Rituals of Extended Nuclear Deterrence:
NATO-Warsaw Pact (1949-1990)

This case study contextualises and historicises NATO’s re-emerging nuclear deterrence narratives and practices in the Cold War-era patterns. The task of this case study is to explore how a shared belief in the legitimacy of nuclear deterrence was produced in the NATO-USSR/Warsaw Pact interactions during the Cold War by mapping the evolution of nuclear deterrence thinking and the conventionalization of its practice by NATO vis-à-vis its historical antagonist in Eastern Europe. The core objective is to establish how extended deterrence was practically made to matter in the Cold War; how NATO sought to accomplish its credibility towards the Soviet Union and later the Warsaw Pact via staging physically performative acts and ritualising practices (e.g., political statements, allied military exercises; troop and weapons movements), and how the Alliance’s bête noire reciprocated these moves.

The focus will be on contextualising NATO’s current political and military resorting to deterrence in the critical history of allied deterrence during the Cold War when the strategy of extended deterrence was conceptually developed and made strides with the evolution of nuclear weapons. This case study will provide a historical reconstruction of deterrence interaction ritual chains in NATO’s relationship with its original raison d’être.

Questions addressed:

  • What was considered to be the essence of credible deterrence during the Cold War in NATO-Warsaw Pact interactions? How was the cost of particular deterrence signals politically determined in the Cold War context, combining nuclear and conventional deterrence?
  • How were extended deterrence, assurance and reassurance ritualised during the Cold War in NATO? How was extended deterrence ritualised in the relationship between the USSR and the rest of the Warsaw Pact states, in turn?
  • How were arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament ritualised during the Cold War?
  • How has nuclear deterrence made NATO, and what is NATO making of nuclear deterrence in the context of contemporary combined military, cyber, and political/information warfare challenges, drawing on the particular ‘lessons’ accumulated during the Cold War confrontation with the USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries?
  • How did the Soviet leadership assess the allied deterrent during the Cold War? How did Moscow’s perception of NATO’s deterrence and its credibility evolve over time?
  • What is the affective politics related to extended nuclear deterrence? How were the pertinent claims about the boundaries of political communities and the nature of political identities made in practice during the Cold War – and how do they compare to today’s?