Conventional Deterrence Redux

Avoiding Great Power Conflict in the 21st Century

Published in: Strategic Studies Quarterly, Volume 12 Issue 4 (Winter 2018), pages 76–93

Posted on RAND.org on February 11, 2020

by Karl P. Mueller

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US national security strategy has increasingly come to focus on potential threats from Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, all states with whom fighting even purely conventional wars can be expected to be extraordinarily costly, making deterrence of such conflicts the foremost task of the Department of Defense. This article examines the problem of conventional deterrence—making the direct costs of military aggression appear to be prohibitively high—and the challenges associated with convincing potential aggressors that they will be unable to achieve their goals inexpensively. It then applies these principles to the current effort to deter a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic States, a great concern to US and allied strategists due to the potentially catastrophic consequences should NATO's deterrence fail.

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