The End of Deterrence?

The situation in Gaza and Israel seems set for temporary escalation. Again. And as almost always when Israel resorts to the use of military force, a chief justification is to “restore” deterrence. But what does that mean?

Our predominant view of deterrence is still strongly influenced by the Cold War. Using force, especially nuclear weapons, would have meant a total breakdown of deterrence. A major military operation, therefore, can only mean a failure of deterrence. Using force, by definition, cannot be deterrence.

Well, that’s different in the Israeli experience — and, it turns out, also in our own experience, if one sheds these highly naïve views about deterrence that became the norm during the Cold War. The Cold War is over. Time to refurbish the idea of deterrence.

Ethan Bronner has an excellent article in today’s New York Times that touches this problem. But it only begins to scratch the surface. Earlier this year I published an article on this very question, “Deterrence Beyond the State. The Israeli Experience” (pdf) in Contemporary Security Policy.

In my view this is a truly important subject. Current events in the region should make this abundantly clear. But unfortunately it seems to be far less attractive than talking about the nonsensical “Twitter War” (that’s what too many journalists seem to consider a sexy subject).

So let’s make this a bit easier and approach the wicked problem of deterrence from a more populist angle:

That rather odd exchange epitomizes the misunderstanding I’m talking about.

If you want to get to the bottom of it, read the article.

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5 thoughts on “The End of Deterrence?

  1. TrT says:

    Deterrence isnt a binary situation.

    The US / NATO / The west wanted to deter a full scale war with the soviet union.
    To do so, it engaged in numerous small wars, proxie wars, brinkmanship and sabre rattling.

    I just read an awesome peace about an operation in the mid 80′s two CBGs operated well within strike range of large chunks of the Soviet conventional and strategic arsenals, one without ever being located, the second without ever being detected.
    Until they linked up and headed home.

    Israel isnt really threatened by the odd missile.
    Its annoying, but not a serious threat to the nation.

    Unlike, for example, the Yom Kippur War
    “During the night of October 8–9, an alarmed Dayan told Meir that “this is the end of the third temple.”"

    The occasional peace encourages the militias to stop hiding, the occasional beating ensures no neighboring states view the militias as useful fifth columns, or Israel as an easy target.

  2. @RaphiRS says:

    Flawed definition. The behavior of Iran shows it values militias (PIJ, Hizballah, others) more than ever, and has a militia to control its own population.

  3. Pingback: IB Online (4/11): Eine kleine Netzschau « Bretterblog

  4. Chris says:

    Are we not confusing deterrence with a failure of diplomacy. Deterrence in the post Cold War world is still centred around the policies of nuclear states. The use of force can not be considered in the context of adversaries such as Israel or Iran and her excitable proxies. Countries or factions may find the use of force acceptable even if the outcome may be detrimental to their condition since our cultural perceptions of victory and gain differ. In our Western minds, the use of nuclear weapons can never be conceived as an advantageous strategy hence the concept of deterrence. The global concepts of nuclear deterrence will be changed when Iran develops a nuclear capability. Religion and politics do not mix; add nuclear weapons and the predictable nature of our Westphalian state system disintegrates.

  5. Chris says:

    Are we not confusing deterrence with a failure of diplomacy. Deterrence in the post Cold War world is still centred around the policies of nuclear states. The use of force and deterrence are not synonymous and could never be considered in the context of adversaries such as Israel or Iran and her excitable proxies. Countries or factions may find the use of force acceptable even if the outcome may be detrimental to their condition since our cultural perceptions of victory and gain differ. In our Western minds, the use of nuclear weapons can never be conceived as an advantageous strategy hence the concept of deterrence. The global concepts of nuclear deterrence will be changed when Iran develops a nuclear capability. Religion and politics do not mix; add nuclear weapons and the predictable nature of our Westphalian state system disintegrates.

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