Publication: The Military Balance 2017
14 February 2017
The concept of deterrence is as old as conflict itself. In terms of the military dynamics between states, however, it was not a dominant factor in determining strategy until the advent of nuclear weapons and the emergence of the language and doctrines of nuclear deterrence. For the half-century after the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear deterrence was pre-eminent, driven primarily by the Cold War ideological and military stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective alliances. Since the end of the Cold War, other threats that were previously suppressed by the reach and power of US–Soviet influence – and this nuclear dominance – have been joined by challenges from emerging threats and novel technologies as well as more sophisticated and capable high-end conventional capabilities. All these now combine to require a far more complex tapestry of interrelated, nuanced and flexible deterrence concepts than was previously the case.
Changing strategic environment
Multiple potential adversaries may pose strategic threats to Western interests. Each has distinct values, political systems, ideologies and strategic cultures, with a wide range of risk-taking propensity, but the threats they pose are not yet fully understood. Any deterrence strategy must be flexible in its ability to evolve and meaningful in relation to these potential challenges, although those responsible for considering and executing deterrence strategies are not necessarily those analysing and countering these novel and changing threats.