Weapons of Mass Destruction, Strategic Deterrence, and Great Power Competition

By Paul Bernstein, Justin Anderson, Diane DiEuliis, Gerald Epstein, and Amanda Moodie Institute for National Strategic Studies


Weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and the means to deliver them—are an important feature of the global security environment and a key element of Great Power competition. For Russia and China, WMD contribute to multiple goals: conflict deterrence at the strategic and regional levels; regime survival; coercion of rival states; and, potentially, as an adjunct to conventional forces to support operations. U.S-Russia competition in nuclear weapons has been constrained in recent decades by various arms control agreements, but the erosion of this regulatory regime in the context of deteriorating bilateral relations could create new competitive pressures. China has elevated the importance of its nuclear forces, modernized and expanded its strategic nuclear capabilities, and fielded a growing number of dual-capable theater-range missile systems whose role (whether conventional or nuclear) in a future crisis or conflict could complicate deterrence and heighten escalation risks. China and Russia may perceive chemical and biological warfare agents, including agents developed through new scientific and manufacturing techniques, as important capabilities for a range of operations against the United States and its allies. Chemical or biological attacks could be difficult to attribute and may be well suited to support Russian and Chinese objectives in operations below the threshold of open armed conflict. READ MORE>>>