FRAMING DETERRENCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY A “credibility gap” can develop between capability and will. Although the United States possesses unrivaled economic and military might, decision makers often do not respond to deterrence failures with sufficient punitive action to restore the status quo and American credibility. This opens a gap between economic and military capability and will. Thus, future adversaries are not deterred because of previous American responses to challenges. For example, Osama bin Laden stated in a post– 9/11 interview that weak American responses to previous al-Qaeda attacks created an expectation that President Bush would respond in a limited fashion to the 9/11 attacks as had previous administrations. Too great a degree of ambiguity in policy can send the wrong signal. While ambiguity is a necessary element of a deterrence strategy, communicating too ambiguous a policy can mislead an adversary and, as history demonstrates, incorrectly suggest that the United States will accept a change inthe status quo when it will not. Ambiguity has worked best when uncertainty surrounds the severity of a response, not the possibility of a response. The most widely used example of too great a degree of ambiguity are the 25 July 1990 comments of US ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, who stated to Saddam Hussein that the United States had “no opinion” on the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. This opened the door for the Iraqi dictator’s invasion of his neighbor. The strong often fail to deter the weak. One scholarly study suggests that approximately 30 percent of conflicts are initiated by the weak with an attack on the strong. Despite the probability of defeat or annihilation, strong states frequently fail to deter weaker adversaries because weaker states are highly motivated (asymmetry of interests), misperceive the probable response, and seek to take advantage of an acute military vulnerability. Although risks often outweigh rewards, weaker states frequently feel risks more acutely. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is the most familiar example of a weaker state attacking a much stronger adversary despite an admittedly low probability of winning a prolonged conflict. For the Japanese, the risks of not attacking far outweighed the risks of an American response. This was the result of clear misperception of American will by the Japanese High Command.
FRAMING DETERRENCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY More often than not, deterrence fails because of a combination of the points listed above. Rarely is there one variable that causes an adversary to seek a change inthe status quo, despite the potential ramifications for doing so. It is, however, clear that the United States and its allies can reduce deterrence failures by more effectively communicating with an adversary that is understood by American decision makers and believes the United States to be credible. Successfully deterring current and future adversaries will depend on these variables. What Are the Consequences of Deterrence Policies? Undoubtedly, this final question is the most difficult of the four. Among conference participants, few sought to address a question that requires significant speculation. In examining the consequences of deterrence policies, however, three points were raised. Decision makers (political and military) in democratic systems are most often focused on immediate threats to security. Deterrence, on the other hand, is not successful when decision makers are reactive rather than proactive. Its success depends on developing effective policies well in advance of an adversary’s attempt to alter the status quo. Decision makers are required to think, devise a tailored strategy and policy, effectively communicate objectives, and respond to potential threats well in advance of a deterrence failure. Extended deterrence remains a primary concern for American allies protected by the nuclear umbrella. As the United Kingdom contemplates the reduction or elimination of its nuclear arsenal and Japan remains committed to a nonnuclear defense posture—despite growing threats—the credibility of US extended deterrence weighs heavily inthe strategic calculation of America’s allies. Further reduction inthe operationally deployed strategic nuclear force is, for example, of great concern to the Japanese and a potential cause for proliferation should the nuclear umbrella lose its credibility. There can be little doubt that a loss of credibility with respect to extended deterrence is the potential policy consequence of greatest concern for the United States. With the Nuclear Posture Review under way and a renegotiation of the Strategic 10