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The Concept of Deterrence and Deterrence Theory  

Patrick M. Morgan

Deterrence is an old practice, readily defined and described, widely employed but unevenly effective and of questionable reliability. Elevated to prominence after World War II and the arrival of nuclear weapons, deterrence became the central recourse for sustaining international and internal security and stability among and within states in an era of serious conflict. With regard to the presence of nuclear weapons in particular but also to deal with non-nuclear violent conflict, deterrence has been employed to prevent (or at least limit) the destruction of states, societies, and ultimately humanity. The greatest success has been that no nuclear weapons have been used for destructive purposes since the end of World War II in 1945. Deterrence has been widely used below the nuclear level but with very uneven results. Deterrence has been intensively studied and tested as to its use in terms of strategy in international relations, the maintenance of stability in international relations, the conduct of violence and warfare in both international and domestic contexts, and in political affairs. Since deterrence is the use of threats to block or reduce the inflicting of serious harm, the existence of capacities for inflicting harm are readily maintained and periodically applied, so available deterrence capabilities provide a degree of continuing concern and a regular desire to at least do away with nuclear weapons and threats. A brief period in the ending of the Cold War saw a serious effort to reduce the reliance on deterrence, particularly nuclear deterrence, in international politics but it was soon replaced by serious movement in the opposite direction. Yet efforts to reduce the need for and use of deterrence continue. Extensive efforts have been applied in the development of theories of deterrence, particularly to generate empirical theory in order to better understand and apply deterrence but without arriving at widely accepted results. This is the result of the considerable complexity of the subject, the activity involved, and the behavior of the practitioners. The conduct of deterrence is now broader and deeper than before. It is under greater pressure due to technological, political, and cultural developments, and operates in a much more elaborate overall environment including space, cyberspace, and oceanic environs. Thus the goal of developing effective empirical theory on deterrence remains, at various levels, still incompletely attained. The same is true of mastering deterrence in practice. Nevertheless, deterrence remains important and fascinating.


Empirical Analyses of Deterrence  

Stephen L. Quackenbush

Deterrence is an important subject, and its study has spanned more than seven decades. Much research on deterrence has focused on a theoretical understanding of the subject. Particularly important is the distinction between classical deterrence theory and perfect deterrence theory. Other studies have employed empirical analyses. The empirical literature on deterrence developed at different times and took different approaches. The early empirical deterrence literature was highly limited for varying reasons. Much of the early case study literature did not seek to test deterrence theory. Early quantitative studies did seek to do so, but they were hampered by rudimentary methods, poor research design, and/or a disconnect between quantitative studies and formal theories of deterrence. Modern empirical research on deterrence has made great strides toward bridging the formal-quantitative divide in the study of deterrence and conducting theoretically driven case studies. Further, researchers have explored the effect of specific variables on deterrence, such as alliances, reputations and credibility, and nuclear weapons. Future empirical studies of deterrence should build on these modern developments. In addition, they should build on perfect deterrence theory, given its logical consistency and empirical support.


Arms Races: An Assessment of Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges  

Toby J. Rider

An “arms race” is a competition over the quality or quantity of military capabilities between states in the international system. The arms race phenomenon has received considerable attention from scholars over many decades because of the ubiquity, throughout history, of states building arms as a means of deterring enemies, but disagreement persists over whether that policy is effective at avoiding war. The Latin phrase si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning “if you want peace, prepare for war,” dates back to the Roman Empire but the sentiment is likely much older. That states should rapidly build up their militaries in the face of potential threats is a common thread that runs through much of the modern international relations scholarship influenced by realism and deterrence theory. Meeting force with force, the logic went, was the only way to ensure the security or survival of the sovereign state. These states faced a paradox, however, best articulated by the “security dilemma.” Anything a state does in the name of defense, like a rapid military buildup, decreases the security of other states and will be viewed with hostile intent. This set up a debate over competing expectations regarding the relationship between arms races and war (peace). On one hand, deterrence theory posits that rapid arming is necessary to raise the cost of an adversary attacking and, consequently, preserves peace. On the other hand, the spiral model argues that the reality of the security dilemma means that arming produces mistrust, hostility and, thus, increases the likelihood of war. Scholars set out to test these competing hypotheses using large data sets and statistical techniques, but there was widespread disagreement on how to measure arms races, appropriate research design, and the statistical findings were somewhat mixed. Critics of this approach to studying arms races note a number of important weaknesses. First, scholars primarily focus on the consequences of arms races—whether they lead to war or peace—at the expense of understanding the causes. Those who advance this position believe that a theory of arms race onset might well inform our understanding of their consequences. Second, security dilemma, taken as the primary motivation for arms races, suffers from significant logical flaws. Third, assessment of the arms race-war relationship consists of comparative theory tests of deterrence theory and spiral model, yet these ideas are underdeveloped and expectations oversimplified. More recently, scholarship has shifted the focus from the consequences of arms races to developing theories and empirical tests of their causes. These efforts have been informed by insights from bargaining models of war, and their application to this context holds promise for better future understanding of both the causes and consequences of arms races.


Perfect Deterrence Theory  

Frank C. Zagare

Perfect deterrence theory and classical deterrence theory are two theoretical frameworks that have divergent empirical implications and dissimilar policy recommendations. In perfect deterrence theory, threat credibility plays a central role in the operation of both direct and extended deterrence relationships. But credible threats are neither necessary nor sufficient for deterrence to prevail, and under certain conditions, the presence of a credible threat may actually undermine deterrence. In perfect deterrence theory, the cost of conflict and status quo evaluations are also important strategic variables. Classical deterrence theorists tend to fixate on the former and ignore the latter. This theoretical oversight precludes a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of deterrence.


Nuclear Weapons and International Conflict: Theories and Empirical Evidence  

Daniel S. Geller

The balance of conventional military capabilities is intrinsic to understanding patterns of war among nations. However, cumulative knowledge relating to the effects of nuclear weapons possession on conflict interaction is largely absent. Framework is provided for analyzing the results of quantitative empirical research on this question and to identify any extant strong and consistent patterns in the interactions of states that can be associated with the possession of nuclear weapons. Since 1945, a vast, sophisticated, and contradictory literature has developed on the implications of nuclear weaponry for patterns of international conflict and war. This theoretical and empirical work has principally focused on the conflict effects of these weapons for the interaction of nuclear-armed states, although a growing number of studies have explored the impact of a state’s possession of nuclear weapons on the behavior of nonnuclear opponents. Given the destructive capacity of these weapons and their questionable value for battlefield use, most of this work has concentrated on the requirements for successful deterrence. In categorizing the studies, some scholars note that “classical deterrence theory” derives from the Realist paradigm of international politics and subdivide this theory into two complementary strands: structural (or neorealist) deterrence theory and decision-theoretic deterrence theory. In contrast, other analysts choose to classify work on nuclear deterrence into three schools of thought: nuclear irrelevance; risk manipulation, escalation, and limited war; and the nuclear revolution. The essence of these divisions involves a debate about what the possession of nuclear weapons does for a state that controls them. Does the possession of these weapons affect the behavior of nuclear and nonnuclear opponents in disputes over contested values? Do the weapons impart political influence and hold military utility, or are they useless as tools for deterrence, compellence, or war?


The Diversification of Deterrence: New Data and Novel Realities  

Shannon Carcelli and Erik A. Gartzke

Deterrence theory is slowly beginning to emerge from a long sleep after the Cold War, and from its theoretical origins over half a century ago. New realities have led to a diversification of deterrence in practice, as well as to new avenues for its study and empirical analysis. Three major categories of changes in the international system—new actors, new means of warfare, and new contexts—have led to corresponding changes in the way that deterrence is theorized and studied. First, the field of deterrence has broadened to include nonstate and nonnuclear actors, which has challenged scholars with new types of theories and tests. Second, cyberthreats, terrorism, and diverse nuclear force structures have led scholars to consider means in new ways. Third, the likelihood of an international crisis has shifted as a result of physical, economic, and normative changes in the costs of crisis, which had led scholars to more closely address the crisis context itself. The assumptions of classical deterrence are breaking down, in research as well as in reality. However, more work needs to be done in understanding these international changes and building successful deterrence policy. A better understanding of new modes of deterrence will aid policymakers in managing today’s threats and in preventing future deterrence failures, even as it prompts the so-called virtuous cycle of new theory and additional empirical testing.


Prospect Theory in International Relations  

Janice Gross Stein

Analysis of the use of prospect theory since the mid-1980s identifies significant impact on research on important puzzles in international security and international political economy. Research since the mid-1990s has identified the scope conditions of framing effects, loss aversion, and patterns of probability estimation on international behavior. New research using multiple methods has strengthened the validity of findings on the impact of framing effects and loss aversion under different conditions. Future research opportunities for psychological explanations of international behavior are identified.


To Arms, To Arms: What Do We Know About Arms Races?  

Richard J. Stoll

Arms races are important phenomenon They can involve the commitment of vast amounts of resources that might otherwise be used to help societies. And arms races can be a cause of war, although there is a debate on how this happens. With the arrival of the behavioral revolution in international relations, the number of quantitative studies of arms races exploded. But with the end of the Cold War, interest in studying arms races declined sharply. This is unfortunate because it is fair to say that most of the important questions involving arms races were not resolved in the empirical work that was done during the period of the Cold War.