Deterrence theory
Deterrence theory gained increased prominence as a military strategy during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 with regard to the use of nuclear weapons, and features prominently in current United States foreign policy regarding the development of nuclear technology in North Korea and Iran. Deterrence theory however was identified as a military strategy long before this time. In Thomas Schelling
Thomas Schelling
Thomas Crombie Schelling is an American economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control at the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland, College Park. He is also co-faculty at the New England Complex Systems Institute...

’s classic work of 1966, the concept that military strategy can no longer be defined as the science of military victory is presented. Instead, it is argued that military strategy was now equally, if not more, the art of coercion, of intimidation and deterrence.

Schelling goes on to explain the foundations of deterrence theory based on diplomacy. Diplomacy between states is defined as a form of bargaining that seeks outcomes for each state that though not ideal for either party, are better for both than other alternatives. In order for diplomacy to succeed, there must be some common interest, if only in the avoidance of mutual damage. Traditionally in military strategy, mutual pain and suffering are among the results of warfare, however they have also been incidental and not the primary purpose. In the development of military strategy however, Schelling (1966) argues the capacity to hurt another state is now used as a motivating factor for other states to avoid it and influence another state's behaviour. In order to be coercive or deter another state, violence has to be anticipated and avoidable by accommodation. It can therefore be summarised that the use of the power to hurt as bargaining power is the foundation of deterrence theory, and is most successful when it is held in reserve.

The Concept of Deterrence

The use of military threats as a means to deter international crises and war has been a central topic of international security
International security
International security consists of the measures taken by nations and international organizations, such as the United Nations, to ensure mutual survival and safety. These measures include military action and diplomatic agreements such as treaties and conventions. International and national security...

 research for decades. Research has predominantly focused on the theory of rational deterrence to analyse the conditions under which conventional deterrence is likely to succeed or fail. Alternative theories however have challenged the rational deterrence theory and have focused on organisational theory and cognitive psychology
Cognitive psychology
Cognitive psychology is a subdiscipline of psychology exploring internal mental processes.It is the study of how people perceive, remember, think, speak, and solve problems.Cognitive psychology differs from previous psychological approaches in two key ways....


The concept of deterrence can be defined as the use of threats by one party to convince another party to refrain from initiating some course of action. A threat serves as a deterrent to the extent that it convinces its target not to carry out the intended action because of the costs and losses that target would incur. In international security, a policy of deterrence generally refers to threats of military retaliation directed by the leaders of one state to the leaders of another in an attempt to prevent the other state from resorting to the threat of use of military force in pursuit of its foreign policy goals.

As outlined by Huth, a policy of deterrence can fit into two broad categories being (i) preventing an armed attack against a state’s own territory (known as direct deterrence); or (ii) preventing an armed attack against another state (known as extended deterrence). Situations of direct deterrence often occur when there is a territorial dispute
Territorial dispute
A territorial dispute is a disagreement over the possession/control of land between two or more states or over the possession or control of land by a new state and occupying power after it has conquered the land from a former state no longer currently recognized by the new state.-Context and...

 between neighboring states in which major powers (e.g. the United States) do not directly intervene. On the other hand, situations of extended deterrence often occur when a great power
Great power
A great power is a nation or state that has the ability to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength and diplomatic and cultural influence which may cause small powers to consider the opinions of great powers before taking actions...

 becomes involved. It is the latter than has generated the majority of interest in academic literature. Building on these two broad categories, Huth goes on to outline that deterrence policies may be implemented in response to a pressing short-term threat (known as immediate deterrence) or as strategy to prevent a military conflict or short term threat from arising (known as general deterrence).

A successful deterrence policy must be considered in not only military terms, but also in political terms. In military terms, deterrence success refers to preventing state leaders from issuing military threats and actions that escalate peacetime diplomatic and military cooperation into a crisis or militarized confrontation which threatens armed conflict and possibly war. The prevention of crises of wars however is not the only aim of deterrence. In addition, defending states must be able to resist the political and military demands of a potential attacking nation. If armed conflict is avoided at the price of diplomatic concessions to the maximum demands of the potential attacking nation under the threat of war, then it cannot be claimed that deterrence has succeeded.

Furthermore, as Jentleson et al. argue, two key sets of factors for successful deterrence are important being (i) a defending state strategy that firstly balances credible coercion and deft diplomacy consistent with the three criteria of proportionality, reciprocity and coercive credibility, and secondly minimises international and domestic constraints; and (ii) the extent of an attacking state's vulnerability as shaped by its domestic political and economic conditions. In broad terms, a state wishing to implement a strategy of deterrence is most likely to succeed if the costs of non-compliance it can impose on, and the benefits of compliance it can offer to, another state are greater than the benefits of noncompliance and the costs of compliance.

Deterrence theory holds that nuclear weapons are intended to deter other states from attacking with their nuclear weapons, through the promise of retaliation and possibly mutually assured destruction (MAD). Nuclear deterrence can also be applied to an attack by conventional forces; for example, the doctrine of massive retaliation
Massive retaliation
Massive retaliation, also known as a massive response or massive deterrence, is a military doctrine and nuclear strategy in which a state commits itself to retaliate in much greater force in the event of an attack.-Strategy:...

 threatened to launch US nuclear weapons in response to Soviet attacks.

In order for a nuclear deterrent to be successful, a country must preserve its ability to retaliate either by responding before its own weapons are destroyed or by ensuring a second strike
Second strike
In nuclear strategy, a second strike capability is a country's assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker...

 capability. A nuclear deterrent is sometimes composed of a nuclear triad
Nuclear triad
A nuclear triad refers to a nuclear arsenal which consists of three components, traditionally strategic bombers, ICBMs and SLBMs. The purpose of having a three-branched nuclear capability is to significantly reduce the possibility that an enemy could destroy all of a nation's nuclear forces in a...

, as in the case of the nuclear weapons owned by the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, have only sea-based and air-based nuclear weapons.


Jentleson et al. provide further detail in relation to these factors. Firstly, proportionality refers to the relationship between the defending state's scope and nature of the objectives being pursued, and the instruments available for use to pursue this. The more the defending state demands of another state, the higher that state's costs of compliance and the greater need for the defending state’s strategy to increase the costs of noncompliance and the benefits of compliance. This is a challenge, as deterrence is, by definition, a strategy of limited means. George (1991) goes on to explain that deterrence may, but is not required to, go beyond threats to the actual use of military force; but if force is actually used, it must be limited and fall short of full scale use or war otherwise it fails. The main source of disproportionality is an objective that goes beyond policy change to regime change
Regime change
"Regime change" is the replacement of one regime with another. Use of the term dates to at least 1925.Regime change can occur through conquest by a foreign power, revolution, coup d'état or reconstruction following the failure of a state...

. This has been seen in the cases of Libya, Iraq and North Korea where defending states have sought to change the leadership of a state in addition to policy changes relating primarily to their nuclear weapons programs.


Secondly, Jentleson et al. outline that reciprocity involves an explicit understanding of linkage between the defending state's carrots and the attacking state's concessions. The balance lies neither in offering too little too late or for too much in return, not offering too much too soon or for too little return.

Coercive Credibility

Finally, coercive credibility requires that, in addition to calculations about costs and benefits of cooperation, the defending state convincingly conveys to the attacking state that non-cooperation has consequences. Threats, uses of force, and other coercive instruments (such as economic sanctions
Economic sanctions
Economic sanctions are domestic penalties applied by one country on another for a variety of reasons. Economic sanctions include, but are not limited to, tariffs, trade barriers, import duties, and import or export quotas...

) must be sufficiently credible in order to raise the attacking state's perceived costs of noncompliance. A defending state having a superior military capability or economic strength in itself is not enough to ensure credibility. Indeed, all three elements of a balanced deterrence strategy are more likely to be achieved if other major international actors (for example the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 or NATO) are supportive and if opposition within the defending state's domestic politics is limited.

The other important consideration outlined by Jentleson et al. that must taken into consideration is the domestic political and economic conditions within the attacking state affecting its vulnerability to deterrence policies, and the attacking state's ability to compensate unfavourable power balances. The first factor is whether internal political support and regime security are better served by defiance, or if there are domestic political gains to be made from improving relations with the defending state. The second factor is an economic calculation of the costs that military force, sanctions, and other coercive instruments can be imposed, and the benefits that trade and other economic incentives may carry. This in part is a function of the strength and flexibility of the attacking state's domestic economy and its capacity to absorb or counter the costs being imposed. The third factor is the role of elites and other key domestic political figures within the attacking state. To the extent these actors' interests are threatened with the defending state's demands, they will act to prevent or block the defending state's demands.

Rational Deterrence Theory

The predominant approach to theorizing about deterrence has entailed the use of rational choice and game-theoretic models of decision making (see Game Theory
Game theory
Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others...

). Deterrence theorists have consistently argued that deterrence success is more likely if a defending state's deterrent threat is credible to an attacking state. Huth outlines that a threat is considered credible if the defending state possesses both the military capabilities to inflict substantial costs on an attacking state in an armed conflict, and if the attacking state believes that the defending state is resolved to use its available military forces. Huth goes on to explain the four key factors for consideration under rational deterrence theory being (i) the military balance; (ii) signaling and bargaining power; (iii) reputations for resolve; and (iv) interests at stake.

The Military Balance

Deterrence is often directed against state leaders who have specific territorial goals that they seek to attain either by seizing disputed territory in a limited military attack or by occupying disputed territory after the decisive defeat of the adversary's armed forces. In either case, the strategic orientation of potential attacking states is generally short term and driven by concerns about military cost and effectiveness. For successful deterrence, defending states need the military capacity to respond quickly and in strength to a range of contingencies. Where deterrence often fails is when either a defending state or an attacking state under or overestimate the others' ability to undertake a particular course of action.

Signaling and Bargaining Power

The central problem for a state that seeks to communicate a credible deterrent threat through diplomatic or military actions is that all defending states have an incentive to act as if they are determined to resist an attack, in the hope that the attacking state will back away from military conflict with a seemingly resolved adversary. If all defending states have such incentives, then potential attacking states may discount statements made by defending states along with any movement of military forces as merely bluffs. In this regards, rational deterrence theorists have argued that costly signals are required to communicate the credibility of a defending state's resolve. Costly signals are those actions and statements that clearly increase the risk of a military conflict and also increase the costs of backing down from a deterrent threat. States that are bluffing will be unwilling to cross a certain threshold of threat and military action for fear of committing themselves to an armed conflict.

Reputations for Resolve

There are three different arguments that have been developed in relation to the role of reputations in influencing deterrence outcomes. The first argument focuses on a defending states's past behaviour in international disputes and crises, which creates strong beliefs in a potential attacking state about the defending state's expected behaviour in future conflicts. The credibilities of a defending state's policies are arguably linked over time, and reputations for resolve have a powerful causal impact on an attacking state's decision whether to challenge either general or immediate deterrence. The second approach argues that reputations have a limited impact on deterrence outcomes because the credibility of deterrence is heavily determined by the specific configuration of military capabilities, interests at stake, and political constraints faced by a defending state in a given situation of attempted deterrence. The argument of this school of thought is that potential attacking states are not likely to draw strong inferences about a defending states resolve from prior conflicts because potential attacking states do not believe that a defending state's past behaviour is a reliable predictor of future behaviour. The third approach is a middle ground between the first two approaches. It argues that potential attacking states are likely to draw reputational inferences about resolve from the past behaviour of defending states only under certain conditions. The insight is the expectation that decision makers will use only certain types of information when drawing inferences about reputations, and an attacking state updates and revises its beliefs when the unanticipated behaviour of a defending state cannot be explained by case-specific variables.

Interests at Stake

Although costly signaling and bargaining power are more well established arguments in rational deterrence theory, the interests of defending states are not as well known, and attacking states may look beyond the short term bargaining tactics of a defending state and seek to determine what interests are at stake for the defending state that would justify the risks of a military conflict. The argument here is that defending states that have greater interests at stake in a dispute will be more resolved to use force and be more willing to endure military losses in order to secure those interests. Even less well established arguments are the specific interests that are more salient to state leaders such as military interests versus economic interests.

Furthermore, Huth argues that both supporters and critics of rational deterrence theory agree that an unfavourable assessment of the domestic and international status quo by state leaders can undermine or severely test the success of deterrence. In a rational choice approach, if the expected utility of not using force is reduced by a declining status quo position, then deterrence failure is more likely, since the alternative option of using force becomes relatively more attractive.

Nuclear Power and Deterrence

Schelling is prescriptive in outlining the impact of the development of nuclear power in the analysis of military power and deterrence. For the first time in history, man has the power to eliminate his species from earth, and have developed weapons against which there is no conceivable defense.The key difference in the development of nuclear weapons however is not the level of damage they can cause, but the speed with which it can be done. This allows a state to inflict extreme damage to an opposing state without first achieving victory. This element is a key contributor to the increased prominence of deterrence theory in the post Cold War period. Extreme pain and damage through nuclear weapons are now the primary instruments of coercive warfare which can be applied to intimidate or deter another state. These instruments allow deterrence policies to become increasingly powerful to the extent that the threat of use of nuclear power by a state is credible.

United State's Policy of Deterrence

United States policy of deterrence during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 underwent significant variations. The early stages of the Cold War were generally characterized by ideology of containment
Containment was a United States policy using military, economic, and diplomatic strategies to stall the spread of communism, enhance America’s security and influence abroad, and prevent a "domino effect". A component of the Cold War, this policy was a response to a series of moves by the Soviet...

, an aggressive stance on behalf of the United States especially regarding developing nations under their sphere of influence
Sphere of influence
In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence is a spatial region or conceptual division over which a state or organization has significant cultural, economic, military or political influence....

. This period was characterized by numerous proxy war
Proxy war
A proxy war or proxy warfare is a war that results when opposing powers use third parties as substitutes for fighting each other directly. While powers have sometimes used governments as proxies, violent non-state actors, mercenaries, or other third parties are more often employed...

s throughout most of the globe, particularly Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America. A notable such conflict was the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

. In contrast to general opinion, George F. Kennan
George F. Kennan
George Frost Kennan was an American adviser, diplomat, political scientist and historian, best known as "the father of containment" and as a key figure in the emergence of the Cold War...

, who is taken to be the founder of this ideology in the famous Long Telegram, asserted that his ideas had been misinterpreted and that he never advocated military intervention, merely economic support.

With the US pullout in Vietnam, the normalization of US relations with China, and the Sino-Soviet Split
Sino-Soviet split
In political science, the term Sino–Soviet split denotes the worsening of political and ideologic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War...

, the policy of Containment was abandoned and a new policy of détente
Détente is the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation. The term is often used in reference to the general easing of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s, a thawing at a period roughly in the middle of the Cold War...

 was established, whereby peaceful coexistence was sought between the United States and the Soviet Union. Although all factors listed above contributed to this shift, the most important factor was probably the rough parity achieved in stockpiling nuclear weapons with the clear capability of Mutual Assured Destruction
Mutual assured destruction
Mutual Assured Destruction, or mutually assured destruction , is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of high-yield weapons of mass destruction by two opposing sides would effectively result in the complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation of...

 (MAD). Therefore, the period of détente was characterized by a general reduction in the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and a thawing of the Cold War, lasting from the late 1960s until the start of the 1980s. The doctrine of mutual nuclear deterrence characterized relations between the United States and the Soviet Union during this period, and present relations with Russia.

A third shift occurred with President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

's arms build-up during the 1980s. Reagan attempted to justify this policy in part due to concerns of growing Soviet influence in Latin America and the new republic of Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

, established after the Iranian Revolution
Iranian Revolution
The Iranian Revolution refers to events involving the overthrow of Iran's monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and its replacement with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the...

 of 1979. Similar to the old policy of containment, the United States funded several proxy war
Proxy war
A proxy war or proxy warfare is a war that results when opposing powers use third parties as substitutes for fighting each other directly. While powers have sometimes used governments as proxies, violent non-state actors, mercenaries, or other third parties are more often employed...

s, including support for Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was the fifth President of Iraq, serving in this capacity from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003...

 of Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

 during the Iran–Iraq War, support for the mujahideen
Mujahideen are Muslims who struggle in the path of God. The word is from the same Arabic triliteral as jihad .Mujahideen is also transliterated from Arabic as mujahedin, mujahedeen, mudžahedin, mudžahidin, mujahidīn, mujaheddīn and more.-Origin of the concept:The beginnings of Jihad are traced...

 in Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

, who were fighting for independence from the Soviet Union, and several anti-communist movements in Latin America such as the overthrow of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...

. The funding of the Contras
The contras is a label given to the various rebel groups opposing Nicaragua's FSLN Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction government following the July 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle's dictatorship...

 in Nicaragua led to the Iran-Contra Affair
Iran-Contra Affair
The Iran–Contra affair , also referred to as Irangate, Contragate or Iran-Contra-Gate, was a political scandal in the United States that came to light in November 1986. During the Reagan administration, senior Reagan administration officials and President Reagan secretly facilitated the sale of...

, while overt support led to a ruling from the International Court of Justice
International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. It is based in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands...

 against the United States in Nicaragua v. United States.

While the army was dealing with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the spread of nuclear technology to other nations beyond the United States and Russia, the concept of deterrence took on a broader multinational dimension. The US policy on post–Cold War deterrence was outlined in 1995 in a document called "Essentials of Post–Cold War Deterrence". This document explains that while relations with Russia continue to follow the traditional characteristics of Mutual Nuclear Deterrence, due to both nations continuing MAD, US policy of deterrence towards nations with minor nuclear capabilities should ensure through threats of immense retaliation (or even preemptive action
Preemptive war
A preemptive war is a war that is commenced in an attempt to repel or defeat a perceived inevitable offensive or invasion, or to gain a strategic advantage in an impending war before that threat materializes. It is a war which preemptively 'breaks the peace'. The term: 'preemptive war' is...

) that they do not threaten the United States, its interests, or allies. The document explains that such threats must also be used to ensure that nations without nuclear technology refrain from developing nuclear weapons and that a universal ban precludes any nation from maintaining chemical or biological weapons. The current tensions with Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs are due in part to the continuation of this policy of deterrence.

Criticism of Deterrence Theory

Deterrence theory is criticized for its assumptions about opponent rationales: first, it is argued that suicidal or psychotic opponents may not be deterred by either forms of deterrence. Second, if Country "X" were to launch nuclear weapons at Country "Y", managing to destroy many nuclear launch silos in a preemptive strike, Country "Y" would be rendered defenseless, thus finding a loophole in the theory. Third, diplomatic misunderstandings and/or opposing political ideologies may lead to escalating mutual perceptions of threat, and a subsequent arms race
Arms race
The term arms race, in its original usage, describes a competition between two or more parties for the best armed forces. Each party competes to produce larger numbers of weapons, greater armies, or superior military technology in a technological escalation...

 which elevates the risk of actual war (this scenario is illustrated in the movies WarGames
WarGames is a 1983 American Cold War suspense/science-fiction film written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. The film stars Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy....

 and Dr. Strangelove). An arms race
Arms race
The term arms race, in its original usage, describes a competition between two or more parties for the best armed forces. Each party competes to produce larger numbers of weapons, greater armies, or superior military technology in a technological escalation...

 is inefficient in its optimal output; all countries involved expend resources on armaments which would not have been expended if the others had not expended resources. This is a form of positive feedback
Positive feedback
Positive feedback is a process in which the effects of a small disturbance on a system include an increase in the magnitude of the perturbation. That is, A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A. In contrast, a system that responds to a perturbation in a way that reduces its effect is...


Finally, a military build-up could increase a country's risks of budget deficits, restrictions on civil liberties
Civil liberties
Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom from torture and death, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one's self, the right to own and bear arms, the right...

, the creation of a military-industrial complex
Military-industrial complex
Military–industrial complex , or Military–industrial-congressional complex is a concept commonly used to refer to policy and monetary relationships between legislators, national armed forces, and the industrial sector that supports them...

, and other such potentially-undesirable measures. See Garrison State
The Garrison State
The Garrison State was a 1941 article in the American Journal of Sociology by political scientist and sociologist Harold Lasswell. It was a "developmental construct" that outlined the possibility of a political-military elite composed of "specialists in violence" in a modern state.Lasswell was...


Psychology and Deterrence

A new form of criticism emerged in the late 1980s with detailed analyses of the actions of individual leaders and groups of leaders in crisis situations (historical and theoretical).

A number of new or nuanced criticisms of "traditional" deterrence theory emerged. One was that deterrence theory assumed that both sides had common rational peaceful goals. In some real-life situations, such as the Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War
The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War or October War , also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 to 25, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria...

, leaders felt that internal or external political considerations forced a conflict. One of the essays in, regarding the internal military and political discussions within the Egyptian high command in 1973, indicates that senior civilian leaders (including Anwar Sadat
Anwar Sadat
Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat was the third President of Egypt, serving from 15 October 1970 until his assassination by fundamentalist army officers on 6 October 1981...

) believed that they had to fight a war in order to have enough internal political support to negotiate for peace.

In another miscalculation, Israel rationalized that the Israeli military dominance would deter any attack, and believed that no rational Syrian or Egyptian leader would attempt such an attack. Sadat felt unable to avoid a war, and Syria's leadership misjudged the military situation and believed they could be victorious. Israel assumed rational and well-informed opponents with clear objectives, and its deterrence failed.

Another observation is that crisis situations can reach a point that formerly stabilizing actions (such as keeping military units at bases, and low alert levels) can be seen as a sign of weakness, and that perceived weakness can then induce an opponent to attack during the perceived time of advantage. Thus, an inversion point exists, after which some formerly stabilizing actions become destabilizing, and some formerly destabilizing actions become stabilizing.

Finally, studies of the specific group psychology of several leaders and leader groups, including the Israeli and Arab leaders in 1973 and the Kennedy Administration during the Bay of Pigs Invasion
Bay of Pigs Invasion
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was an unsuccessful action by a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba, with support and encouragement from the US government, in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The invasion was launched in April 1961, less than three months...

 and Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation among the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States in October 1962, during the Cold War...

, indicated that in many cases executive groups use poor decision-making techniques
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without...

 and improperly assess available information. These errors can preclude truly rational end-behavior in deterrence situations.

Further reading

  • Freedman, Lawrence. 2004. Deterrence. New York: Polity Press.
  • Jervis, Robert
    Robert Jervis
    Robert Jervis is the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Affairs at Columbia University, and has been a member of the faculty since 1980. Jervis was the recipient of the 1990 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order...

    , Richard N. Lebow and Janice G. Stein
    Janice Stein
    Janice Gross Stein, O.Ont, CM, FRSC is a Canadian political scientist and international relations expert.-Career:Stein holds degrees from McGill University , and Yale University...

    . 1985. The Psychology of Deterrence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 270 pp.
  • Morgan, Patrick. 2003. Deterrence Now. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Paul, T.V., Patrick Morgan, and James Wirtz, Eds.. 2009. Complex Deterrence: Strategy in the Global Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Waltz, Kenneth N. Nuclear Myths and Political Realities. The American Political Science Review. Vol. 84, No. 3 (Sep, 1990), pp. 731–745.

External links

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