Deterrence Theory and Chinese Behavior

By Abram N. Shulsky | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
DETERRENCE IN THE CONTEXT OF
SINO-U.S. RELATIONS

Although deterrence may be simply defined as “the persuasion of one's opponent that the costs and/or risks of a given course of action he might take outweigh its benefits” (George and Smoke, 1974, p. 11), the development of the theory of deterrence was clearly influenced by its origins in the attempt to grapple with the devastating power of nuclear weapons at the beginning of the Cold War and by the difficulty, if not impossibility, of defending against a nuclear attack well enough to significantly reduce the harm it could inflict. The theory itself grew up in that environment, which shaped many of its specific features and the questions it addressed.

On the basis of the above definition, deterrence could be enhanced not only by increasing the costs and/or risks of the action to be deterred but also by reducing its expected benefits. Hence, the ability to defend a threatened territory (thereby reducing the benefits a potential aggressor could expect to gain from attacking it) is logically as much of a deterrent as the ability to inflict retaliatory damage on the aggressor's homeland. However, because of the historical circumstance noted above, deterrence theory has emphasized retaliating after an attack rather than defending the threatened territory well enough to deny the attacker the expected benefits of his action. Accordingly, some theorists have distinguished sharply between deterrence (which is seen as depending primarily on the threat of punishment, i.e., on increasing the prospective cost of the action to be deterred) and defense (which seeks to deny the party to be deterred any benefits from its contemplated action). However, it should be noted that, on the basis of the simple definition cited at the beginning of this chapter, the ability to mount an effective

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Deterrence Theory and Chinese Behavior
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • Summary vii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - The Role of Deterrence in U.S. China Policy 3
  • Chapter Three - The Historical Record 7
  • Chapter Four - Deterrence in the Context of Sino-U.S. Relations 17
  • Chapter Five - Deterrence and Its Discontents 23
  • Chapter Six - Deterring China in the Future 35
  • Appendix - Chinese “Deterrence” Attempts: Failures and Successes 55
  • Bibliography 81
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