Deterrence Theory and Chinese Behavior

By Abram N. Shulsky | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
DETERRENCE AND ITS DISCONTENTS

Recent decades have seen a vast proliferation of writings on deterrence theory, some of it suggesting that deterrence theory was “weaker” (in both descriptive and normative terms) and less useful than had been thought. In addition, even in its more classic formulations, deterrence theory recognized various difficulties in applying it. The future Sino-U.S. context will illustrate many of the perceived weaknesses and criticisms; deterrence theory will be, in general, more difficult to apply than it was in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War context. A review of the deterrence literature suggests four areas of theoretical concerns that would be relevant to deterrence in a Sino-U.S context.1


COMMITMENT AND RATIONALITY

Since deterrence primarily relies on the threat of future harm, the deterrer's credibility is obviously a key factor in making deterrence work. If deterrers could inflict the threatened harm at absolutely no cost to themselves, the credibility of their threats could perhaps be taken for granted. It is, however, difficult to think of circumstances in which this would be the case. Hence, the problem of credibility becomes that of convincing the target that the deterrer is willing to bear the costs involved in inflicting the threatened harm. In short,

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1
It is obviously impossible to review here all the relevant literature, and, in any case, this report does not aspire to a theoretical treatment of issues in deterrence theory. The points raised in this chapter are those that seem particularly relevant to Sino-U.S. relations. For the same reason, I have not made explicit the links between this discussion and particular critiques of deterrence theory.

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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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