Deterring or Coercing Opponents in Crisis

Lessons from the War with Saddam Hussein

by Paul K. Davis, John Arquilla

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Abstract

This study applies an experimental interdisciplinary methodology for understanding the possible reasoning of opponents in crisis and conflict and for using that understanding to develop well-hedged and adaptive deterrent strategies. It develops alternative models of Saddam Hussein's reasoning from February 1990 to February 1991, using only information available at that time. The report then explains Saddam's behavior retrospectively and argues that having developed and worked with the alternative models during the crisis could have materially improved the formulation of U.S. strategy. The authors use the models to analyze such speculations as whether Saddam could have been deterred, and to suggest more general conclusions about appropriate strategies of deterrence in future crises. They recommend major changes in the processes by which the United States prepares for contingencies in peacetime, and deliberates about strategy as a crisis develops, including (1) for each contingency studied, the intelligence community should be required to develop and report on alternative models of the opponent, treating at least two or three seriously and avoiding convergence on a "best estimate"; and (2) despite pressures to avoid overcommitment, the United States should in peacetime take measures to protect strategically important buffers rather than allow future aggressors to underestimate their significance.

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