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Use With Caution: The Value and Limits of Deterrence Against Asymmetric Threats

Jeffrey W. Knopf Tuesday, June 11, 2013

National security policy can resemble the fashion industry. A defense strategy that is in vogue in one era can fall out of fashion, only to come back into style, perhaps in slightly different form, at a later date. So it is with deterrence. This strategy was central during the Cold War, but 9/11 convinced many people that deterrence was no longer useful. In the years after, however, interest in deterrence revived as scholars and government officials sought ways to adapt it to meet contemporary threats.

This deterrence revival is a mixed blessing. Just as it was during the Cold War, deterrence remains both necessary and dangerous. As long as there are actors willing to contemplate the use of violence to achieve their ends, seeking ways to deter attacks will remain important. But relying on deterrence is risky, and a preoccupation with deterrence can lead to unwise decisions. ...

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