Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


tion made short work of the Iraqi military forces, and the combination

of theater missile defenses and US diplomacy all helped

dissuade Israel from participating with its armed forces.

Conclusions and Lessons Learned

Lesson 1: What deterred the Soviet Union in the Cold War

will not apply to all cases.

Deterrence is a rational strategy and theory of how to prevent

war or escalation of a war. However, the evidence of history is

that deterrence often fails. Deterrence is inexact, an art not a

science. What works perfectly in one case may fail wholly in

another. Indeed, it is the weaker party that attacks the stronger

party in about one of every five wars. So deterrence is not a

given even when your government or coalition has overwhelming

military superiority over an opposing state.

The Cold War strategy that the West adopted to deter a Soviet

nuclear or conventional attack seems to have worked, although

one can never be absolutely sure what kept the peace. Was it

because the West had a retaliatory capability to destroy the

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Warsaw Pact?

Was it because in crises, Soviet leaders believed US leaders had

the will to use their nuclear weapons if necessary? Was it because

the United States and its allies had a second-strike force,

one not vulnerable to a surprise disarming attack? Or was it

because the West faced rational leaders in Moscow who understood

the logic of mutual-assured destruction? Or were we simply

lucky? Would war have occurred if all these factors had not

been put in place? Or would both sides have maintained the

peace anyway? And how much retaliatory force was enough to

deter a war with the USSR? Did we need thousands of nuclear

weapons or just a few? How much was enough to deter war and

the escalation of crises? 55 We can never know for sure. We are

only certain that we did not have a central nuclear war with the

Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact and other allies.

One thing that is clear from the Gulf War example is that despite

all the destructive power in the US, United Kingdom, and

French nuclear arsenals, and for all the coalition’s conventional


More magazines by this user
Similar magazines