LOS ANGELES — Throughout the Cold War, nuclear deterrence was at the heart of U.S. nuclear policy. But deterrence has some important limitations that make it highly unreliable, particularly in a time of terrorism.

The most critical shortcoming of nuclear deterrence is that the threat of even overwhelming retaliation is not credible against extremist groups that cannot be located. Further, even a credible threat of nuclear retaliation would not be effective against an enemy that is suicidal.

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