Does deterrence work now that we’re no longer in the Cold War standoff? 

Nuclear deterrence was the central feature of the Cold War. You nuke us, we’ll nuke you. It almost made us forget that there conventional arms can also deter and that there may be positive reasons that nations do not go to war.

It’s been slow relearning that kind of thinking, and Cold War thinking still surfaces. Now that the United States and the Soviet Union are no longer eyeball to eyeball, waving their nukes, we need to be thinking along other tracks. Here are some recent articles and a video on deterrence.

Alexander Golts: Turning Deterrence Into Absurdity. Vladimir Putin has a new definition of deterrence:

“A theory took shape in Cold War times: It was called the deterrence theory,” Putin said. “This theory and its policies were aimed at hindering the development of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, now we are seeing the same thing. The remains of this outdated deterrence theory are still alive and well [in the U.S.]. Whenever Russia demonstrates positive development and when it shows itself to be a new, strong player and a new source of competition, this is bound to cause concern [in the U.S.] in terms of its economic, political and security interests.”


Major General Garrett Harencak, who oversees the stewardship of the Air Force’s nuclear weapons systems enunciates the US military’s sense of deterrence:

I make the case that it’s probably — probably — the most cost-effective weapon we’ve ever had because it’s the only weapon we use every single day of my life.


In this video, King’s College London’s Lawrence Freedman and BASIC’s Ward Wilson ponder the continued utility of nuclear weapons, to include their perceived deterrence value. (Note: Freedman is Professor of War Studies at King’s College, while Wilson directs the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons Project at BASIC.)

Does deterrence work? How does it work in today’s world? We’re going to be struggling with this for a while.




Cartoon is of US President John Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. There’s another article on deterrence in terms of Nash equilibrium at the link.

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