In the last week I had time to refect upon ideas of deterrence and I wrote up a small essay that I'd like to share with your folks here. Most of the old timers on the forum will find this a little painful but I want to reach out to the newbies here and atleast nail a few key concepts down as best I can. I also realized that we don't really have a place on the site where all this is spelled out.
Old hands of the forum feel free to pitch in and correct me where you feel I am going wrong.
What is deterrence?
It is the ability to project into the mind of the enemy that an act of aggression is assured to produce an unacceptable retaliation. "Deterrence" can be psychologically benificial if it produces a sense of confidence that erodes the effectiveness of threats of aggression. Deterrence will not offer peace of mind to people who are prone to a national paranoia.
What "deterrence" is NOT -
1) It is not an "End To War". It is merely a bulwark against certain forms of aggression.
2) It is not a tool of perenial leverage in matters of national security.
3) It is not a "strategic life-jacket" that will save a government from drowning in a sea of political misjudgement.
Our Pakistani lurkers should take note of those last two points.
The key to deterrence is "credibility" - you have to seem capable of retaliation and you have to display a national willingness to do what is necessary in your deterrence paradigm.
Because the level of damage caused by a nuclear and conventional weapon is so different (for the most part) people usually create seperate deterrence schemes for conventional and nuclear aggression. The two (conventional and nuclear deterrence ideas) are not naturally interlinked and a very specific connection has to be made between them. This link is sometimes called a "redline".
What is stable deterrence?
When both sides of a dispute accept the others ability to cause unacceptable retaliation in the face of aggression - deterrence is said to be stable.
Note the following:
1) An essential prerequisite to "stable deterrence" is that each side must display a visible sense of rationality to the other. If the enemy's rationality cannot be determined - then the entire deterrence equation goes out the window. In nuclear terms - your thinking on nuclear issues must remain transparent at all times. Any misunderstandings must be resolved, communication must be maintained at all times. You must have the greatest possible understanding of your enemy's psychological makeup to understand what will be needed to deter him.
2) If either side is predisposed towards an escalation due to political pressures then the deterrence scheme is not stable. Its thus important for all segments of the national polity to understand and accept the needs of "stable deterrence" over petty political gain.
3) The language of deterrence has to be stable for any communication to succeed in stabilizing the deterrence regime. People can't go about inventing their own terms without clearly explaining what they mean. Using existing terms in improper ways only feeds the lack of communication.
4) In the language of deterrence - anything that moves away from "stable deterrence" is an escalation. A deterrence scheme, i.e. a collection of ideas about deterrence, which is not stable is said to be escalation prone.
What is breakdown of deterrence?
Deterrence is said to "breakdown" when one of the sides no longer retains the impression in its mind that an act of aggression is assured to produce unacceptable retaliation.
This may happen for the following reasons:
1) The enemy feels that the claim of unacceptable retaliation is no longer assured. The scheme is said to lack "credibility".
2) One side feels that the adversary is no longer deterred from an aggression.
This second reason is a very tricky one, it is easy for a nation to get sucked into an escalation believing that the other side is no longer deterred.
A sufficiently large escalation is capable of producing a breakdown of deterrence.
To be continued.