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BLUFF AND UNCERTAINTY: DETERRENCE AND THE "MAYBE STATES" John J. Schulz new type of deterrence is emerging in this quarter of the twentieth century, unheralded and chiefly unexamined until now. Looking at this new deterrence, how it works and how it is used by certain states to protect vital national interests, may change views about regional power balances, nonproliferation issues, and the ambiguous behavior of some states on nuclear policies. To help explain the new phenomenon, it is important to illustrate concerns about lateral spread of nuclear weapons and to examine central notions of classical deterrence theory. These concerns and theories demonstrate how this new type of deterrence works and why it provides a more satisfactory explanation for today's global situation. For more than two decades the five members of the nuclear club have maintained arsenals designed to counter threats to vital national interests, and they have enunciated publicly policies outlining conditions under which they would use nuclear weapons. In the past decade additional states have been described as potential or "probable" nuclear powers. In his 1984 study on the horizontal spread of nuclear weapons, Leonard Spector lists Israel, India, Pakistan, and South Africa as on the threshold of possessing nuclear arsenals. He also says Argentina, Brazil, Iraq, and Libya have varying degrees of nuclear weapons capability.1 1. Leonard Spector, Nuclear Proliferation Today (New York: Vantage Books, 1984), 15. His and others' lists include Argentina, Brazil, India, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Pakistan, and South Africa as countries with varying degrees of nuclear weapons capability. John J. Schulz did postgraduate studies at Oxford University where his B.Phil, and D.Phil, degrees in international relations included strategic studies and Far Eastern affairs. Before that he was a foreign correspondent in East Asia. He is a recent graduate of the National War College in Washington, D.C, and is now senior correspondent in that city for a major international news organization. A shorter version of this article appears in Atlantic Community Quarterly (Summer 1987). 181 182 SAIS REVIEW It is not the purpose here to determine the validity of such rumors or reports but merely to underscore that the nuclear policies and potential arsenals of those states remain uncertain. What is important is that this uncertainty may be the outward manifestation of a new type of deterrence . It could be termed "deterrence by bluff practiced by the "maybe states" — those that may be nuclear powers, or may not. The most essential point is that the status of their nuclear capacity is unclear. The new idea is that deterrence by bluff may be a highly effective alternative to the other two types of deterrence—punishment and denial— and could represent the most likely form of proliferation in the future. Key Deterrence Issues and Features of the Past In classical deterrence theory there are three main elements: capability combined with apparent willingness to use that capability result in perception on the part of déterrées that the first two elements exist. (Capability X willingness = perception.) Together, the three elements provide a credible deterrent, which is largely in the eye of the beholder.2 Experts have traditionally focused on two main types of deterrence. The first, punishment, is primary in the creation of such doctrines as Mutual Assured Destruction or the Frenchforce defrappe. Central to these doctrines is the idea that certain actions would prompt such terrible and inevitable punishment that those actions are simply not worth the price. The second type, deterrence by denial, has remained more ambiguous and complex; it deals with two kinds of measures. The first involves programs to protect offensive capabilities and vital targets that an enemy would like to destroy. Dispersal and sheltering signal an enemy that an attack would fall short of its objectives. The Strategic Defense Initiative envisioned by President Reagan is the first attempt at deterrence by denial of full nuclear attack.3 A second set of measures focuses on maintaining credible troop strengths (plus tactical nuclear weapons) to demonstrate both capacity and willingness before the outbreak of hostilities. These measures also provide more proportionate (and thus arguably more credible) military options short of all-out nuclear retaliation to prevent (deny) an enemy from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-4724
Print ISSN
1945-4716
Pages
pp. 181-194
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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