International Organization

Research Article

Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve: Explaining Nuclear Crisis Outcomes

Matthew Kroenig

Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. E-mail:


Scholars have long debated whether nuclear superiority or the balance of resolve shapes the probability of victory in nuclear crises, but they have not clearly articulated a mechanism linking superiority to victory, nor have they systematically analyzed the entire universe of empirical cases. Beginning from a nuclear brinkmanship theory framework, I develop a new theory of nuclear crisis outcomes, which links nuclear superiority to victory in nuclear crises precisely through its effect on the balance of resolve. Using a new data set on fifty-two nuclear crisis dyads, I show that states that enjoy nuclear superiority over their opponents are more likely to win nuclear crises. I also find some support for the idea that political stakes shape crisis outcomes. These findings hold even after controlling for conventional military capabilities and for selection into nuclear crises. This article presents a new theoretical explanation, and the first comprehensive empirical examination, of nuclear crisis outcomes.

Matthew Kroenig is Assistant Professor of Government at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.


  For helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article, I thank Victor Asal, Kyle Beardsley, Richard Betts, Philipp Bleek, Giacomo Chiozza, Rebecca Davis, Jennifer Erikson, M. Steven Fish, Matthew Fuhrmann, Christopher Gelpi, Peter Henne, Robert Jervis, Paul Kapur, Michael Levi, Adam Mount, Abraham Newman, Robert Powell, Daryl Press, Marc Trachtenberg, and participants at seminars at the American Political Science Association's 2009 Annual Meeting, Georgetown University, Yale University, Vanderbilt University, The Center for Strategic and International Studies, The George Washington University, Harvard University, Princeton University, and the University of California at Los Angeles. For generous financial support, I thank the Stanton Nuclear Security Fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. I am grateful to Michael Weintraub and Dane Shikman for helpful research assistance. Supplementary materials for this article are available at