Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


There was a great deal of concern surrounding the language

often used in declaratory statements in which American political

and diplomatic leaders express that an action or policy related

to proliferation is “unacceptable” or “grave,” for examples,

and then take no punitive action when the proliferator does

that which is unacceptable. The “diplomatic speak” that such

language symbolizes was widely seen as undermining the credibility

of dissuasion/deterrence.

A second point discussed by the participants dealt with the

role treaties play in dissuading/deterring WMD proliferation.

While there appeared to be an innate efficacy toward a system

of nonproliferation treaties, there was also doubt as to their effectiveness.

The inability of participants to provide a viable alternative

may explain the continued support for treaties, such

as the Nonproliferation Treaty. A majority agreed that counterproliferation

treaties, of any type, are unlikely to prevent a determined

proliferator from pursuing weapons that are often

perceived as necessary for state or regime survival.

As previously noted, proliferators often attempt to acquire

WMD when there is a perceived threat. A robust discussion

explored the potential for a more inclusive extended conventional

and nuclear deterrence umbrella as a means to address

real or perceived security threats. Could this serve as one way

to reduce the demand for chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological


Findings/Recommendations/Way Ahead

A number of findings/recommendations emerged from the

various group discussions:

• Export controls are useful tools in counterproliferation efforts

and are often underutilized.

• Be careful when choosing language or communicating “redlines.”

Do not characterize a potential act as unacceptable

if you have no intention of preventing or reacting to it.

• A better understanding of the rationale for proliferation is

needed if the United States and its allies are to dissuade/

deter individual proliferators.


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