Military Deterrence in History: A Pilot Cross-Historical Survey

By Raoul Naroll; Vern L. Bullough et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20 FIRST STRIKE FAILURE: SWISS VERSUS KIBURG1376-1385: Conspicuous State, Swiss Confederation; Conspicuous Rival, Kiburg.

PART 1: SKETCH OF HISTORICAL SETTING (Chiefly after von Müller and Dierauer)

THIS RANDOMLY SAMPLED DECADE in Swiss history presents us with a model of a deterrence situation which much concerns United States military planners today. Here we have a case of a preemptive surprise attack made by an autocratic state able to commit its forces to a morally disapproved action without notice to its enemies. The surprise attack was made upon a coalition of republics which could not make a similar attack because it would have been morally unacceptable and politically awkward. The republican coalition had to depend upon its second strike capacity, which was great -- far greater than that of the autocratic attacker -- and which included the introduction of a new weapon, siege cannons using gunpowder.

Here the attacker could not hope to destroy the second strike capacity of the defender. He could only hope to redress the imbalance in forces between them through the advantage of the surprise attack. The attacker, Count Rudolph II of Kiburg-Burgdorf, was the head of a decaying feudal house. The Kiburgs' difficulty was financial. Their income was chiefly feudal dues paid in produce, but to maintain themselves in fourteenth-century aristocratic style they needed to spend heavily; furthermore, to be an effective military power, they needed to supplement feudal levies with hired soldiers, and that cost more money. The Kiburgs had been forced to pawn or sell several valuable properties and were hopelessly in debt.

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