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Since its inception six decades ago, the RAND Corporation has been one of the key institutional homes for the study of deterrence. Never a well-loved concept in the United States, deterrence lost any luster it held after the Cold War. The 2002 U.S. national-security strategy proclaimed deterrence's irrelevance for most future national-security challenges. However, the 2006 version of this strategy reversed this move, recognizing that deterrence will be as indispensable for the “long war” as it was for the Cold War. This book examines these six decades of research for lessons relevant to the current and future strategic environments. Among its conclusions are that U.S. domestic politics inevitably requires some considerable reliance on deterrence and that deterrence remains relevant to most of the threats the United States is likely to face, from near-peer competitors to regional states of concern and even to many terrorist organizations. It also makes specific recommendations about policies and force structures the United States should pursue to maximize its deterrent capabilities.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Thinking (and Rethinking) the Unthinkable: RAND and Deterrence

  • Chapter Two

    A Too-Distant Mirror? The Relevance of Prior Deterrence

  • Chapter Three

    Department of Defense as Ministry of Fear: The Theory of Deterrence

  • Chapter Four

    Avoiding the Garrison State: Deterrence as a Strategy

  • Chapter Five

    Deflecting the Sword of Damocles: Strategic Defense and Deterrence

  • Chapter Six

    The Other Side of the Hill: Understanding the Adversary and Deterrence

  • Chapter Seven

    Deterrence Then and Now

  • Chapter Eight


  • Appendix

    Annotated Bibliography

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within RAND Project AIR FORCE and the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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