Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


more alert and perceived the danger sooner. In mid-1990 a violent

and ambitious Saddam Hussein was considering seizing a

rich trophy, one that could be had for the taking, without any

immediate or significant costs.

Richard Ned Lebow and Janet Gross Stein have examined

over 20 cases of deterrence failures and believe that their

studies “support the conclusion that policy makers who risk

or actually start wars pay more attention to their own strategic

and domestic political interests than they do to the

interests and military capabilities of their adversaries.” 66 Indeed,

such aggressors “may discount an adversary’s resolve

even when the state in question has gone to considerable

lengths to demonstrate that resolve and to develop the military

capabilities needed to defend its commitment.” 67 Thus,

a government can do everything right to deter an adversary

and still fail because the rival does not estimate the outcome

the same way.

Lesson 14: Until a sizeable deterrent force can be sent to

a region of potential conflict, it is a useful stopgap to send

a trip-wire force to signal US intent to fight any attempt at

aggression from the beginning.

Such a US trip-wire force was sent early to Saudi Arabia in

the fall of 1990 to show Saddam Hussein that an attack on

Saudi Arabia would spill US blood and draw the United States

into a conflict with Iraq. This action may have saved Saudi Arabia

from an invasion in the period between the August 1990

invasion and occupation of Kuwait, the initiation of the coalition

air war in January 1991, and the ground war in February

1991. Like US Army forces stationed in Berlin, Germany, during

the Cold War, these trip-wire forces would not have been

able to stop the enemy forces from seizing that territory immediately,

but it would have been a down payment on a future US

military escalation and counterattack. Being drawn into a war

with the world’s military superpower should serve as a considerable

reason for rethinking an aggressive move.


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