How Many Nukes Do We Need?

Tom Nichols urges the US to think small:

The Cold War mission of deterring another nuclear superpower by preparing for global nuclear combat, insofar as that idea ever made sense, is now a part of history and should be left behind. The new mission for U.S. nuclear weapons for at least for the next two decades, if not longer, should be one of minimum deterrence, meaning the prevention of a major nuclear attack on America with a small nuclear force — perhaps as low as 300 strategic weapons — targeted only for retaliation for the attempted destruction of the United States and nothing else.

This is not a radical proposal: some American military and civilian leaders gravitated to the idea of a minimum deterrent as early as the 1950s.

Along the same lines, Tom Jacobs flags a recent paper (pdf) that tested how willing Americans are to use nuclear weapons:

“We initially set up the study assuming there would be a strong aversion to using nuclear weapons,” he said in an interview. “The design was created to determine how strong an incentive to use (nukes) do we have to create before people reluctantly sign on. How much of a military advantage would the nuclear option have to give above the conventional option before people would say, ‘We have to do this’?

“We found you barely have to put a finger on the scale.”