When the Weak Attack the Strong: Failures of Deterrence

by Barry Wolf

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One potential justification for a thin area missile defense is the increasing proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. However, it has been argued that states possessing such weapons would not attack much stronger states such as the United States and the Soviet Union. This Note examines historical instances of attacks by states against much stronger counterparts. A taxonomy of such deterrence failures is formulated and illustrated with examples. Conclusions are drawn about the applicability of various types of deterrence failure to potential attacks by states possessing weapons of mass destruction against stronger states.

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