Deterrence Failures and Deterrence Strategies

Or, Did You Ever Have One of Those Days When No Deterrent Seemed Adequate?

by Michael E. Brown


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Our notions of war prevention are based on well-known deterrence formulations. The author argues that conventional thinking on deterrence is wrongheadedly preoccupied with the short-term military balance, when in fact, a nation's long-term political and economic prospects may dominate military considerations in the decision on whether or not to go to war. Five case studies of decisions to attack are outlined as examples of these long-term political and economic factors: (1) Japan and Pearl Harbor, 1941; (2) Egypt and the Ramadan War, 1973; (3) Britain, France, and the Suez War, 1956; (4) China and the Korean War, 1950; and (5) Austria-Hungary, 1914. Successful deterrence strategy seeks to modify an opponent's perceptions so that he perceives his nation's long-term prospects are good. It also requires avoiding perceptions of national deterioration, lack of negotiative outlet, domestic insecurity of elites, perception of encirclement, and insufficient access to crucial natural resources.

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