Richard Ned Lebow



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DETERRENCE

Richard Ned Lebow


Threat-based strategies have always been central to international relations. Deterrence and compellence represent efforts to conceptualize these strategies to make them more understandable in theory and more effective in practice. These efforts, which have been underway since the end of World War II, remain highly controversial. There is no consensus among scholars or policymakers about the efficacy of these strategies or the conditions in which they are most appropriate.

Deterrence is both a theory in international relations and a strategy of conflict management. Deterrence can be defined as an attempt to influence other actors’ assessment of their interests. It seeks to prevent an un­desired behavior by con­vincing the party who may be con­templating such an action that its cost will exceed any possible gain (Lebow 1981: 83). Deterrence presupposes that decisions are made in response to some kind of rational cost-benefit calculus, that this calculus can be successfully manipulated from the outside, and that the best way to do so is to increase the cost side of the ledger. Compellence, a sister strategy, uses the same tactics to attempt to convince another party to carry out some action it otherwise would not. Although they have not always been called “deterrence”, threat-based strategies that attempt to manipulate the cost-calculus of other actors have long been practiced: There is ample evidence of their use by all the ancient empires.

The advent of nuclear weapons made it imperative for policy-makers to find ways of preventing catastrophically destructive wars while exploiting any strategic nuclear advantage for political gain. This chapter describes early theoretical approaches to deterrence, their application in practice, and the subsequent critique of them. Drawing on works that made use of Soviet, US, Chinese, and Israeli archives, and interviews with officials from these countries and Egypt, the following discussion provides an overall assessment of the consequences of deterrence during the Cold War. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of post-Cold War deterrence and promising areas for research.



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