Strategy after Deterrence

By Stephen J. Cimbala | Go to book overview

7
STRATEGY AFTER DETERRENCE: CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS

This book is concerned with what can be learned about the possible future of nuclear deterrence and military strategy on the basis of experience before and during the nuclear age. It argues that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as "conventional deterrence." This is not just a quibble about terminology, for the connotatons of the term "deterrence" are extremely important. Here we focus on the immediate deterrence of an act of aggression that someone is seriously contemplating, not on the more general, although equally important, character of the longer-term balance of power and expectation of hostility among major powers.1 In this context of immediacy, deterrence rests on the credible threat of excessive punishment as an instrument of dissuasion. And the term "excessive" in this context means not just in excess of what the prospective attacker might compare to a best case, but in excess of what the attacker might compare to a worst case.

There are other ways to dissuade potential attackers of their aggressive intentions, but these other approaches do not partake of deterrence properly understood. One can lead a potential aggressor to expect to attain victory at a cost that is higher than acceptable, although less than catastrophic. One can create in the minds of enemy leaders uncertainty about whether they will win or lose. Or one can threaten to impose unacceptable costs on a prospective attacker with a sufficient probability of success for dissuasion to work. Of these various approaches, only one is properly termed deterrence. Why the insistence upon such a narrow definition of deterrence when others have applied it to almost any situation

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