Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


including a hotline at all times so that it was always possible to

confer during a crisis.

Over time, this developed further into what Patrick Morgan

called general deterrence. This was distinct from immediate deterrence,

which refers to those situations when hostile intent is

evident, and threats are issued with some urgency to prevent

this turning into a hostile act. General deterrence is when there

is no need to bother. Deep down, the hostile intent may still be

present, but a hostile act has become so self-evidently foolish

that it is no longer being considered.

Since the end of the Cold War, these issues have not really

been revisited in anything like the depth and enthusiasm with

which they were addressed during the golden age of nuclear

strategy in the late 1950s and early 1960s. That period still provides

the conceptual framework for thinking about deterrence

and nuclear weapons. The question now is whether nuclear deterrence

has outlived whatever value it might have had. Questions

are raised about its relevance for nonstate actors and then

for dealing with other so-called weapons of mass destruction—

that is chemical and biological weapons. The term weapons of

mass destruction is seriously misleading. Nuclear weapons are

weapons of mass destruction, for they really do not have much

use for anything else. Chemical and biological weapons may get

used in lesser contingencies, and in terms of their destructiveness,

they are not in the same category as nuclear weapons.

There is a purported example of nuclear deterrence working

against chemical threats seen during the 1991 Gulf War. This

illustrates the problem of explaining a negative—of why something

did not happen. In this case, it was the fact that Iraq did

not use chemical weapons. Tariq Aziz, then Iraq’s foreign minister,

said that the leadership was deterred by the threat of

nuclear use. The actual deterrent threat issued by the administration

of George Bush senior, however, was to topple the regime,

delivered to Aziz in Geneva by Secretary of State James

Baker just before the start of the war. It may also be that the

Iraqis could not use any artillery very well, for they were completely

disorientated, and even if an order had gone out, it

would have been difficult to implement. Perhaps individual

commanders were deterred by the threat of being prosecuted

for a war crime. In stressing nuclear deterrence, Aziz may have


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