An Exemplar Summary/Roadmap Introduction

In my view, this is a nearly ideal summary/roadmap introduction. It is for a 30 page article, so scale your intros accordingly. Why is it ideal? So many ways... but three stand out:

1. It tells you exactly what the questions are, what the argument/answers are, and how the argument will be made. You do not need to read the article to know what Sagan is up to. It is very easy to ‘harvest’ the article. See the Van Evera handout on writing. This intro accomplishes all the tasks Van Evera lays out. Your intros should too.

2. It is very specific. Sagan doesn’t tell you he will discuss an argument, he gives you the argument. IT IS VERY HARD TO BE SO SIMPLE AND CLEAR ABOUT COMPLEX SUBJECTS!!

3. The writing is very clear and error free.



Scott Sagan

The Commitment Trap

Why the United States Should Not Use Nuclear Threats

to Deter Biological and Chemical Weapons Attacks

International Security, Vol. 24, No. 4 Spring 2000


Should the United States threaten to use nuclear weapons in retaliation for an adversary’s use of chemical or biological weapons? The U.S. government has a clear policy on this matter: it is deliberately unclear about its plans. In March 1996, Secretary of Defense William Perry explained: "For obvious reasons, we choose not to specify in detail what responses we would make to a chemical attack. However, as we stated during the Gulf War, if any country were foolish enough to use chemical weapons against the United States, the response will be ‘absolutely overwhelming’ and ‘devastating.’" The purpose of this U.S. Policy—which has become known as the "calculated ambiguity" doctrine—was underscored by Secretary of Defense William Cohen in November 1998: "We think the ambiguity involved in the issue of nuclear weapons contributes to our own security, keeping any potential adversary who might use either chemical or biological [weapons] unsure of what our response would be."

The doctrine’s proponents, both inside and outside the U.S. government, claim that such a threat to respond asymmetrically—retaliating with nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological weapons attack—is an unfortunate necessity. They argue that, because the United States has foresworn the option of retaliating in kind, nuclear weapons threats are the only strong deterrent preventing so-called rogue nations from using their newly acquired chemical or biological arsenals. The calculated ambiguity doctrine, however, is deeply controversial because the U.S. government, and the governments of other nuclear weapons states, have made commitments, most recently before the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) extension conference, that they will neither use nor threaten to use nuclear weapons against any nonnuclear member state of the NPT. Efforts to back away from such promises, critics argue, undercut these global commitments, legitimize nuclear weapons threats, and encourage nonnuclear states to develop the bomb to deter their dangerous neighbors.

The U.S. calculated ambiguity doctrine raises two crucial questions. Is the threat of U.S. nuclear retaliation credible and effective against states that possess chemical weapons (CW) and biological weapons (BW)? Are such U.S. nuclear threats harmful to global efforts to inhibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons? This article addresses these issues and argues that the current debate has virtually ignored what is arguably the most important question about U.S. nuclear weapons doctrine: will the U.S. government’s calculated ambiguity policy increase or decrease the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used in combat? I conclude that the current policy is misguided because it increases the likelihood that the United States will use nuclear weapons, in an inappropriate manner, in future military conflicts. The calculated ambiguity doctrine should therefore be replaced with a stronger commitment to respond to the use of chemical or biological weapons with prompt and devastating conventional retaliation.

I develop this argument in five parts. First, I analyze the existing debate on the subject, showing that the arguments of both supporters and opponents of the U.S. calculated ambiguity doctrine contain logical inconsistencies and inadequate evidence. Second, I present the existing evidence about the nature and effectiveness of U.S. retaliation threats against Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War and draw lessons from that experience for future crises involving adversaries armed with chemical and biological weapons. Third, I explain why the United States cannot make its nuclear threats credible without simultaneously increasing the risk that its nuclear weapons will be used in the event of a chemical or biological attack. The central argument is that the current nuclear doctrine creates a "commitment trap": threats to use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological attack are credible, because if CW or BW are used despite such threats, the U.S. president would feel compelled to retaliate with nuclear weapons to maintain his or her international and domestic reputation for honoring commitments. The increase in the probability of U.S. nuclear retaliation is both the deterrent benefit of current doctrine and its gravest potential cost. In the fourth part of the article, I analyze how deterrence might fail, despite such threats, and discuss possible U.S. responses. This section focuses particular attention on a hidden risk: that U.S. nuclear threats increase the likelihood that other states will use chemical and biological weapons by accident, through unauthorized action, or in response to a false warning of attack.

Fifth, in the conclusion, I discuss the implications of these arguments for U.S. nuclear weapons doctrine and present an alternative declaratory policy that emphasizes the role of conventional retaliation. U.S. nuclear threats cannot enhance deterrence of chemical and biological attacks without also increasing the probability that U.S. leaders will be compelled to use nuclear weapons when they otherwise would choose not to. Historical evidence and the logic of deterrence theory thus lead to a discomforting conclusion: the United States should not threaten to retaliate with nuclear weapons despite the possibility, and indeed because of the possibility, that such threats are a credible deterrent against adversaries armed with chemical or biological weapons.

NOTE: The Summary/Roadmap Intro ends here, and the article continues apace....note how this Existing Debate section is right where he said it would be. Note how that section contains its own mini-roadmap. It’s a miracle, and so easy to read. I’m not thinking about what he is trying to say. I am thinking about what he is saying.

The Existing Debate

The current debate—in Washington, at North Atlantic Treaty Organization meetings, and in the scholarly community—on whether the United States should threaten to use nuclear weapons in retaliation for an enemy’s use of BW or CW has been narrow in framework and exceedingly thin on empirical evidence. Two conventional wisdoms exist concerning nuclear threats and chemical or biological weapons use: the deterrence hawks’ position and the nonproliferation doves’ position. The proponents of these two schools take opposite positions on both of the key questions concerning the United States’ calculated ambiguity doctrine.

On the one hand, deterrence hawks argue that nuclear weapons threats—whether clearly articulated or presented with calculated ambiguity—are effective, indeed sometimes necessary, for deterrence in military crises with BW- and CW-armed states.




A. Note that footnotes have been deleted. A good summary intro, especially for academic purposes, often contains a number of large footnotes that summarize the literatures in the debates being discussed in the article.

B. Often it helps to outline exemplar works to see how things are done:

  1. Title:
    1. Summarizes the subject and argument of the article
      1. NOTE: isn’t that handy if you are pressed for time, skimming lots of past issues of IS in the library?

  2. First para
    1. Asks the core question
    2. Give the official US policy answer to the question.
      1. NOTE: nice hook, isn’t it?
  3. Second para
    1. Gives the logic of the official answer
    2. Attacks part of the logic of the criticism (NPT/arms control grounds)
      1. NOTE: deepening the hook - but the weakest part of the intro. This para could be cut w/little loss. Note how well the flow would be from the first to third para w/o this second para.
  4. Third para
    1. Raises two core critiques of the US official policy
    2. Says these critiques ignore the most important issue/critique
    3. Lays out his core argument
      1. NOTE: quite a hook. Always good to uncover missing arguments.
  5. Fourth and Fifth paras
    1. These are the ROADMAP paras.
    2. Note: the central point here is that Sagan is not just gesturing in the general direction of saying what he will say, he is being extremely specific and summarizing his argument in each section. Few words are wasted. And, again, you sense that you have almost mastered the contents of the 30 page article after only five paras. It’s a miracle!
  6. Sixth para
    1. As mentioned, this follows exactly as per the roadmap, and sets up the mini-roadmap for this section on the existing debate.

Have fun, Dan Lindley