Deterrence, conflict, war | Homeland Security Newswire

DeterrenceThe challenge of deterrence in today’s world

Published 20 April 2018

The challenge of deterrence — discouraging states from taking unwanted actions, especially military aggression — has again become a principal theme in U.S. defense policy. But the landscape has changed: Many potential adversaries are significantly more capable than they were a decade or more ago, and the risks of actually fighting a major war are more significant than ever. This makes it even more imperative to deter conflict.

The challenge of deterrence — discouraging states from taking unwanted actions, especially military aggression — has again become a principal theme in U.S. defense policy. But the landscape has changed: Many potential adversaries are significantly more capable than they were a decade or more ago, and the risks of actually fighting a major war are more significant than ever. This makes it even more imperative to deter conflict.

In a new RAND study titled Understanding Deterrence, Michael Mazarr argues that “much of the emerging dialogue on deterrence remains characterized by unsupported assertions, claims that contradict the empirical record, and little reference to classic analyses. Meanwhile, changes in the international security environment have altered the context for deterrence, possibly challenging long-held assumptions and creating new requirements.”

He continues:

The most important overarching lesson of this review is that deterrence and dissuasion must be conceived primarily as an effort to shape the thinking of a potential aggressor. Deterrent policies are often viewed through the perspective of the country doing the deterring—in this case, the United States—and focus on actions that it takes to raise the costs and risks of an attack. But the value of those steps depends entirely on their effect on the perceptions of the target state. Any strategy to prevent aggression must begin with an assessment of the interests, motives, and imperatives of the potential aggressor, including its theory of deterrence (taking into account what it values and why). In the process, as will be argued, history strongly suggests that aggressor motivations are varied and complex, and as often grounded in a desperate sense of a need to act as they are the product of aggressive opportunism. Deterrence turns out to be about much more than merely threatening a potential adversary: It demands the nuanced shaping of perceptions so that an adversary sees the alternatives to aggression as more attractive than war.