Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


If the conflict involves your use of chemical or biological weapons against

our forces, the American people will demand vengeance. We have the

means to exact it. With regard to this part of my presentation, this is not

a threat, it is a promise. If there is any use of weapons like that, an objective

won’t just be the liberation of Kuwait, but the liberation of the

current Iraqi regime and anyone responsible for using those weapons

will be held accountable. 41

To reinforce the idea that WMD might be met with WMD,

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney also stated publicly that

“were Saddam Hussein foolish enough to use weapons of mass

destruction, the US response would be absolutely overwhelming

and it would be devastating.” 42

In cases like the Gulf War, there are certain possible advantages

in dealing with an enemy leader like Saddam Hussein,

who has seldom hesitated to use maximum violence to achieve

his aims and solve his problems. Such a leader, in his own

mind, may project his own ruthlessness upon his opponent, in

this case the president of the United States.

If a Saddam-type killer would not hesitate to use all his available

weapons against a previous foe, he might expect a stronger

adversary to do the same against him if he escalated to

WMD use against it. 43 In such cases the ruthlessness of a rogue

chief might become the ally of US ability to deter his chemical

or biological weapons employment against the United States or

its allies.

Since Saddam Hussein did not use chemical or biological

weapons in the subsequent fighting in Kuwait, despite the fact

that he had previously shown no hesitation about using them

against Iran in their eight-year war or against his own Kurdish

populations when they opposed him, it might fairly be concluded

that US threats deterred his chemical and biological use. Of

course, with deterrence one can never prove one hundred percent

that it worked. Saddam might not have wanted to use

them for other reasons. 44 The US threat of retaliation did not

stop him from setting fire to Kuwait’s oil fields as his forces

evacuated that country. That US deterrent message obviously

did not work.

In 1998, seven years after Operation Desert Storm, ex-president

George H. W. Bush and his former national security adviser,

Brent Scowcroft, published a memoir of their times in power


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