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The Limits of Deterrence Theory in Cyberspace | SpringerLink

Nuclear deterrence has been a central element of American security policy since the Cold War began. The deterrence concept is straight-forward: persuade a potential adversary that the risks and costs of his proposed action far outweigh any gains that he might hope to achieve.


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To make deterrence credible, the United States built up powerful strategic, theater and tactical nuclear forces that could threaten any potential aggressor with the catastrophic risks and costs of a nuclear retaliatory strike against his homeland. During the Cold War, the primary focus of this deterrent was the Soviet Union.

Many argue that MAD worked and kept the United States and Soviet Union from an all-out war—despite the intense political, economic and ideological competition between the two—as the horrific prospect of nuclear conflict gave both strong incentives to avoid conflict.

Others note that it was too often a close thing: crises, such as those over Cuba and Berlin, brought the two countries perilously close to nuclear war. As the United States developed a post-war alliance system, the question of extended deterrence—the ability of U.

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Extending deterrence in a credible way proved a more complicated proposition than deterring direct attack. It was entirely credible to threaten the Soviet Union with the use of nuclear weapons in response to a Soviet attack on the United States.


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But how could the United States make credible the threat to use nuclear weapons against the Soviet homeland in response to a Soviet attack on U. Most existing formal work on deterrence theory focuses on some form of nuclear brinkmanship.

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The Eroding Balance of Terror

In a nuclear brinkmanship crisis, a state attempts to protect its interests by manipulating the risk that the crisis will end in an unlimited, all-out, nuclear exchange. The crisis is a competition in taking risks in which each state tries to convince its adversary that the risk is too high and that it should back down. There is, however, another approach to deterrence that is not based on brinkmanship and manipulating the risk of an unlimited nuclear attack.


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In this approach, a state attempts to protect its interests by inflicting a limited amount of punishment in order to make the threat to inflict more damage in the future credible. During a crisis, then, a state tries to make the threat of future punishment sufficiently credible that its adversary backs down. This second approach, based on limited retaliation, has received little attention in the formal literature.

The Strategic Dimension: Logic and Illogic of Counterforce Deterrence

The primary goal of this project is to extend the formal analysis of deterrence theory to the study of the strategy of limited retaliation. This research is important because it will shed some light on the issue of the relation between limited nuclear options and the likelihood that a crisis will escalate into a war. Does increasing the number of limited options make a nuclear war more "thinkable" and, thus, reduce crisis stability by making war more likely?

Game Theory #11 : Credibility Deterrence and Compellence

Or, does increasing the number of options enhance the credibility of a state's retaliatory threats, strengthen deterrence and, therefore, increase crisis stability? Please report errors in award information by writing to: awardsearch nsf. Search Awards. Recent Awards.