The Role of Deterrence in America's European Strategy

by Marc Dean Millot


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For the past 40 years, deterrence — the U.S. threat to employ nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union in defense of American interests — has been the central feature of a grand strategy of containment concentrated particularly on Europe. In the face of revolutionary changes in the Soviet bloc, the containment strategy is viewed as a success. This Note assesses the relevance of deterrence in the context of an exploration of American grand strategy. It describes the assumptions that underlay the strategy of containment devised in the decade following World War II and explains containment's subsidiary diplomatic, economic, and defense strategies. It outlines the requirements of deterrence in terms of the perceptions of three audiences — the Soviets, U.S. allies in Europe, and the American public as represented in the Congress. It then describes the efforts of successive administrations to implement the defense strategy, analyzes the current situation in Europe in the context of containment's long-term objectives, and outlines a new grand strategy.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Note series. The note was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1979 to 1993 that reported other outputs of sponsored research for general distribution.

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