Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

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Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press

FRAMING STRATEGIC DETERRENCE

consequences, but so can accepting it, for that may cause a

moral hazard all its own. The comparisons between banking

meltdowns and nuclear meltdowns are questionable, but the

ability of some to feel that whatever they do, somebody will rescue

them, can create a dangerous situation, as was almost

seen in Georgia. The reason for the Sino-Soviet split that occurred

50 years ago was that the Soviet Union would not underwrite

every Chinese adventure. The biggest danger is too much

ambiguity. That does not mean going round the world drawing

red lines everywhere, but it is about being clear and honest if

and when we are moving into dangerous situations. To go back

to the 1991 war, when Iraq was threatening Kuwait, the United

States had to say truthfully that “we have no defence responsibilities

to Kuwait.” It might have been better to raise the possibility

that in the event of crude aggression, the issue is not a

defence responsibility but the maintenance of international order.

As crises develop in distant places, it is better to address

the possibility of engagement before rather than after the act.

For the reasons already suggested, we may now be moving

away from the models that served us well during the Cold War.

To recap, deterrence worked better in practice than in theory to

the point where we came to take it for granted that a greatpower

war would be an extraordinarily foolish thing upon which

to embark. This conclusion was reached without really working

out the scenarios. We are now thinking about a world of shrinking

great-power arsenals but proliferating small arsenals and

of ambiguous relationships in situations of insecurity and inner

turmoil. For Western countries, deterrence remains, in the

end, a problem of foreign policy. It is not necessarily a matter

of capabilities or targeting—as our countries have no problems

with either—or even what we do with nuclear weapons, for our

conventional forces should be sufficient to have a deterrent effect

in most contingencies. The fundamental issue remains one

of whom and what we care about and how far we are prepared

to go to follow our cares.

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