Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


In due course, the fact that continuing faith in fixed Cold

War models, terms, and metrics has stymied the NPR’s implementation

will be a historical footnote—one with possibly lasting

effect. The important question to consider now, however, is

not the fate of the 2001 NPR but rather the fate of future reviews

and efforts to better align US strategic policy and requirements

with the reality of multiple and diverse opponents, WMD

proliferation, and dynamic threat conditions. Many of the basic

contours of US strategic policy goals taken into account by the

NPR are likely to endure—particularly including the need to

deter multiple threats, assure understandably nervous allies,

and provide protection against various forms and sizes of attack,

including limited nuclear and biological attacks. Future

reviews of US strategic policy will confront the same questions

of how US strategies and strategic forces can help support these

goals in an unpredictable, dynamic threat environment. The

continued application of Cold War strategic orthodoxy to those

questions will prevent any plausibly useful set of answers. The

balance-of-terror tenets, as applied, serve largely to buttress a

political agenda of stasis that actually works against the very

steps that could facilitate the realignment of the US nuclear

arsenal and policy with contemporary realities—including the

potential for prudent, deep nuclear force reductions.

It is time to move on from the enticing convenience and ease

of the brilliant and innovative theoretical strategic framework

of the Cold War. That framework is traceable to hubris, unwarranted

expectations, and the need for convenience and comfort,

however false. It is based on hopes that are beyond realization

and conditions that no longer exist. Outside of the

unique Cold War standoff that gave it a semblance of coherence,

the balance-of-terror lodestar will be a continuing source

of dangerous and confused policy guidance.


1. The increased importance that US officials attribute to these goals is

elaborated in Sharon Behn and Seth Rosen, “US Urged to Focus More on

Nation-Building,” Washington Times, 28 July 2005, 15.

2. Daryl Kimball, “Of Madmen and Nukes,” Arms Control Today 35, no. 9

(November 2005): 3, See also Wolf-


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