Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


five broad recommendations, each of which will require further

research if it is to be executed efficiently and effectively.

If deterrence is to play an important role in national security

policy in the future, policy and theory must develop beyond their

Cold War origins. Strategic deterrence policies must focus on

deterring adversaries across the spectrum of threats generated

by peer competitors, rogue regimes, and nonstate actors. It is

the latter two that are currently the greatest threat to the United

States and its allies, but this may not be so in the future. To

develop effective policies that will deter the most likely threats,

deterrence must be tailored to the specific actors that threaten

American interests. This requires an improved understanding

of these actors and their objectives. Again, a focus on the current

fight should not lead to shortsightedness. By design, deterrence

requires a long-term approach and a focus on preventing

undesirable action before it occurs.

Extended deterrence will continue to play an important role in

American foreign policy, as allies remain dependent on US security

guarantees, particularly as the number of nuclear powers increases.

America’s allies are deeply concerned about continued reductions

in the US nuclear arsenal, which threatens the credibility of the

nuclear umbrella. Although it is often underappreciated in the

United States, ensuring the continued credibility of extended

deterrence is at the forefront of security concerns in European

capitals, Tokyo, Seoul, and across the Middle East.

Additionally, in the wake of the present economic crisis, the

United Kingdom is reviewing its options in relation to nuclear deterrence.

A credible US nuclear umbrella allows options that might

not otherwise be available to the present or future governments.

Nonstate actors pose the greatest immediate threat to the

security of the United States and its allies. In addition, like peer

competitors and rogue regimes, nonstate actors are potentially

deterrable. However, if the United States and its allies are to

deter nonstate actors, they must expand deterrence as a

concept and set of policies. Nonstate actors operate under a

fundamentally different rule-set than that governing interstate

relations. This requires a detailed knowledge and understanding

of each group’s objectives, leadership, culture, and other

characteristics. Since nonstate actors often operate within a

framework that is unlike Western rationalism, it is increasingly


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