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George goes on to explain that deterrence may, but is not required to, go beyond threats to the actual use of military force; but if force is actually used, it must be limited and fall short of full-scale use or war otherwise it fails. This has been seen in the cases of Libya, Iraq, and North Korea where defending states have sought to change the leadership of a state in addition to policy changes relating primarily to their nuclear weapons programs.

Secondly, Jentleson et al. The balance lies neither in offering too little too late or for too much in return, not offering too much too soon or for too little return.


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Finally, coercive credibility requires that, in addition to calculations about costs and benefits of cooperation, the defending state convincingly conveys to the attacking state that non-cooperation has consequences. Threats, uses of force, and other coercive instruments such as economic sanctions must be sufficiently credible to raise the attacking state's perceived costs of noncompliance. A defending state having a superior military capability or economic strength in itself is not enough to ensure credibility. Indeed, all three elements of a balanced deterrence strategy are more likely to be achieved if other major international actors like the United Nations or NATO are supportive and if opposition within the defending state's domestic politics is limited.

The other important consideration outlined by Jentleson et al. The first factor is whether internal political support and regime security are better served by defiance, or if there are domestic political gains to be made from improving relations with the defending state. The second factor is an economic calculation of the costs that military force, sanctions, and other coercive instruments can impose, and the benefits that trade and other economic incentives may carry.

Deterrence theory

This in part is a function of the strength and flexibility of the attacking state's domestic economy and its capacity to absorb or counter the costs being imposed. The third factor is the role of elites and other key domestic political figures within the attacking state. To the extent these actors' interests are threatened with the defending state's demands, they act to prevent or block the defending state's demands. The predominant approach to theorizing about deterrence has entailed the use of rational choice and game-theoretic models of decision making see game theory.

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Deterrence theorists have consistently argued that deterrence success is more likely if a defending state's deterrent threat is credible to an attacking state. Huth [9] outlines that a threat is considered credible if the defending state possesses both the military capabilities to inflict substantial costs on an attacking state in an armed conflict, and if the attacking state believes that the defending state is resolved to use its available military forces. Huth [9] goes on to explain the four key factors for consideration under rational deterrence theory being i the military balance; ii signaling and bargaining power; iii reputations for resolve; and iv interests at stake.

Deterrence is often directed against state leaders who have specific territorial goals that they seek to attain either by seizing disputed territory in a limited military attack or by occupying disputed territory after the decisive defeat of the adversary's armed forces. In either case, the strategic orientation of potential attacking states is generally short term and driven by concerns about military cost and effectiveness. For successful deterrence, defending states need the military capacity to respond quickly and in strength to a range of contingencies.

Where deterrence often fails is when either a defending state or an attacking state under or overestimate the others' ability to undertake a particular course of action. The central problem for a state that seeks to communicate a credible deterrent threat through diplomatic or military actions is that all defending states have an incentive to act as if they are determined to resist an attack, in the hope that the attacking state will back away from military conflict with a seemingly resolved adversary. If all defending states have such incentives, then potential attacking states may discount statements made by defending states along with any movement of military forces as merely bluffs.

In this regards, rational deterrence theorists have argued that costly signals are required to communicate the credibility of a defending state's resolve.

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Costly signals are those actions and statements that clearly increase the risk of a military conflict and also increase the costs of backing down from a deterrent threat. States that are bluffing are unwilling to cross a certain threshold of threat and military action for fear of committing themselves to an armed conflict.

The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy

There are three different arguments that have been developed in relation to the role of reputations in influencing deterrence outcomes. The first argument focuses on a defending state's past behaviour in international disputes and crises, which creates strong beliefs in a potential attacking state about the defending state's expected behaviour in future conflicts.

The credibilities of a defending state's policies are arguably linked over time, and reputations for resolve have a powerful causal impact on an attacking state's decision whether to challenge either general or immediate deterrence. The second approach argues that reputations have a limited impact on deterrence outcomes because the credibility of deterrence is heavily determined by the specific configuration of military capabilities, interests at stake, and political constraints faced by a defending state in a given situation of attempted deterrence.

The argument of this school of thought is that potential attacking states are not likely to draw strong inferences about a defending states resolve from prior conflicts because potential attacking states do not believe that a defending state's past behaviour is a reliable predictor of future behaviour. The third approach is a middle ground between the first two approaches.

It argues that potential attacking states are likely to draw reputational inferences about resolve from the past behaviour of defending states only under certain conditions. The insight is the expectation that decision makers will use only certain types of information when drawing inferences about reputations, and an attacking state updates and revises its beliefs when the unanticipated behaviour of a defending state cannot be explained by case-specific variables. An example both shows that the problem extends to the perception of the third parties as well as main adversaries and underlies the way in which attempts at deterrence can not only fail but backfire if the assumptions about the others' perceptions are incorrect.

Although costly signaling and bargaining power are more well established arguments in rational deterrence theory, the interests of defending states are not as well known, and attacking states may look beyond the short term bargaining tactics of a defending state and seek to determine what interests are at stake for the defending state that would justify the risks of a military conflict.

The argument here is that defending states that have greater interests at stake in a dispute are more resolved to use force and be more willing to endure military losses to secure those interests. Even less well established arguments are the specific interests that are more salient to state leaders such as military interests versus economic interests. Furthermore, Huth [9] argues that both supporters and critics of rational deterrence theory agree that an unfavourable assessment of the domestic and international status quo by state leaders can undermine or severely test the success of deterrence.

In a rational choice approach, if the expected utility of not using force is reduced by a declining status quo position, then deterrence failure is more likely, since the alternative option of using force becomes relatively more attractive.


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In Schelling [3] is prescriptive in outlining the impact of the development of nuclear weapons in the analysis of military power and deterrence. In his analysis, before the widespread use of assured second strike capability, or immediate reprisal, in the form of SSBN submarines, Schelling argues that nuclear weapons give nations the potential to not only destroy their enemies but humanity itself without drawing immediate reprisal because of the lack of a conceivable defense system and the speed with which nuclear weapons can be deployed.

A nation's credible threat of such severe damage empowers their deterrence policies and fuels political coercion and military deadlock, which in turn can produce proxy warfare. Historical analysis of nuclear weapons deterrent capabilities has led modern researchers to the concept of the stability-instability paradox , whereby nuclear weapons confer large scale stability between nuclear weapon states, as in over 60 years none have engaged in large direct warfare due primarily to nuclear weapons deterrence capabilities, but instead are forced into pursuing political aims by military means in the form of comparatively smaller scale acts of instability, such as proxy wars and minor conflicts.

The US policy of deterrence during the Cold War underwent significant variations. The early stages of the Cold War were generally characterized by containment of communism , an aggressive stance on behalf of the US especially on developing nations under its sphere of influence. This period was characterized by numerous proxy wars throughout most of the globe, particularly Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America.

A notable such conflict was the Korean War. George F. Kennan , who is taken to be the founder of this ideology in his Long Telegram , asserted that he never advocated military intervention, merely economic support; and that his ideas were misinterpreted when espoused by the general public. With the U. Sign In. Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Deterrence dogma? Oxford Academic. Google Scholar.

Contemporary Security and Strategy

Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract In December the British government released a White Paper announcing its intention to begin the process of replacing its current Trident nuclear weapons system, thereby allowing it to retain nuclear weapons well into the s. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article.

Download all figures. Sign in. Flexible Response is about the ability to deter, fight, and win a nuclear war. This is much more demanding.

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Flexible Response has a fallback; Assured Destruction does not. Does having a fallback make it more likely that deterrence will fail? Does a nuclear war-fighting capability enhance or erode deterrence? According to Assured Destruction, it erodes deterrence; according to Flexible Response, it enhances deterrence.

Both, actually. In the s, the declaratory policy of massive retaliation amounted, essentially, to an early version of Assured Destruction. Many argue that it was credible in the s because the U. As noted, Kennedy and McNamara initially shifted away from Assured Destruction to Flexible Response, saw how demanding and expensive it was, and moved back to Assured Destruction.

It became MAD in the late s-early s.