Deterrence and Escalation in Competition with Russia
Jan 20, 2022
U.S. forward military posture can both deter and provoke armed conflict, and a similar logic pertains below the level of armed conflict. The authors of this report identify how forward posture could deter hostile measures in the competition space below the level of armed conflict through several mechanisms, particularly focusing on the presence of U.S. ground forces.
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The deterrence of armed conflict has been studied intensively for decades, as have escalation dynamics along the path to such conflicts. The deterrence of forms of aggression below the level of armed conflict — such hostile measures as economic coercion, political subversion, and military intimidation — has received much less attention.
In this report, the authors investigate how the United States might use its military posture in Europe (specifically, ground forces) as part of a strategy to deter these Russian malign activities.
The authors identify how forward posture could deter hostile measures through signaling the United States' commitment to its allies and partners, providing irregular capabilities for those partners and allies threatened with political subversion, providing conventional capabilities to neutralize hostile powers' coercion attempts, and providing support for other instruments of U.S. power, such as sanctions. However, forward posture can also lead to an escalation in competitor activities, increasing their sense of threat, incentivizing partners to undertake aggression at levels below armed conflict, and incentivizing third parties to act in ways that increase the likelihood of confrontation. The authors propose ways to calibrate U.S. forward posture to minimize such risks while enhancing deterrence.
The research described in this report was sponsored by U.S. Army Europe and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.
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