Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


up the escalation ladder the conflict would have climbed if deterrent

actions had been taken and signals had not been sent.

In the 1990–1991 Gulf War, no one successfully deterred the

Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or successfully compelled the Iraqi

Army to leave peacefully. US deterrent signals were too weak at

the beginning and too late to stop Saddam Hussein. US tripwire

forces sent too early to Saudi Arabia in the late summer

and fall of 1990 possibly deterred Saddam Hussein from sending

his army through Kuwait and into Saudi Arabia, although

it is not clear whether he was willing to risk such a gamble had

US reinforcements not been sent to assist the Saudi kingdom.

It seems likely that Saddam Hussein was deterred from using

chemical and biological weapons in the stern warning communicated

to the Iraqi leadership by President Bush and the

nuclear forces at his command. Saddam could not be sure that

the United States would not use nuclear weapons in response

to a CB attack, especially if the United States and its allies suffered

mass casualties from such attacks.

We now know that there was no serious consideration of

employing US or allied nuclear weapons during the conflict.

The Bush policy team felt that US nuclear superiority should

deter Iraqi chemical and biological weapons use and that coalition

conventional superiority was so pronounced as to make

victory very likely.

Saddam Hussein was willing to let his forces and population

bleed to whatever degree to inflict the level of losses that

might make his opponents limit their war aims. Indeed, Saddam

might have been correct. The potential threat of mass

casualties may partly account for President Bush’s decision

to end the war 100 hours after the ground campaign had

routed the Iraqi army in Kuwait. Saddam may have considered

Bush’s actions as an exercise in “snatching defeat from

the jaws of victory,” since he survived and retained power after

the cease-fire took place.

The 5,000-death threshold that Saddam Hussein predicted

would cause the coalition leaders to sue for peace talks never

was reached, and his theory of deterrence was therefore untested.

However, it appears that the coalition forces were prepared

to suffer large losses to achieve their war aims, but since

this threshold was never even approached, it is impossible to


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