Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


been boasting, showing that this was the sort of regime that

could only be deterred by the most severe of threats. If chemical

weapons had been used, there would have been plenty of

nonnuclear responses available and no intent to resort to nuclear

weapons. So this case does not really prove anything.

A more important concern is whether there has been a revival

of the risks of great-power war. Arguably, the great achievement

of nuclear deterrence was to serve as a constant reminder

of why such a war would be a terrible idea. It reminds us of how

bad things could get. If we ever did have a third world war, it is

hard to imagine how the restraints would hold. From the West’s

point of view, the conventional superiority of NATO in Europe

and of US maritime strength in Asia provides good reasons neither

Russia nor China would be tempted to cross the obvious

red lines that alliance creates. That Georgia was picked on by

Russia before it was a member of NATO is an indication that

alliance still counts for something in these circumstances. It

also invokes other requirements of stable deterrence, including

clarity of vital interests and of military capabilities. If Russia

attempted something similar to Georgia in Latvia, for example,

it would know, whatever the uncertainties resulting from questions

of timing and political will, that NATO forces would likely

be involved in some form at quite an early stage.

Smaller Powers

The next concerns whether these essentials for stable deterrence

might work for small nuclear powers, including rogue

states. The issue of clarity of interest remains critical. If you are

unclear about what matters, you cannot expect to deter. Is it

also necessary to ensure a second-strike capability, encourage

mutual assured destruction, have a serious conventional capability

for flexible response to produce the escalatory pressures,

have constant communication between potential adversaries to

resolve disputes, manage military relationships, and prevent

accidents and inadvertent escalation?

This is not necessarily only a matter of whether deterrence

relationships might develop between NATO countries and these

smaller powers but also the smaller powers’ relationships with

each other. This would include India and Pakistan or Iran and


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