Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


tions that went counter to his preconceptions such as (1) the

United States would not respond to an attack on Kuwait, (2)

the coalition would not attack him in Kuwait because he had

chemical and biological weapons, (3) the Iraqi force could hold

its own with that of the coalition, or (4) his forces could at least

inflict 5,000 US casualties and save him from absolute defeat.

Lesson 6: Many variables go into whether deterrence will

work: time, place, culture, politics, leadership, and the

personalities that make the decisions. The greater the divergence

between the personalities, worldviews of the adversary

leaders, and the leadership stakes in the outcome,

the greater the chances for deterrence to fail.

In the 1990–1991 Gulf War, there were two kinds of deterrence

to consider: (1) deterrence of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait

and (2) deterrence of an escalation of that war once it had begun.

This was a war with many players, but it is fair to begin

with the two key players in this drama, Pres. Saddam Hussein

and Pres. George H. W. Bush. On the Iraqi side, the unquestioned

chief decision maker was Saddam Hussein. Saddam was

Iraq, and Iraq was Saddam in this case. He was the unrivaled

Iraqi decision maker in foreign and defense policy. 58

Things were a bit more complicated on the US and coalition

side. Pres. George H. W. Bush was the ultimate decision maker. 59

The United States was the key state in the formation of the coalition,

since it was and is the world’s most powerful military

superpower. However, others like United Kingdom prime minister

Margaret Thatcher were influential in collaborating with

US leadership. Mrs. Thatcher was considered particularly instrumental

in advising President Bush to take an uncompromising

policy requiring Iraq to abandon Kuwait or face war. The

instruments of power were provided by all the coalition members

as they mobilized for war, sent their armed forces to Saudi

Arabia, and participated in Operation Desert Storm that succeeded

brilliantly in routing the Iraqi army in Kuwait.

The frequent insensitivity of enemies to each other’s stakes

and signals and the all-too-often misperceptions they have of

each other’s aims and motives are at the core of why deterrence

theory so often fails to explain interstate behavior in conflict



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