Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


Remember that a government’s deterrability by NSAs may

differ profoundly from its deterrability by other states. (Russia

is arguably a prime example of such differentiated deterrability.)

Moreover, strategic culture may change importantly over

time. The key constituencies will be variously strengthened,

weakened, dissolved, separated, or unified by such different

strategic and historical experiences as internal security successes,

failures, or stalemates. (The most notable cases of profound

changes in national strategic culture are probably Germany

and Japan before and after World War II.)

The most ambitious NSAs may intend their campaigns to

transform opponents’ strategic cultures by strengthening constituencies

for conciliation, negotiation, restraint, and discrediting

hardliners. But they may very well get their judgements of

current realities and potential vulnerabilities diametrically

wrong. Muddled campaign strategies to enforce deterrence (or

indeed coercion) by successful atrocity can lead to state reactions

utterly opposite to those expected. Errors in estimation

and planning are particularly likely to occur from conspiratorial

thinking in which hostile governments are regarded as essentially

fronts for shadowy hidden puppet masters or from the

exaggeration of enemy cowardice and casualty aversion. Misjudgements

may derive from historically or ideologically conditioned

narcissistic or paranoid group thinking: self-infatuation,

splitting, and stereotyping. For religiously inspired groups, the

expectation of divine intercession may significantly complicate

objective judgements.

Instability and Underlying Contradictions of NSA


Deterrence by NSAs will often be fragile, provisional, and unstable—viewed

on both sides as disreputable or unnatural. It

will probably be implicit and therefore subject to mutual misunderstanding.

Where it is formalised, agreements will probably

have to be reached by back channels and remain unacknowledged,

deniable, or indeed denied. Deterrence is likely to

be a temporary stage before negotiated settlement, escalation,

legally required or politically driven enforcement by the security

forces, or state withdrawal.


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