FRAMING DETERRENCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY Maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent is recommended to deter current and future peer and near-peer nuclear powers. While the threat of nuclear conflict is greatly diminished from its Cold War height, disarmament would allow and encourage adversaries operating at the lower end of the conflict spectrum to seek equality with the United States. Thus, it may be possible to deter nuclear proliferation by maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent. The variety of threats to security and stability existent intheinternational system requires the creation of a new set of “red lines” that effectively communicate boundaries to potential adversaries. Not only do rogue regimes and nonstate actors pose significant threats, but they also threaten to use terrorism, WMD, and cyber attacks as their primary tactics. These adversaries also operate with an alternative rationale from the one the United States and its allies grew accustomed to during the Cold War. It may be more useful to think in terms of weapons of “mass effect” than to think in terms of weapons of mass destruction. In an era when cyber warfare is becoming an increasingly important capability of state and nonstate actors and terrorism remains a tactic that aims at altering an adversary’s public policy, the role of kinetic force is diminishing. This stems in large part from the military dominance of the United States. Deterring current and future adversaries will require an expanded set of tools that will rely more on the diplomatic, informational, and economic elements of national power. Intelligence will play an increasingly important role in supporting policies of dissuasion, denial, and deterrence. American Cold War strategists operated under the assumption that Soviet leaders were rational actors. The same cannot be said of modern adversaries who do not operate withinthe same rational framework as their Western adversaries. Intelligence plays a vital role in providing the knowledge and understanding required to develop credible deterrence policies. Effective communication shapes the battle space undermining an adversary’s attempts to establish the narrative and capture the moral high ground. As recent experience demonstrates, nonstate actors are experienced at manipulating media coverage and the sympathy that often accompanies coverage of the “underdog.” They are also adept at maximizing the public relations benefits of mistakes made by adversaries. Successful
FRAMING DETERRENCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY 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 ininformation/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 theinstruments 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.