The terms “deterrence” and “coercive diplomacy” have figured prominently in debates over how the West should respond to the ongoing crisis over a potential Russian incursion into Ukraine. Much of the focus of those debates, however, has been narrow and episodic—how to prevent a Russian attack, for instance, or get Moscow to pull back its forces from the Russian-Ukraine border.
While both concepts are necessary to understand the tensions currently on display in Europe between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO, those tensions must be seen through a broader and more holistic lens, because the current crisis is the result not of a discrete and static issue, but rather of interlocking, multisided and dynamic factors at play.
Nevertheless, the tools necessary to unravel those factors are relatively simple. The Rabbi Hillel, when asked to summarize the Torah while standing on one foot, replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary.” Similarly, as I tell my students at the Naval War College and at Harvard Extension, the fundamental principles of national security can be summed up as “deterrence and compellence.” Everything else is commentary.