Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


nonstate actors are masterful in articulating a set of grievances

that draw support from target audiences. Countering the communications

and public relations efforts of nonstate actors has the

potential to undermine their success and deter future efforts.

Rather than allowing nonstate actors to deter states through

superiority in information/communication operations, states

must develop the capability to deter nonstate actors. This may

prove particularly difficult for democracies that are often unwilling

to develop effective propaganda capabilities.

Efforts to modernize the instruments of deterrence for an

international security environment different from its Cold War

predecessor are long overdue and may yield unanticipated

benefits. Doing so does not, however, guarantee the success of

deterrence. Like all strategies, deterrence is prone to shortcomings

that require alternative courses of action. As the following

section illustrates, deterrence is not a magic bullet.

Why Does Deterrence Fail?

Actors operate within a strategic environment where, even if

rational, variables limit a decision maker’s ability to make optimal

choices. Some scholars suggest that decision makers operate

within a framework of bounded rationality where variables such

as stress, fear, exhaustion, and imperfect information abound.

This says nothing about cultural, historical, linguistic, political,

or religious differences that may lead decision makers to see

their adversary very differently than they actually are. These

limits in rationality and understanding can lead to a lack of

situational awareness, poor signaling, misinformation, confusion,

and the misreading of signals.

The United States often does not understand its adversary. As

mentioned earlier, American decision makers often operate without

understanding the culture, history, language, politics, and

religion of an adversary. Mirror imaging frequently occurs, leading

decision makers to develop deterrence policies that are less

effective than potentially possible. The war in Iraq is one example

where a more complete understanding of these variables may

have led to the development of policies that could have deterred

a domestic- and/or foreign-led insurgency.

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