Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


tion whether the United States would follow through on its

commitments when doing so would put at risk the US homeland.

Simply put, the vulnerability of the United States to Chinese,

North Korean, Iranian, or Russian nuclear attack could

fray the US nuclear umbrella. Would allies be confident that

the United States would remain committed to their security if

US military action were invariably linked to direct threats to

the US homeland?

Potential opponents of the United States have recognized the

leverage that could be gained from posing such a nuclear threat,

particularly in regional conflicts where their stakes would be

greater than those of the United States. One Chinese official

(Gen Xiong Guangkai), for example, has threatened a nuclear

attack on the United States to deter US intervention in a future

conflict over Taiwan: “In the 1950s, you three times threatened

nuclear strikes on China [i.e., during the Korean war and the

1954 and 1958 Taiwan crises], and you could do that because

we couldn’t hit back. Now we can. So you are not going to

threaten us again because, in the end, you care a lot more

about Los Angeles than Taipei.” 18

The implications for the United States from the challenge

posed by the growth of direct threats to the United States include

the following:

• The increasing need for effective and credible defenses and

prompt global strike weapons to provide capabilities to limit

damage should deterrence fail, as well as consequencemanagement

capabilities. These will help to devalue direct

threats to the United States. With adequate capabilities to

limit damage to the United States, allies are more likely to feel

confident that it will have the freedom of action needed to

carry out commitments to defend its threatened partners.

• The need for a range of effective US response capabilities

(including nuclear and nonnuclear strike, nonkinetic offensive

options, and space control capabilities) to deter

those that might threaten the United States and thereby

try to prevent it from intervening in regional affairs.

• Potential adversaries that may consider threats to coerce

the United States are likely to try to exploit vulnerabilities

in technological advantages of the US military. Therefore,


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