year after China's first nuclear test. In that year, Mao supported the North Vietnamese in its war with the United States by providing 150,000 troops in sixteen antiaircraft divisions. The Chinese origin of these troops was easily identifiable to Washington. Demonstrating Mao's perception that he was acting from a position of strength, Chinese troops shot down hundreds of US fighters, causing thousands of casualties. Mao signaled to Washington that, while he did not want general war with the United States, he was prepared for one and was willing to fight without constraints (Whiting 1975, 186). In sum, Mao was not more assertive before developing nuclear weapons than after—rather his confidence in aggressing against other nations only grew. A further comparison of Mao's behavior in a 1962 war with India (before nuclear weapons) and the 1969 border skirmishes with the Soviet Union (after nuclear weapons) lends clearer support to the emboldenment thesis. Both encounters involved the escalation of frontier disputes in the face of declining local military power (Fravel 2008). In 1962, against a militarily weaker and non-nuclear India, after killing almost five thousand Indian soldiers and sustaining more than seven hundred casualties, Mao declared a unilateral ceasefire and announced his willingness to withdraw from all occupied territory (Fravel 2008, 174). China, in this case, restrained itself. In contrast, in 1969 China faced the nuclear weapon-equipped Soviet Union, which was more powerful than China. As conveyed by Brezhnev's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Soviet Union was willing to intervene in other communist states. By 1969, Sino-Soviet skirmishes over the disputed Zhenbao Island had escalated to fatal assaults. In March 1969 on the disputed Zhenbao Island, Chinese guards lured their Soviet enemies into a fatal trap that killed dozens (Robinson 1972, 1187–89). The Soviet reprisal—itself the only case of Soviet nuclear assertion against China since 1970—involved heavy conventional strikes and nuclear threats. After the Chinese surprise attack, the Soviet military threatened China with “a crushing nuclear retaliation” including “nuclear-armed missiles with unlimited destruction” (in Lewis and Litai 2006, 52n54). On September 16, 1969, Soviet agent Victor Louis proclaimed that “well-informed sources in Moscow” assert that “Russian nuclear installations stand aimed at Chinese nuclear facilities” (Louis 1969). The Soviet defense minister who had planned the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia under the pretext of the Warsaw Pact training exercises, Andrei Grechko, threatened to punish China with a nuclear assault (Kuisong 2000, 32; Lewis and Litai 2006, 56n79). By August, Zhou Enlai apparently “feared a preemptive attack on China” (Burr 2001, 87n44). Mao's doctor, recalling the August 1969 urban-to-rural relocation of millions, noted that the “remaining city residents were mobilized to ‘dig tunnels deep’ in preparation for aerial, possibly nuclear, attack” (Lewis and Litai 2006, 54n70). On August 28, Mao issued an urgent instruction to protect key installations from a sudden nuclear strike (Kuisong 2000, 37; Burr 2001, 92n61; Sutter 1978, 86–87). War preparations for a perceived Soviet invasion continued throughout September and October, and Mao encouraged his followers to oppose any war of aggression in which “atom bombs are used as weapons” (Lewis and Litai 2006, 59n104). At a meeting of generals to address military readiness, the phrase heard most often was “the coming Soviet surprise attack” (Lewis and Litai 2006, 60). Mao authorized the relocation of almost one million soldiers, a few thousand airplanes, and hundreds of ships in preparation for “the coming of war” (Kuisong 2000, 40–41). China has not used force on the Ussuri river, or in any dispute with the Soviet Union, since Mao's time at the nuclear brink. After the October 1969 Zhou-Kosygin talks, Moscow and Beijing proposed and agreed to conflict prevention and escalation-reducing measures and, in 1991, resolved most of their outstanding territorial disagreements (Fravel 2008, 216n173). Almost all subsequent Chinese uses of force occurred after 1979 and were directed against territory disputes with Vietnam or the Philippines (Fravel 2008, 64–65). Mao's fear of imminent nuclear war, not Soviet costly signals, seems to have been necessary to cause Chinese restraint. One might also argue that, rather than availability biases, Mao's individual ideology led to China's assertive policies. Hymans (2006, 38) argues that leaders with “oppositional nationalist” identity conceptions are more likely to develop nuclear weapons; one could add that such leaders of nuclear states are also more likely to authorize assertive foreign policies.5 Availability biases have no role in this setup. While the availability argument requires that the leader, after nuclear proliferation, be intimately involved with foreign policy, the ideology argument hinges on the assumption that leaders remain in power long enough to be the major push behind developing nuclear weapons and the architect of foreign policy after the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Only under such conditions could national identity conceptions give rise to assertive policies. But this explanation cannot explain why Mao's personal experience at the nuclear brink in 1969, and not an earlier US or Soviet costly signal, tempered his nuclear assertion. While Mao tended to push for more assertive policies than Liu Shaoqi and other senior civilian and military officials (Kennedy 2012), this argument cannot explain variation in Mao's assertiveness. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, a costly signal, did not stop Mao's 1969 assertiveness on Zhenbao as rational deterrence theory would expect. Mao's experience of fear of imminent nuclear war in 1969 was necessary to cause his restraint. Conclusion The Soviet and Chinese cases provide strong support for the hypotheses that new nuclear powers are initially emboldened to act assertively and only exhibit restraint after leaders experience fear of imminent nuclear war. Contrary to what rational deterrence theory suggests, costly signals are insufficient to generate restraint. Khrushchev learned from his own cognitively available Suez experiences that nuclear weapons threats can yield geopolitical dividends. The ALF model developed here explains Soviet assertion and why Khrushchev later authorized a restrained foreign policy in the face of a still dangerous security environment. The ALF model explains assertiveness toward the US position in Berlin from 1959, when Khrushchev developed what he thought was a survivable deterrent, and is indeterminate regarding Soviet assertion in the Middle East in 1956. While rational deterrence theory can explain why Khrushchev was emboldened to revise the status quo, it cannot account for the importance of fear of imminent nuclear war in deterring him from later aggression. As mentioned above, costly signals did not result in deterrence, even when perceived probabilities of war and the costs of nuclear escalation remained constant. These findings challenge the common narrative surrounding the deterrence impact of costly signals. Only fear of imminent nuclear war retrained the actions of Khrushchev and Mao. Policymakers tend to view emboldenment of new nuclear powers as a serious threat. However, proliferation debates have not accounted for the tempering effect of experience with nuclear weapons, and more specifically with nuclear brinkmanship. The theory developed here fills this gap in the literature by focusing on how experience with nuclear coercion tempers nuclear emboldenment over time. By considering the impact of fear of nuclear war, I found empirical support for the claim that inexperience with nuclear weapons and, more specifically, nuclear crises leads to emboldenment, while experience at the nuclear brink tempers this. The availability of personal successes with nuclear threats explains why a country might persist with nuclear coercion, but such boldness is eventually mitigated when such threats cause a nuclear crisis. Costly signals that do not cause fear of imminent nuclear escalation were insufficient to moderate new nuclear power aggression. Paradoxically, nuclear proliferation is dangerous when leaders believe nuclear assertion to be safe—and nuclear weapons become safe when leaders learn that nuclear assertion is dangerous. One might counter that Khrushchev's replacement in October 1964 by the less erratic Brezhnev actually supports Hymans’ thesis related to the importance of individual ideology because policy change correlated with leadership change. But policy change occurred in late 1962, after the Cuban Missile Crisis and two years before the Soviet leadership change in late 1964. Any personality-driven explanation must explain why Khrushchev persistently strove to get his way between 1959 and 1962, but accepted the earlier untenable status quo between November 1962 and October 1964. A skeptic may also counter that, if new nuclear powers tend to be conflict-prone and experienced nuclear powers do not, the development of nuclear weapons is much more important than learning about leveraging them in foreign policy endeavors.6 But this argument cannot explain the correlation between leader experiences and policy preferences. Later leaders who also experienced the crisis will tend to authorize restrained policies; other leaders in experienced nuclear powers may develop beliefs that cause them to authorize nuclear assertion, but this should be rare. Leonid Brezhnev directly experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis as presidium chairman and, consistent with my theory, authorized mostly restrained foreign policies when he subsequently came to power. When Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin met President Johnson after Khrushchev's ouster, the Russian was quick to point out that he had been ordered to inform Johnson that Soviet policy “remained unchanged” and that Moscow would “adhere steadfastly” to “the pursuit of peaceful coexistence and the relaxation of tensions” (Humphrey and Sampson 2001, 55). The US Ambassador pointed out that Moscow's policy statements “essentially repeats the previous coexistence line” (Humphrey and Sampson 2001, 57). Deputy Premier Kosygin also emphasized policy continuity to the US Ambassador, noting in particular his desire to “preserve all existing channels of communications with President Johnson” (Humphrey and Sampson 2001, 63). By March 1965, Moscow had grown alarmed by Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War. Despite again raising the problem of European security and a German peace settlement, Moscow did not take advantage of Johnson's preoccupation with Southeast Asia to take another potshot at West Berlin. McGeorge Bundy noted in November 1965 that Dobrynin, two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, “referred nostalgically to the period in which there was intimate communication with President Kennedy” (Humphrey and Sampson 2001, 141). Leaders’ direct experience with the benefits and limitations of nuclear coercion has an independent effect on foreign policy. This effect becomes clear when examining the actions of successors who may not find the earlier nuclear crises cognitively available. Experienced nuclear powers might authorize assertive policies if their leaders perceive nuclear coercion as safe. It is questionable whether Khrushchev and Mao's lessons of nuclear assertion from the 1960s have been passed on to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, who have revised their regional status quos amid substantial nuclear force modernizations. The case of Richard Nixon also points to the independent effect of leaders’ beliefs about nuclear weapons. He incorrectly learned that nuclear coercion offers significant geopolitical advantages from his personal involvement as Vice President with Eisenhower's Korean War nuclear threats (Kimball 2003, 15). Nixon proclaimed to the Republican National Convention in 1968 that “what we've got to do is walk softly and carry a big stick, and we can have peace in this world” (Kimball 2003, 65). His White House chief of staff recalled that the president “saw a parallel between Eisenhower's coercive threat to ‘end … the Korean War’ and his own Vietnam War ambitions” (Haldemann 1978, 83). This analysis suggests several lessons for both scholars and policymakers regarding nuclear proliferation, emboldenment, and international conflict. Leaders new to the helm of a new nuclear state will likely be emboldened in the short-term but should tend to behave more moderately over the longer run after they encounter nuclear brinkmanship and specifically a nuclear crisis. If North Korea or Iran develop nuclear missiles, costly signals and moderate foreign policies likely will not temper their emboldenment. Indeed, it is likely that Pyongyang and Tehran would attribute restraint on the part of the United States and international community to their own nuclear weapons—furthering their belief that persistence with coercion pays. The United States and its allies must instill enough fear in leaders Pyongyang and Tehran that nuclear escalation is a real possibility while also reducing their incentives to strike first through committing to Iranian and North Korean leaders that their regime will survive if they back down. Striking the balance between destroying offensive military power and credibly committing to live with such weak regimes will be difficult. Nuclear emboldenment may appear to endanger international peace and stability because limited aggression by nuclear powers is often hard to deter, but looks can be deceiving. Nuclear proliferation is dangerous when leaders believe that nuclear assertion is safe, but it becomes safe when leaders find such weapons dangerous. The spread of nuclear weapons may have other effects, but long-term emboldenment is not one of them. Table 1. Two-stage availability, learning, and fear (ALF) Model of nuclear emboldenment Stage 1 Stage 2 Independent variable Nuclear weapon development Assertive foreign policy Intervening variable Availability biases Adversary assertive foreign policy and fear of imminent nuclear war Dependent variable Assertive foreign policy Restrained foreign policy Stage 1 Stage 2 Independent variable Nuclear weapon development Assertive foreign policy Intervening variable Availability biases Adversary assertive foreign policy and fear of imminent nuclear war Dependent variable Assertive foreign policy Restrained foreign policy View Large Footnotes 1 By new I am not referring to a concrete number of years that a country has possessed nuclear weapons, but rather to the idea that the leader of such countries has not yet been tested by nuclear crisis. 2 One might argue on these grounds that emboldenment toward such nuclear weapon-equipped primary adversaries are easy tests that a theory of emboldenment should pass. I thank the external reviewer for raising this point and submit that the effect of emboldenment on nonnuclear adversaries is an important subject for future research. 3 Referenced in Fursenko and Naftali (2006). The KDMP (Kremlin Decision-Making Project) notes are Vladimir Malin's stenographic accounts of high level presidium state meetings. 4 Mao Zedong also believed this. As the East German Ambassador in Beijing remarked at the end of 1961, the Chinese believed that “in the case of the Suez aggression, the Soviet ultimatum, which was taken seriously, scared the imperialists and forced them to stop their aggression” (see Harrison 2005, 240). 5 I thank an external reviewer for pointing this out. 6 I thank a reviewer for encouraging me to clarify this point. 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Journal of Global Security Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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