Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press

Chapter 19

Quick Look

Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Anthony C. Cain, PhD


The challenges of the international security environment

coupled with a continuing global financial crisis set the context

for renewed interest in deterrence. After nearly a generation of

operations since the end of the Cold War, however, scholars and

strategists continue to struggle to adapt the theories and vocabulary

of deterrence to the existing and emerging contexts.


The overarching structure of the bipolar conflict between the

United States and the Soviet Union constrained notions of deterrence

to nuclear power balancing. Other strategic interactions

were discussed using terminology that did not derive from

the nuclear war context. Although such theorists as Hermann

Kahn, Bernard Brodie, and Thomas Schelling have indicated

that conventional conflicts could escalate into nuclear war,

thus requiring careful attention on the part of statesmen, the

special circumstances of the Cold War have kept attention focused

on preventing nuclear war rather than analyzing the

continuities between that type of war and the “lesser included”

types of conflicts.

The watershed events represented by the end of the Cold War

and the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 called into

question the relevance of the deterrence paradigm. Nuclear

operations seemed less relevant in a world characterized by such

diverse challenges as failed states, humanitarian and environmental

disasters, genocidal conflicts, counterproliferation, terrorism,

and conventional wars. The questions related to deterrence

now should center on linking deterrence to desired effects.

In other words, states that adopt deterrence as part of a comprehensive

strategy should be able to link particular deterrent policies

and initiatives to specific adversary behavior modifications. This


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