Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


titled, A World Transformed. Although Saddam Hussein was

still in power in Iraq at the time of the memoir and was still

considered a threat to United States and its regional allies,

Scowcroft nevertheless wrote that the Bush administration had

only been bluffing about using nuclear weapons should Saddam

Hussein order the Iraqi army to use chemical or biological

weapons. Indeed, Scowcroft wrote that “no one advanced the

notion of using nuclear weapons, and the President rejected it

even in retaliation for chemical and biological attacks. We deliberately

avoided spoken or unspoken threats to use them on

the grounds that it is bad practice to threaten something you

have no intention of carrying out. Publicly, we left the matter

ambiguous. There was no point in undermining the deterrence

it might be offering.” 45

James Baker’s memoir tells the same story:

The President had decided, at Camp David in December that the best

deterrent of the use of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq would be a

threat to go after the Ba’ath regime itself. He had also decided that US

forces would not retaliate with chemical or nuclear weapons if the

Iraqis attacked with chemical munitions, there was obviously no reason

to inform the Iraqis of this. In hopes of persuading them to consider

more soberly the folly of war, I purposely left the impression that

the use of chemical or biological agents by Iraq could invite tactical

nuclear retaliations. 46

Saddam might have believed this threat simply because he

was not a person given to moral limits and had previously always

used all weapons at his command. Witness the merciless

Iraqi chemical attacks during the Iran-Iraq War against both

military and civilian personnel. He might have viewed President

Bush as like himself—willing to use everything for victory. 47

However, it could not have helped subsequent deterrence efforts

to publicize that the United States had been bluffing and

never seriously considered using its nuclear advantages in the

1990–1991 Gulf War. After all, when the various memoirs of

Bush, Scowcroft, Baker, and Powell were being published, Saddam

Hussein was still in power in Iraq and might have needed

to be deterred from future adventures by succeeding US presidents.

Also, it should be noted that other adversary leaders in

other states like North Korea, Syria, and Iran can also read,

and, as a result, might conclude in future crises that they, too,

were relatively safe from any US nuclear retaliations.


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