Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


5. Why were the United States and the coalition forces not deterred

by Iraq from initiating combat in January 1991?

6. Why did Saddam Hussein not resort to use of his chemical

and biological weapons in the war as an equalizer

against more powerful coalition forces?

7. Why during this conflict was he not deterred from attacking

Israel, a state with a nuclear arsenal?

8. Why did the United States and the coalition not pursue

Iraqi forces into their country and end the Saddam Hussein

regime in Baghdad? Was the United States deterred

from pursuing the war all the way to Baghdad by the residual

Iraqi military capability?

9. Was the United States deterred from the use of nuclear

weapons in the war by the threat of Iraqi retaliation with

chemical and/or biological weapons?

10. What conclusions and lessons can be extracted from this

conflict regarding deterrence as a strategy for future crises?

The Limits of Deterrence

Deterrence is based on deductive reasoning, not evidence

from history. It is a rational deduction that a weaker power

should not be willing to risk almost certain defeat if it starts a

war with a much more powerful rival. Also, it is a logical assumption

that leaders of countries should not enter into conflicts

where it appears to them that they would be incurring

catastrophic losses or would likely lose things the leadership

values most.

On the face of it, this seems rational and almost indisputable.

The problem is that deterrence does not work so often and

so clearly in the real world. An inductive approach that looks at

the empirical evidence from past international conflicts shows

a mixed picture.

Surprisingly, reviews of case studies show that history is full

of occasions when demonstrably weaker opponents have initiated

what appear to be absolutely irrational attacks on much

stronger opponents. 2 According to one RAND study, in 22 percent

(17 of 76) of conflicts that occurred from 1816 to 1974,


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