International Relations Deterrence Theory
by
Frank C. Zagare
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0161

Introduction

Deterrence theory refers broadly to a body of academic work that came to dominate the security studies literature in the United States and western Europe shortly after World War II. There is, however, no single theory of deterrence if, by “theory,” one means a collection of logically connected hypotheses. Rather, the literature is characterized by a number of distinct research thrusts that are oftentimes at odds with one another. It should be no surprise to learn, therefore, that the body of literature that delineates the field is at once large, intellectually diverse, conceptually vibrant, and politically relevant. The American strategic analyst Bernard Brodie is generally considered the field’s seminal figure. Brodie was among the first to realize that the postwar international system was radically different than the multipolar European state system that Bismarck had fashioned. For one thing, the postwar system was decidedly bipolar. For another, it was well on its way to becoming nuclear. It was clear to Brodie and a few others that the standard realist theory of war prevention would no longer suffice and that it would need to be revised in light of the new strategic realities that emerged after the war in the Pacific came to a sudden and decisive conclusion. Modern deterrence theory was that revision. It can, therefore, be usefully thought of as a necessary recalibration of classical balance of power theory.

General Overviews and Historical Surveys

The body of literature associated with modern deterrence theory is large, and the methodological and policy debates it contains are frequently arcane. The works listed here attempt to impose order on the field and critically assess its development in light of technological innovations in weaponry over time. Freedman 1989 is the most complete; Smoke 1992 is the most accessible, and Trachtenberg 1991 is the most perceptive. Powerful criticisms can be found in Green 1966 and Rapoport 1964. Morgan 1983 fine tunes the definition of deterrence; Kenny 1985 provides a philosopher’s perspective, while Freedman 2004 clarifies concepts and discusses the relevance of alternative policies.

  • Freedman, Lawrence. The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 1989.

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    An easy to read and engaging discussion of strategic theory that is at once complete and insightful. Provides needed historical context to a number of important debates.

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    • Freedman, Lawrence. Deterrence. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2004.

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      A timely analysis of the future of deterrence as a strategic tool in light of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of terrorism. Less historical and more theoretical than Freedman 1989.

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      • Green, Philip. Deadly Logic: The Theory of Nuclear Deterrence. New York: Schocken, 1966.

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        A critical assessment of the assumptions, the methodology, and especially the policy prescriptions offered by Schelling 1960, Schelling 1966, Kahn 1960, Kahn 1965, and others (all cited under First Wave).

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        • Kenny, Anthony. The Logic of Deterrence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

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          Discusses the strategic and ethical problems implicit in implementing deterrence policies and offers a provocative prescription for eliminating nuclear weapons from strategic arsenals. Highlights important issues that are sometimes ignored.

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          • Morgan, Patrick M. Deterrence: A Conceptual Analysis. 2d ed. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1983.

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            A most influential work that laid the groundwork for subsequent empirical research. Morgan distinguishes four types of deterrence relationships: general, immediate, direct, and extended deterrence. These are now standard categories. See, for example, Huth 1988 and Quackenbush 2011 (both cited under Statistical Analyses).

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            • Rapoport, Anatol. Strategy and Conscience. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.

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              Another sweeping incitement of the first wave of rational deterrence theory and what Rapoport argues is the misuse of game theory by its developers.

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              • Smoke, Richard. National Security and the Nuclear Dilemma: An Introduction to the American Experience in the Cold War. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992.

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                A concise and evenhanded review of the development of American strategic thinking up to the early 1990s.

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                • Trachtenberg, Marc. “Strategic Thought in America, 1952–1966.” In History and Strategy. By Marc Trachtenberg, 3–46. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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                  A short yet penetrating analysis of the origins of modern deterrence theory. A must read.

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                  Classic Works

                  The classic works of modern deterrence theory were in fact real-time adjustments made by American military planners and strategic thinkers to the geopolitical imperatives of the postwar international system. The most pressing problem was the threat posed by an increasingly hostile and obviously powerful Soviet Union. Brodie 1946 is a seminal work that brought the wider strategic implications of atomic weapons to the attention of the policy community, while Brodie 1959 focused on strategic planning. Kennan 1951 contains a reprint of the author’s famous article “The Sources Of Soviet Conduct,” first published in 1947, which identified the Soviet Union as the main threat and prescribed containment, i.e., deterrence, as the antidote. Kaufmann 1956 was among the first to consider the conditions necessary for the policy to work, while both Morgenstern 1959 and Wohlstetter 1959 tried to alert the policy community to the vulnerabilities of the American strategic arsenal. Kissinger 1957 established the author’s reputation as a strategic thinker by exploring the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. Snyder 1961 discusses the tension between offensive and defensive targeting policies. In an influential review of the literature, Jervis 1979 (cited under Critical Studies, Theoretical Appraisals, and Empirical Evaluations) concluded that this “first wave” of deterrence theorizing had little lasting impact. Still, as a group, these historically significant works laid the conceptual foundations for what would soon be seen as the conventional wisdom in the field of security studies.

                  • Brodie, Bernard. Strategy in the Missile Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.

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                    Another important early work that influenced the debate over the proper deployment of thermonuclear weapons.

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                    • Brodie, Bernard, ed. The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1946.

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                      Contains the seminal work by one of the field’s seminal thinkers. Other notable contributors to this collection include Arnold Wolfers and William T. R. Fox. More important for historical reasons than for any particular conceptual or theoretical innovation. Cited often but seldom read anymore.

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                      • Kaufmann, William. “The Requirements of Deterrence.” In Military Policy and National Security. By William Kaufmann, 12–38. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956.

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                        Kaufmann was among the first to consider the political context in which deterrence operates. His argument was that successful deterrence required retaliatory threats that were not only capable (i.e., that hurt) but that were also credible (i.e., were believable).

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                        • Kennan, George F. American Diplomacy: 1900–1950. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951.

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                          Contains both an easy-to-read synopsis of American foreign policy in the first half of the 20th century and an insightful and historically important essay that set the tone for the second half. Essential reading for students of American foreign policy.

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                          • Kissinger, Henry A. Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. New York: Harper, 1957.

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                            In this well-known but now dated contribution to the strategic literature, a future secretary of state makes the case for waging a limited nuclear war.

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                            • Morgenstern, Oskar. The Question of National Defense. New York: Random House, 1959.

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                              Morgenstern, one of the co-founders of game theory, argued that stable deterrence required both sides to possess an invulnerable second-strike capability. To achieve this he counseled American policymakers to move away from a strict reliance on land-based missiles.

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                              • Snyder, Glenn H. Deterrence and Defense: Toward a Theory of National Security. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961.

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                                An important early contribution by one of the major contributors to the strategic literature. Snyder analyzes the tension between a policy based on defense (deterrence by denial) and a policy rooted in retaliation (deterrence by punishment).

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                                • Wohlstetter, Albert. “The Delicate Balance of Terror.” Foreign Affairs 37 (1959): 211–234.

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                                  Another seminal piece. Like Morgenstern, Wohlstetter warned that the vulnerability of US strategic forces rendered deterrence problematic.

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                                  Structural Theories

                                  For reasons that are obvious, much of the literature of deterrence has focused on optimal deployment policies, targeting strategies, and usage issues. But the underlying theory framing these discussions is more general and applies, with appropriate qualifications, across actors, across time, and across weapons systems. In this regard, there are at least two distinct, yet compatible strands of theorizing that, collectively, delineate modern deterrence theory: structural theories and rational choice theories. And, as one might expect, each strand has generated competing theoretical specifications. In other words, the theory remains unsettled. Structural theories explore the implications of system structure and power relationships on deterrence dynamics. It is here that the influence of classical realism is most apparent. The majority of structural theorists attribute the stability of the superpower relationship during the Cold War to the twin pillars of deadly nuclear weapons and a carefully maintained strategic balance. Waltz 1979 and Waltz 1993 are works by the leading figure of this school (which is sometimes labeled “neorealism”). Snyder 1976 also figures prominently. Others include Gaddis 1987 and Mearsheimer 1990. Intriligator and Brito 1984 formalizes the argument that captures both the assumptions and conclusion of this group of theorists. Gilpin 1981 and Organski and Kugler 1980 argue otherwise, claiming that parity relationships are not necessarily stable.

                                  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

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                                    A historical survey and explanation of the purported stability of the superpower relationship that incorporates arguments shared by most structural theorists. Well written and easy to read.

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                                    • Gilpin, Robert. War and Change in World Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511664267Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      The key source of hegemonic stability theory, which claims that peace and order in the international system requires the presence of a single dominant power. Should be seen as a theoretical competitor to standard neorealist thought.

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                                      • Intriligator, Michael D., and Dagobert L. Brito. “Can Arms Races Lead to the Outbreak of War?” Journal of Conflict Resolution 28 (1984): 63–84.

                                        DOI: 10.1177/0022002784028001004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        Captures both the assumptions and the conclusions of neorealist thinking in a dynamic formal model. An elegant treatment of deterrence that requires mathematical training to understand.

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                                        • Mearsheimer, John J. “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War.” International Security 15 (1990): 5–56.

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                                          A pessimistic assessment of the strategic implications of the breakup of the Soviet Union by a prominent structural deterrence theorist.

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                                          • Organski, A. F. K., and Jacek Kugler. The War Ledger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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                                            Argues that power transitions and parity relations are war prone. Another contrarian argument that has motivated a dynamic research program. Empirical support for “power transition theory” is remarkably strong.

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                                            • Snyder, Glenn H. “Conflict and Crisis in the International System.” In World Politics. Edited by James N. Rosenau, Gavin Boyd, and Kenneth Thompson, 682–720. New York: Free Press, 1976.

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                                              Develops a neorealist theory of the impact of system structure on crisis bargaining and alliance dynamics. Should be read in conjunction with Waltz 1979.

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                                              • Waltz, Kenneth N. Theory of International Politics. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979.

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                                                The seminal work of the leading theorist of the neorealist research program. Waltz argues that system-induced insecurity drives states to create a system-wide balance of power.

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                                                • Waltz, Kenneth N. “The Emerging World Structure of International Politics.” International Security 18 (1993): 44–79.

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                                                  Waltz’s most explicit statement of the stabilizing impact of nuclear weapons.

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                                                  Rational Choice Theories

                                                  Rational choice theories constitute the second major strand of modern deterrence theory. This branch in the literature includes both formal and informal expected utility and game-theoretic models. Certain psychological choice models can also be considered part of this literature, as the work of some theorists incorporate both genres. This vast and most influential body of work, frequently referred to as “rational deterrence theory,” appeared in two distinct temporal waves.

                                                  First Wave

                                                  The first wave was developed in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Ellsberg 1975, Snyder 1972, but especially Schelling 1960 and Schelling 1966, remain key works today. Kahn 1960 and Kahn 1965 were more than controversial when they were published (see Rapoport 1968), but the author’s work is no longer considered relevant. Jervis 1972 is an out-of-character piece by another major deterrence theorist/critic.

                                                  • Ellsberg, Daniel. “The Theory and Practice of Blackmail.” In Bargaining: Formal Theories of Negotiation. Edited by Oran R. Young, 343–363. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

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                                                    One of the first attempts to use formal logic to explore crisis bargaining. Moderately technical in parts. Should be read in conjunction with Schelling 1960. Ellsberg is famous for releasing the classified documents known as The Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and the Washington Post during the Nixon administration.

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                                                    • Jervis, Robert. “Bargaining and Bargaining Tactics.” In Coercion: Yearbook of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. Edited by J. Roland Pennock and John W. Chapman, 272–288. Nomos 14. Chicago: Aldine, 1972.

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                                                      Jervis’s contribution to the bargaining literature. Schelling’s influence here is more than apparent. Difficult to reconcile with Jervis’s later work.

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                                                      • Kahn, Herman. On Thermonuclear War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960.

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                                                        Made the case that the United States should develop a first-strike capability and implement a program of civilian defense. Should be read in conjunction with Kahn 1965.

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                                                        • Kahn, Herman. On Escalation. New York: Praeger, 1965.

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                                                          Notorious for developing the concept of a multistep escalation ladder and suggesting the controlled use of nuclear weapons as a bargaining tool to be used in the midst of a crisis. Kahn is thought by some to be the model for the main character in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove.

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                                                          • Rapoport, Anatol. “Chicken á la Kahn.” Virginia Quarterly Review 41 (1968): 370–389.

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                                                            Critical and sarcastic reaction to Herman Kahn’s musings. Worth reading even today.

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                                                            • Schelling, Thomas C. The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.

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                                                              A collection of closely related essays that almost single-handedly defined rational deterrence theory as a separate school. Still relevant.

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                                                              • Schelling, Thomas C. Arms and Influence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966.

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                                                                A breezier and easier-to-understand exposition of Schelling’s ideas about deterrence and crisis bargaining. Ideal for undergraduates and general readers. Start here when exploring this strand of theory.

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                                                                • Snyder, Glenn H. “Crisis Bargaining.” In International Crises: Insights from Behavioral Research. Edited by Charles F. Hermann, 217–256. New York: Free Press, 1972.

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                                                                  An enlightening summary of the bargaining literature. Contains a catalogue of “commitment tactics” that presumably increase the probability of prevailing in a crisis.

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                                                                  Second Wave

                                                                  After a long lull, a second wave of rational choice theory emerged in the late 1980s and shortly thereafter. This more contemporary work both reflected and reacted to first wave theorizing; in each wave the game of “chicken” was either the dominant metaphor or the starting point for model construction. Brams and Kilgour 1988, Powell 1990, and Nalebuff 1991 are good examples while Zagare and Kilgour 2000 is an outlier. The second wave, however, also took advantage of certain methodological advances in the theory of noncooperative games. Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman 1992, Fearon 1997, and Kydd 2005 are typical of this trend. In consequence, this more recent literature is generally more technical and the modeling more realistic. Entrée into this literature requires a certain level of mathematical sophistication. Wagner 1992 would be a good introduction. Not recommended for most undergraduates.

                                                                  • Brams, Steven J., and D. Marc Kilgour. Game Theory and National Security. New York: Blackwell, 1988.

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                                                                    Uses simple game models to explore deterrence, crisis bargaining, arms races, antiballistic missile systems, and the verification of arms-control agreements.

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                                                                    • Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and David Lalman. War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

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                                                                      A game-theoretic extension of an earlier expected utility model (Bueno de Mesquita 1981, cited under Statistical Analyses) that was largely responsible for the resurgence of rational choice theory in the security studies literature.

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                                                                      • Fearon, James D. “Signaling Foreign Policy Interests: Tying Hands versus Sinking Costs.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 41 (1997): 68–90.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1177/0022002797041001004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        An influential game model that uncovers a theoretical anomaly for most rational choice theories of deterrence. In Fearon’s model, states never bluff; yet, empirically, they oftentimes do.

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                                                                        • Kydd, Andrew H. Trust and Mistrust in International Relations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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                                                                          An innovative work that explores the role trust plays in encouraging cooperation in interstate relations. Contains a number of relevant case studies.

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                                                                          • Nalebuff, Barry. “Rational Deterrence in an Imperfect World.” World Politics 43 (1991): 313–335.

                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/2010397Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            Explores the role of reputation and signaling in deterrence relationships using a game-theoretic model of incomplete information. On the cutting edge when first published, this work remains relevant in the 21st century.

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                                                                            • Powell, Robert. Nuclear Deterrence Theory: The Search for Credibility. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511551598Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Pioneering study that recast many of Schelling’s arguments. Among the first to model deterrence as a game of incomplete information. Often cited as a major work.

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                                                                              • Wagner, R. Harrison. “Rationality and Misperception in Deterrence Theory.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 4.2 (1992): 115–141.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1177/0951692892004002001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                An important but sometimes overlooked article that demonstrates that psychological and rational choice theories of deterrence are not necessarily incompatible.

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                                                                                • Zagare, Frank C., and D. Marc Kilgour. Perfect Deterrence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511491788Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Argues that standard deterrence theory is both logically inconsistent and empirically inaccurate. Develops a theoretical alternative called “perfect deterrence theory.”

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                                                                                  Case Studies and Analytic Narratives

                                                                                  With a few exceptions, the focus of the case studies literature is deterrence breakdowns. Some consider this subliterature to be at odds with the conventional wisdom that, in the nuclear era, deterrence stability is all but certain. Others consider interstate crises to be war’s surrogate and therefore not inconsistent with the dominant paradigm. There is no unifying theme to the case study literature. Some studies have been used primarily to generate theory (Crawford 2003, Betts 1987), others to test theory (Lebow 1981, Mercer 1996), and still others (Zagare 2011) to apply or illustrate theory. The earliest studies (George and Smoke 1974, Lebow 1981, Snyder and Diesing 1977, Smoke 1977) were, in part, a reaction to the first wave of rational deterrence theory, which was perceived by many to lack empirical context.

                                                                                  • Betts, Richard K. Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute, 1987.

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                                                                                    Explores eleven Cold War crises to analyze the role power and interests play in governing deterrence outcomes. Notable for the range of crises considered.

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                                                                                    • Crawford, Timothy W. Pivotal Deterrence: Third-Party Statecraft and the Pursuit of Peace. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.

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                                                                                      An exemplar of rigorous qualitative research. Four cases, carefully chosen to avoid selection bias, are used to generate a provocative theory of pivotal deterrence: that is, a situation where one actor attempts to deter, simultaneously, both a friend (protégé) and a foe (challenger) from overturning the status quo.

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                                                                                      • George, Alexander L., and Richard Smoke. Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.

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                                                                                        A magisterial study that set the standard for qualitative research on deterrence. Sweeping in scope and rigorous in method.

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                                                                                        • Lebow, Richard Ned. Between Peace and War: The Nature of International Crisis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.

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                                                                                          A seminal work in psychology and deterrence literature. Lebow’s methodology and conclusions about the robustness of deterrence have stirred heated debate among some deterrence theorists (see World Politics, cited under Critical Studies, Theoretical Appraisals, and Empirical Evaluations). Controversy aside, this is an important work that should not be ignored.

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                                                                                          • Mercer, Jonathan. Reputation and International Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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                                                                                            Uses three pre-World War I crises to explore the role that reputation plays in conflict resolution. Counterintuitive conclusions with important policy implications.

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                                                                                            • Smoke, Richard. War: Controlling Escalation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977.

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                                                                                              An underappreciated classic of the crisis/escalation literature. Provides a stark and sober contrast with Kahn 1965 (cited under First Wave) and its bombastic discussion of the escalation process.

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                                                                                              • Snyder, Glenn H., and Paul Diesing. Conflict among Nations: Bargaining, Decision Making and System Structure in International Crises. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

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                                                                                                Develops a theory of crisis behavior by attempting a synthesis of bargaining, systems, and decision-making theory. Sixteen case studies provide empirical context. Now somewhat dated, this study was remarkable for its time and still worth reading.

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                                                                                                • Zagare, Frank C. The Games of July: Explaining the Great War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                  An analytic narrative that uses perfect deterrence theory to explore the origins of World War I. An atypical application of game theory.

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                                                                                                  Statistical Analyses

                                                                                                  Most large-N studies of deterrence have focused on immediate deterrence situations. Quackenbush 2011 is the exception. Russett 1963 was the first systematic empirical investigation. Bueno de Mesquita 1981 analyzes the same set of cases with a more powerful theoretical engine. Huth 1988 is a groundbreaking investigation of extended deterrence and a core text. Fearon 1994 reanalyzes Huth’s data set to test a game-theoretic model. Quackenbush 2011 is the only attempt to explore general deterrence situations. Danilovic 2002 and Leng 1993 cast doubt on the efficacy of coercive bargaining tactics á la Schelling. Sartori 2005 sheds empirical and theoretical light on diplomacy’s role in deterrence relationships.

                                                                                                  • Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce. The War Trap. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981.

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                                                                                                    A seminal work largely responsible for the second wave of rational choice theorizing on deterrence. Influence on the conflict literature cannot be overstated.

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                                                                                                    • Danilovic, Vesna. When the Stakes Are High: Deterrence and Conflict among Major Powers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

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                                                                                                      A rigorous analysis that set a new standard for empirical research on deterrence. Demonstrates that when states fight (or decline to fight), they do so for good reasons. Undermines the conventional wisdom of the first wave of rational deterrence theory. Should not be overlooked.

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                                                                                                      • Fearon, James D. “Signaling versus the Balance of Power and Interests: An Empirical Test of a Crisis Bargaining Model.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 38 (1994): 236–269.

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                                                                                                        An influential analysis that demonstrates how theoretical context influences the interpretation of data. Fearon examines the data in Huth 1988 and draws substantially different conclusions.

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                                                                                                        • Huth, Paul K. Extended Deterrence and the Prevention of War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                          A benchmark empirical investigation of extended immediate deterrence. Contains both a rigorous statistical analysis and several relevant case studies. Sets a high bar for further empirical investigators and is still relevant in the 21st century.

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                                                                                                          • Leng, Russell J. Interstate Crisis Behavior, 1816–1990: Realism versus Reciprocity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511559051Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            Challenges realist policy prescriptions in an empirically and logically impressive way. An important study.

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                                                                                                            • Quackenbush, Stephen L. Understanding General Deterrence: Theory and Application. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1057/9780230370791Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              An innovative study that breaks new conceptual ground, confronts a number of thorny methodological issues, and provides a rigorous test of perfect deterrence theory. Convincingly challenges many of the field’s unexplored bromides.

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                                                                                                              • Russett, Bruce M. “The Calculus of Deterrence.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 7 (1963): 97–109.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1177/002200276300700201Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                An early work that motivated much subsequent research. This is the first serious attempt to systematically test an implied hypothesis of modern deterrence theory. Important mainly for historical reasons.

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                                                                                                                • Sartori, Anne E. Deterrence by Diplomacy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                  Contains a statistical analysis that lends support to the positive role frank diplomatic exchanges play in interstate relationships. Based on a game-theoretic model that shows how, when, and why a reputation for honesty enhances deterrence stability.

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                                                                                                                  Critical Studies, Theoretical Appraisals, and Empirical Evaluations

                                                                                                                  The literature of deterrence is both enormous and variegated, and the studies listed below provide synthetic discussions. Jervis 1979 remains significant if only for definitively sculpting the theoretical landscape. Huth 1999 surveys the empirical literature until the end of the 20th century. Danilovic and Clare 2010 is broader and more recent. O’Neill 1994 focuses on formal studies. Brown, et al. 2000 contains both an essay by Walt that surveys and then downplays the contributions of rational choice theory in security studies and the response of several proponents of the methodology, all of which were originally published in the journal International Security. In World Politics, another relevant journal, a group of prominent scholars debate key methodological issues. Zagare 1990 discusses the meaning of a critical concept. Jervis, et al. 1985 shows how individual level variables influence the dynamics of deterrence. Collectively, the works listed here provide an almost exhaustive survey of modern deterrence theory.

                                                                                                                  • Brown, Michael E., Owen R. Coté Jr., Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, eds. Rational Choice and Security Studies: Stephen Walt and His Critics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                    A useful anthology that provides insight into a core theoretical debate. Contains Walt’s controversial evaluation of the utility of mathematical models in international relations theorizing and the strong reactions of several prominent formal modelers. The seven chapters were originally published in International Security.

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                                                                                                                    • Danilovic, Vesna, and Joe Clare. “Deterrence and Crisis Bargaining.” In The International Studies Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert A. Denemark, 855–873. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

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                                                                                                                      A rigorous and comprehensive evaluation of theoretical and empirical research on deterrence. Far ranging and up to date.

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                                                                                                                      • Huth, Paul K. “Deterrence and International Conflict: Empirical Findings and Theoretical Debates.” Annual Review of Political Science 2 (1999): 61–84.

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                                                                                                                        An insightful summary of the theoretical implications raised by both the comparative case study and large-N research programs. Still useful.

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                                                                                                                        • Jervis, Robert. “Deterrence Theory Revisited.” World Politics 31 (1979): 289–324.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/2009945Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          An influential survey of the theoretical landscape and a definitive conceptual contribution to the literature. Should not be overlooked.

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                                                                                                                          • Jervis, Robert, Richard Ned Lebow, and Janis Gross Stein, eds. Psychology and Deterrence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.

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                                                                                                                            A critical reassessment of rational deterrence theory that considers both the cognitive and psychological context in which deterrence relationships are played out. Also contains a number of useful case studies.

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                                                                                                                            • O’Neill, Barry. “Game Theory Models of Peace and War.” In Handbook of Game Theory with Economic Applications. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert J. Aumann and Sergui Hart, 995–1053. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1994.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1016/S1574-0005(05)80061-XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              A comprehensive cross-disciplinary survey of the entire game-theoretic literature on interstate conflict. Contains contributions made by economists, mathematicians, political scientists, and international relations specialists. Notable for its scope and bibliography.

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                                                                                                                              • World Politics 41.2 (January 1989).

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                                                                                                                                This issue of a highly regarded academic journal contains a number of very influential essays by leading theorists who debate inferential and testing issues central to deterrence. Essential reading. Articles available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                                                                                                • Zagare, Frank C. “Rationality and Deterrence.” World Politics 42 (1990): 238–260.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2010465Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  Argues that the concept of instrumental rationality used by rational choice theorists of deterrence is different than, but not incompatible with, the concept of procedural rationality employed by most psychological choice theorists. Should be read in conjunction with Wagner 1992 (cited under Second Wave).

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                                                                                                                                  Further Reading

                                                                                                                                  Deterrence theory lies at the center of the much wider security studies literature. In consequence, applications and extensions of the theory are numerous, far-ranging, and oftentimes contradictory. The works cited in this section provide a small sample of the diversity of the literature and a useful starting point for further study. Blainey 1988 is a classic exploration of interstate conflict after 1700. Gallois 1961 reflects a European prospective on (extended) deterrence. Kaplan 1983 provides the backstory of the initial specification of classical deterrence theory. Tammen, et al. 2000 discusses a number of contemporary issues from the vantage point of power transition theory. Similarly, Paul, et al. 2009 moves out of a Cold War framework to analyze a number of present-day policy problems. Quackenbush 2011 critically assesses the current status of deterrence theory. Waltz 2012 applies neorealist deterrence theory to Iran. Williams 2012 is an overview of the broader security studies literature.

                                                                                                                                  • Blainey, Geoffrey. The Causes of War. 3d ed. New York: Free Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                    The lessons of modern war are applied to the nuclear era. Suggests that the postwar period is not unique. Still relevant in the 21st century.

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                                                                                                                                    • Gallois, Pierre. The Balance of Terror: Strategy for the Nuclear Age. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.

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                                                                                                                                      Challenged US thinking on extended deterrence and called for the development of an independent French nuclear force. Important historically and conceptually.

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                                                                                                                                      • Kaplan, Fred. The Wizards of Armageddon. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                        A very readable account of the personal and institutional context in which deterrence theory was developed. Highlights the critical role played by Bernard Brodie, William Kaufmann, Albert Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn, and several other seminal theorists. Informative and entertaining.

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                                                                                                                                        • Paul, T. V., Patrick M. Morgan, and James J. Wirth, eds. Complex Deterrence: Strategy in the Global Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                          Considers the problem of deterring terrorists and other nonstate actors; the use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

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                                                                                                                                          • Quackenbush, Stephen L. “Deterrence Theory: Where Do We Stand?” Review of International Studies 37 (2011): 741–762.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/S0260210510000896Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Clarifies several key concepts and distinguishes competing strands of the theory. Insightful and enlightening.

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                                                                                                                                            • Tammen, Ronald, Jacek Kugler, Douglas Lemke, et al. Power Transitions: Strategies for the 21st Century. New York: Chatham House, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                              Offers compelling prescriptions for the policy challenges posed by the rise of China and the expansion of NATO. Provocative and prescient.

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                                                                                                                                              • Waltz, Kenneth. “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability.” Foreign Affairs 91 (2012): 2–5.

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                                                                                                                                                Argues that a nuclear Iran would restore stability to the Middle East. Controversial and stimulating.

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                                                                                                                                                • Williams, Paul D., ed. Security Studies: An Introduction. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                                  Contains a number of chapters that reflect the breadth of the derivative literature of deterrence. Includes a concise chapter by Lawrence Freedman and Srinath Raghavan on coercive strategies including deterrence. The editor’s introduction is also helpful.

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