The Logic of Latent Nuclear Deterrence

47 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2017

Date Written: September 8, 2017


Nuclear deterrence is central to international relations theory and practice. Most people assume that countries must possess nuclear weapons in order to reap deterrence benefits from their nuclear programs. Nuclear deterrence without bombs is seemingly impossible, since countries would be unable to immediately retaliate with nuclear forces. This article shows, however, that latent nuclear powers – nonnuclear states that possess the capacity to make weapons – can deter aggression, despite their lack of assembled warheads. Latent nuclear deterrence works because states that possess the technology needed to produce bombs can threaten to initiate or accelerate nuclear weapons programs if they are attacked. The evidence reveals that latent nuclear deterrence is surprisingly effective: countries such as Egypt, Iran, and Japan have been able to reduce their vulnerability to violent conflict simply by developing sensitive dual-use nuclear technology. Nuclear arsenals may be sufficient for nuclear deterrence to operate – but they are not necessary. This carries lessons for the debate about nuclear disarmament: most scholars and policymakers are skeptical that the prospect of nuclear rearmament in a disarmed world could deter serious international disputes, but the case for latent nuclear deterrence is stronger than critics would lead us to believe.

Keywords: nuclear deterrence, nuclear proliferation, nuclear weapons, nuclear latency, enrichment, reprocessing, international conflict

Suggested Citation

Fuhrmann, Matthew, The Logic of Latent Nuclear Deterrence (September 8, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Fuhrmann (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University ( email )

College Station, TX 77843
United States

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