Understanding Deterrence


He points out three evolutionary stages of deterrence in the cold war time set which according to understanding are as follows:

  1. Deterrence as a Tactic[3]: Where the capability of defense of the state centralized around the policy of power projection for the initiation of military potential and the overall application of the same concept for solely military purposes, with political consequences being optional.
  2. Deterrence as a national Security Strategy[4]: Where the superpowers behaved as individual units and their plans of action focused absolutely around their own selfish survival.
  3. Deterrence as a Critical component of security for the International System[5]: Where the states, keeping well into perspective their national interests and the tactics for strategic breakthroughs and dominance, associate certain collaborations with other states of the same coherent power interests (NATO, Warsaw Pact) ascertain different tasks and ventures to outwit and strategically out maneuver the other state or set of states.

Bearing all the said substantiation in mind, the success of deterrence relies on the following principles of effective communication and projection of:

  1. Effective Military Capability[6]: where the state initiating deterrence projects the intentions through proper military capacity and threat is initiated via adequate, capable and reliant military hardware to exert the projection of damages on the target state.
  2. Imposition of unacceptable costs[7]: that the failure to comply would result in infliction of massive scale damages to the non-compliant party and that the element of patience will not be taken onto consideration.
  3. Use of assets if attacked[8]: that the will and capability to use the force declared against the non-compliant state would be initiated if the said barriers and restrictions imposed by projected deterrence are not complied with.

The shortcomings in the theory in the Cold War time set were exactly the factors that established deterrence in the first place:

  1. The difference of deterrence as a theory and as a strategy, where the cold war mindset and the rapid development of more destructive and sophisticated weapons (particularly the Thermonuclear Devices and Ballistic Missiles) somewhat made differentiation amongst the two rather difficult and practically contradictory. Morgan[9] tries to elaborate and differentiate the two by considering ‘Deterrence as Strategy’ a ‘Specific Military Posture’[10] while renders ‘Deterrence as a Theory’[11] to a more major level subordinating the strategic implications of deterrence to this larger ambit, making the latter a set of principles guiding the former.
  2. The key elements constituting deterrence[12] as pointed out by Morgan are a paradox in themselves because they were successful enough in deterring both the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies but they have not elaborated the change of circumstances and contingencies in the modern day environment where the element of rationality may or may not be abided by in terms of nuclear terrorism (for example) and ascertaining responsibility of a non-state actor against the associations of the same to a state and her negligence in the same regard.
  3. Where Morgan makes his claims of deterrence as a successful option at the time of the Cold War, some other analysts disagree to the model. Richard Ned Lebow[13] and Janice Gross Stein[14] in their observations[15] note that the deterrence as a theory and the deterrence as a strategy raised the temperatures amongst the Cold War parties and this in the longer run initiated the infamous nuclear arms race and nuclear proliferation amongst other states further exacerbating the tensions that existed then (Cuban Missile Crisis as an example). They observe that this dilemma projects a lot of threat and danger of an all out war in the future (immediate or distant is a possibility of turn of events).
  4. Richard and Janice also note that from the recollections of the Cold War, the following observations are also to be kept in mind as continuing contingencies to a credible and comprehensive deterrence both as a strategy and as a theory. They are:
  • Leaders who try to exploit real or imagined nuclear advantages for political gains are not likely to succeed[16]: This analysis is based on recollections of decisions both by Khrushchev and Kennedy to determine their strategic dominance over the other resulting in a very dangerous turn of events bearing no significant breakthrough in the longer run for the both of them
  • Credible nuclear threats are difficult to make[17]: The threat projection in the Cuban Missile Crisis both by the US and the USSR were extremely humungous in magnitude of destruction to both but the element of credibility was less dominant as retaliation through full force by either party was in order making nuclear war entirely redundant.
  • Nuclear threats are fraught with risk[18]: Where the forces and their readiness against the adversary is an issue in itself, the circumstances entail insubordination and misconceptions as was the entire Cuban Missile Crisis in the Cold War. This means that if in the current time set, bearing in mind the technological advancement, any such mishap can lead to total war and Assured Destruction.
  • Strategic buildups are more likely to provoke than to restrain adversaries because of their impact on the domestic balance of power in the target state[19]: The entire arms control and disarmament debate in the contemporary international system revolves around this observation and the Cold War armament buildup is evidence enough that an arms race cocktailed with misconceiving circumstances, insecurity and ambiguity of the adversary’s actions can lead to severe irreversible damages even if viewed in the kaleidoscope of the current international strategic environment.
  • Nuclear deterrence is robust when leaders on both sides fear war and are aware of each other’s fears[20]: Where the Cuban Missile Crisis indicated the intentions on both sides regarding the aversion for nuclear war, it still maintains the element of ambiguity as to the intentions of the adversary and this can lead to mistrust which is a catalyst for Mutually Assured Destruction in the case where both the conflicting parties are nuclear weapon states.
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is a Masters in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from the National Defense University. He can be reached on m.sharrehqazi@hotmail.com

Discussion1 Comment

  1. The equation of deterrence should include the level of national morale.Though we have a credible nuclear arsenal and well equipped armed forces but we are constantly being hit by bomb attacks in KPK and Balochistan thus lowering our national morale. So even with this much military strength but with lower morale and trodden social fibre can we maintain credible deterrence?

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