THE PROSPECTS FOR PIVOTAL
DETERRENCE IN U.S. FOREIGN
Wafting from isolation to world supremacy, the United States has never comfortably occupied the intermediate ground of international relations, in which there is no white or black, only many different shades of gray.
Robert Skidelsky, Foreign Policy, March/April 2002
Pivotal deterrence is one of many security policies available to states that occupy a pivotal position. Saying that a state is in a pivotal position does not reveal the goals that it will pursue. Rather, it describes a structure of power among three actors or groups of actors, a three-way bargaining situation with two key features. First, the actor playing the pivot has some flexibility to align with either of the other two, or stand aloof, if they go to war. Second, by choosing one of those options, the pivot can significantly influence the outcome. The pivot's relative capabilities are obviously important here, but to a large degree they are subsumed in the definition of the situation as a pivotal one. So the key insight of this heuristic goes beyond static “hard power” relationships, directing our attention to the degree and exercise of influence over others that flows from unique features of the bargaining context.
A policy of pivotal deterrence aims to harness the power of a pivotal position for a particular purpose—to prevent war between adversaries whose animosity makes playing the pivot possible. All of the major and minor cases in this book demonstrate that pivotal states—with widely different shares of relative power—have used their pivotal position to serve that end. In the 1870s, for example, Bismarck, who did not shy away from aggression in other circumstances, played the pivot to promote peace rather than war