Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age

By Gottschalk, Jack A. | Naval War College Review, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview
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Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age


Gottschalk, Jack A., Naval War College Review


Payne, Keith B. Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age. Lexington, Ky.: The Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1996. 160pp. $26.95

This relatively short book provides an excellent overview of the history and future of deterrence, which was the focus of considerable and spirited debate during the Cold War. Today it continues to be a major issue as the United States faces a variety of threats from different nations whose interests are inimical to its own.

Payne raises the unsettling question of whether the American policy of deterrence vis-a-vis the Soviet Union during the Cold War can be accepted as the reason for the preservation of peace (albeit an uneasy one). His position is that no matter which policy approach is selected (warfighting, mutual assured deterrence, or minimum deterrence) it remains uncertain whether any of them could really work. From that basis, and since we cannot know conclusively that deterrence worked in the past, it is impossible to know if it will work against "rogue" states in the future.

It is the author's view that a required element for any deterrence program is enough information to permit a deterring state to believe the opponent is rational in its decision making, and to know its values and its culture. The United States possessed that kind of information about the Soviets. However, the nation cannot assume that it will have the same kind of insight into other nations, many of which are thirdrate powers that have acquired nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons and will inevitably acquire a means to deliver them. The belief that Saddam Hussein would act in a rational manner is cited by the author as one of several historical examples in which faulty expectations have led to disaster.

It is suggested that the United States develop a lot of intelligence about all of its potential enemies, including information about how the leaders of hostile states think, what their decisionmaking processes are, how to communicate with them effectively in a crisis, and what their national cultures are.

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