After reading Schelling and thinking about our discussion last week I cannot help but wonder how truly relevant "Arms and Influence" is today. The idea that nuclear war might break out seems even more unlikely than when Schelling wrote his work as we've now added nearly 40 years to non-nuclear combat. My main reasoning for thinking that Schelling may not be applicable is that looming threats which are nuclear in nature to the United States and its allies are no longer from the Soviet Union with a formidable nuclear arsenal. Rather we are most concerned, and I would argue rightly so, with rogue states acquiring nukes and passing them onto terrorist organizations or perhaps a dirty bomb attack in a crowded American city.
It seems that deterrence as discussed in Schelling would certainly make it extremely unlikely that any considerably nuclear armed state, Russia if you'd like to keep some post-Cold War animosity, would consider attacking the US due to the certainty that we would respond in kind. Does deterrence of any kind truly work against the failed states, repressive regimes, and terrorist organizations from whom we feel most threatened. Technological and military superiority have done little to deter the Iraqi insurgency from continuing to fight. I question if we are perhaps putting too much stock in the rational actor theory, that all states and leaders of states will make rational decisions in the best interest of their people. Can President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran truly be considered rational. It is not clear that Iran or any other despotic regime would not be willing to chance nuclear retaliation on its own territory for the opportunity to reach a desired goal, perhaps the destruction of Israel. A lack of rationality becomes even more likely when dealing with terrorists who operate as stateless actors, thus making it difficult for retaliatory strikes to be paid in kind should the US be attacked in some form. Ultimately, the question becomes for all of our nuclear might, is deterrence really protecting us from our most immediate threats?