Deterrence Theory Research Paper

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Outline

I. Introduction

II. What Is Deterrence?

III. The Political and Conceptual Lineage of Deterrence Theory

A. The Development of Deterrence Theory During the Cold War

B. Post–Cold War and Post–September 11, 2001, Scholarship on Deterrence

IV. Enduring Controversies in the Study of Deterrence

A. Rational Deterrence Theory: Methodological and Epistemological Divides

B. Game Theory, Deterrence, and Reputation

1. Reputations for What Characteristics and for What Actors?

V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Would Adolf Hitler have shied away from invading Prague if Great Britain had possessed thermonuclear weapons? Would the consequences of even a limited war been too terrible for even Hitler to contemplate? Such questions are illustrative of the what-ifs that tormented cold war scholars and policymakers who remembered the apparent failure of deterrence after Munich, and it is only with an appreciation of this historic event—and the cold war that followed—that development of the study of deterrence can be understood. This research paper is not intended as a comprehensive review of these literatures—such an enterprise is not feasible given space constraints—but rather has the more modest goal of highlighting two important and long-standing debates in the scholarly literatures on deterrence. After an introduction to the basic concepts of deterrence, debates on rational deterrence theory and reputation acquisition are discussed as products of the methodological proclivities that the close linkage between theorists and practitioners encouraged. Though these debates will not be resolved within these pages, the authors hope their examinations will illuminate potentially fruitful avenues of inquiry for future deterrence scholars. This analysis also underscores the practical and scholarly dangers of methodological myopia and illuminates the benefits of methodological pluralism to future studies of deterrence.

II. What Is Deterrence?

Deterrence can be formally defined as “the use of threats by one party to convince another party to refrain from initiating some course of action” (Huth, 1999, p. 26). On an intuitive level, the logic is fairly simple: The best way a school bully can rule the playground is to convincingly persuade classmates into believing that he has the desire, strength, and will to hurt them if they challenge him. These qualities of desire, strength, and will are found in the academic literature as interests, capabilities, and resolve, respectively, while the ability to be convincingly persuasive is generally referred to as credibility. The core of this idea—preventing one’s opponents from attacking for fear of expected retaliation—is not a new one. Thinkers as far back as Thomas Hobbes and others have contended that shows of strength could instill enough fear in others to deter aggression. However, because deterrence was just one strategy among many before World War II, the idea achieved its maximum impact in the theory and policy communities as a consequence of the nuclear age.

The acquisition of the H-bomb by both superpowers in the early 1950s reframed the calculus of decision makers. Against this backdrop arose the fear of nuclear escalation between superpowers. Although decision makers were divided on the certainty that general (nuclear) war would result from the outbreak of a conventional war, all were convinced that the possibility was at least potentially great. The first school of thought presumed that because any aggressive action by the enemy ran a great enough risk of triggering a nuclear response, initiating a war would be an irrational action. This perspective led to the development of what was termed massive retaliation in the Eisenhower White House as a deliberate strategy to deter aggression against the United States. This approach, part of Eisenhower’s New Look strategy in the 1950s (King, 2005), directed that any military aggression against the United States would be met with a full retaliatory response, which could include the use of atomic (later nuclear) weapons.

However, as China and the Soviet Union grew their nuclear capabilities through the 1950s, many questioned the certainty of American retaliation on the Soviet Union either directly (direct deterrence) or in defense of allies (extended deterrence) (Morgan, 1977). Simply put, massive retaliation in the face of a nuclear counterresponse against the United States made the strategy seem much less of a credible threat. A second, more controversial school of thought consequently emerged as strategists considered the possibility that nuclear weapons could be successfully used in a limited fashion. This thinking suggested that thermonuclear weapons need not always be weapons of extinction. Targeting the adversary’s military while retaining a sufficient supply of weapons to annihilate the adversary’s cities constituted the newly emerging counterforce strategy. From this point forward, the possibility of small-scale or tactical nuclear combat had to be taken into consideration. This possibility of limited nuclear war introduced a degree of uncertainty into nuclear deterrence, becoming a central component of strategic thought.

Before getting too deeply into historical cases and the progression of policy over time, however, it makes sense to step back and consider the evolution of the literature on deterrence.

III. The Political and Conceptual Lineage of Deterrence Theory

Deterrence theory emerged as a popular and prescriptive theory of international relations in the 1940s and 1950s, though it had already been around in some form for far longer. This popularity can be attributed to a number of factors, not the least of which is the fact that it fit nearly perfectly within the framework of the emerging cold war, making sense of a rapidly changing international environment. It is also true that deterrence theory, with its emphasis on the structural distribution of military capabilities, was eagerly received by scholars who largely subscribed to the realist paradigm at that time. Finally, it aligned congruently with the policy-making approach taken by American political and military leaders facing what they perceived to be an aggressive Soviet Union.

A. The Development of Deterrence Theory During the Cold War

Early theories of deterrence generally agree that an opponent is deterred when a contingent threat to use force prevents an attack from occurring. This in principle occurs when the costs of attack are perceived to exceed the benefits. According to Jervis (1979), deterrence theory appeared in three waves (see also Levy, 1988). Much early writing on deterrence during the so-called first wave came from scholars working either directly or indirectly with the U.S. military, most notably from the RAND Corporation. Bernard Brodie (1946), perhaps the most notable of these early scholar-strategists, contended that in the nuclear age, the primary purpose of military force must be not to win wars but to prevent them from occurring. Such ideas did not go unnoticed by political and military leaders in the early years of the cold war, which one could argue greatly influenced the development of strategies such as Eisenhower’s massive retaliation approach. Still in their infancy, early formulations like Brodie’s focused behaviorally—that is, simply on the use of threats to prevent war and ensure peace.

By the 1950s, a second wave of scholarship on deterrence had taken hold, and the idea that the prevention of attack was acquired through military capability soon became something of a conventional wisdom despite the sparseness of empirical evidence as to the theory’s validity. This willing acceptance of such a theory without the requisite verification was likely a product of its fit with the widespread structural view of international relations and its congruence with the prevailing realist perspective of most scholars and policymakers of the time. Jervis (1979) further contends that deterrence theory may have revitalized the realist paradigm at a time when it faced a slew of criticisms concerning its intuitive nature and lack of specificity. Second-wave research widened the methodological scope of inquiry in ways that the first wave did not consider. The work of scholars such as Ellsberg (1960), Kahn (1960), and others used mathematical models and simulations to generate theory that influenced the development of nuclear policy in the United States. Though criticisms persisted over time concerning the optimistic assumptions of this perspective (including the expectations for societal recovery following a nuclear war), it held an influence that would last throughout most of the cold war.

Perhaps the scholar with the greatest long-term impact on the study of deterrence during this time was Thomas Schelling (1960, 1966), whose work brought game theory fully into the discussion of deterrence. The emphasis of these works on strategic cost–benefit analysis laid the conceptual groundwork for what would later be called rational deterrence theory (RDT). Schelling’s (1966) Arms and Influence theorized successful deterrence tactics like signaling and manipulation of one’s opponent and had a significant influence on how subsequent scholars would organize their own research by focusing on strategies that would lead to the absence of military challenges or successful bargaining. His employment of formal models was his most enduring contribution to the study of deterrence. The depiction of human agents making choices led subsequent scholars to begin asking questions about the psychological implications of successful deterrence at the individual level. Schelling also asserts that any study of deterrence must take into account the role of compellence, since the two were inextricably linked. Looking at the scholarship that was to follow over the coming decades, the bulk of the research on deterrence did not take this approach. Some contemporary scholars of coercive diplomacy, however, successfully joined the two topics.

The third wave of deterrence scholarship thus sought to counter perceived weaknesses in the real-world application of the rational deterrence approach at both theoretical and methodological levels. Theoretically, RDT was criticized (George & Smoke, 1974), as were other basic (often untested) assumptions of the second-wave approach about the extent to which human decision makers were able and willing to perform the calculations suggested by the cost–benefit model of RDT (Jervis, Lebow, & Stein, 1985; Steinbrunner, 1974). These third-wave scholars contended that misperceptions and other decision-making peculiarities within a state could have a substantial impact on the outcome of a case (Jervis, 1976, 1989; Snyder & Diesing, 1977). Such works examined the role that probabilities and calculations played in deterrence, including the chances for failure when decision makers failed to properly integrate information or pay attention to probabilities. Third-wave scholars also considered how domestic audiences determined responses in crisis (Lebow, 1981) as well as how the bureaucracy would implement these decisions (Allison, 1971). These deviations from the type of objective rationality posited by RDT, such scholars suggested, meant that RDT did little to help understand when deterrent threats were likely to succeed or fail.

To a large degree, these conclusions stemmed from third-wave researchers bringing into the study of deterrence methods that emphasized theory testing and empiricism, rather than relying on intuition or deductive reasoning. This included the use of rigorous structured, focused comparative case studies (see George & Smoke, 1974) that emphasized bureaucratic and psychological process-tracing models and constituted a distinct move away from abstract theory building. Later research further developed statistical models to test the propositions of RDT. Quantitative scholars tried to edge closer to the perceptual operational measures of utility that third-wave case studies employed, developing more nuanced measures of the balance of military capabilities by shifting focus away from the overall distribution of power to the power that a state could project regionally in any given crisis. This research also developed quantitative measures of interests and resolve, attempting to correlate these factors with bargaining outcome. Still others stressed the role of fairness and reciprocity in stabilizing relations between adversaries. The seeming progress of deterrence research over time as described previously obscured a debate that came into sharper focus toward the end of the cold war.

B. Post–Cold War and Post–September 11, 2001, Scholarship on Deterrence

In a post-Soviet, post-bipolar international system, many wondered what role nuclear deterrence would play in America’s foreign diplomacy. Additionally, as the stable, pro–status quo superpower structure collapsed, so did the relative peace that such a structure had provided since the 1940s. Numerous so-called hot spots soon appeared, most involving rogue states, failed states, or localized problems such as ethnic cleansing. Some scholars, pundits, and practitioners began to wonder whether a strategy of deterrence could be successful against rogue states and ethnic violence or if the concept had simply outlived its practical usefulness.

In the literature, what Knopf (2008) labeled the fourth wave of deterrence scholarship, there was a noticeable shift in focus to address these developments. Some research centered on the utility of using a strategy of deterrence against smaller powers, or it centered on the use of both general and immediate extended deterrence in the absence of any superpower zero-sum game. The works of Powell (1989), Wagner (1991), and others examined how asymmetry and iterations of the security dilemma could increase a state’s fears of being subject to an external first strike advantage. A few scholars questioned the value of deterrence at all in a unipolar system that lacked the cold war framework that had given it its policy genesis (Payne, 2001). Some, such as Payne, talked of the need for a redesigned and diminished role for deterrence, while others seemed to abandon it altogether. On the policy side, although deterrence did not disappear from the arsenal of decision makers, it certainly became less prevalent. In its place, it seemed, were interventionist strategies and a greater focus on compellence.

On September 11, 2001, the global landscape changed again, and with it came another shift in focus for the deterrence literature (Knopf, 2008). Suddenly, it seemed, there was an abundance of research examining the utility and limitations of deterrence against terrorist organizations (Davis & Jenkins, 2002; Kenyon & Simpson, 2004; Lebovic, 2007; Trager & Zagorcheva, 2005), rogue states (Smith, 2006), and other nonstate actors on the world stage (Auerswald, 2006). This renewed examination of U.S. national security threats has led some to contend that perhaps deterrence is no longer a feasible strategy in the 21st century. Freedman (2004) asserts that the theory had already become unwieldy, the theory is disguised as a science, and in the face of terrorist threats some of the very fundamental elements of the approach are flawed. For example, it is not possible to use a strategy that depends in part on calculations of risk when the adversary doesn’t even take risk into consideration. Indeed, it may be problematic merely to determine the proper audience for a deterrent threat, considering the clandestine nature of terrorist groups. He further argues that as interventionist policy in the 1990s was replaced by unilateralism and preemptive war in the 2000s, the nation’s leadership had already discarded deterrence as a viable tool of foreign policy, a sentiment shared by many researchers in the field.

Throughout the post–cold war period, there have been numerous comprehensive reviews and reassessments of the theory and the practice of deterrence, as well as recommendations on how to rescue, salvage, and repair deterrence so that it might take a more modest place among other tools of the policymakers (Freedman, 2004; Zagare & Kilgour, 2000). This new wave of dynamic introspection and assessment does not seem to be slowing even a decade beyond the events of September 11, 2001, and more than two decades since the fall of communism in Europe (Paul, Morgan, & Wirtz, 2009).

IV. Enduring Controversies in the Study of Deterrence

A. Rational Deterrence Theory: Methodological and Epistemological Divides

In many ways a perennial problem of social science, the epistemological question concerns how we observe and gear our methodology to theoretically account for nonevents. More generally, these issues pertain to how we interpret evidence. The problem: Deterrence is not noticed when it is working, but it is extremely conspicuous in its absence. Consequently, scholars spend a great deal of time explaining why the world went to war in 1914 but pay less attention to the fact that war was avoided for the preceding 45 years. As such, do events such as the Cuban missile crisis constitute a success for RDT? Do we see confirming evidence of RDT in the Soviet withdrawal of their missiles or disconfirmation of the theory in its inability to predict their initial placement (Jervis, 1989)? This picture becomes even more complex when one considers how many possible crises simply did not emerge because policymakers feared nuclear war or whether policymakers created self-fulfilling prophecies by studying the scholars of the day. This research paper focuses on two implications that spring from the assumption that mental deliberations can be nonproblematically inferred from behavior.

The first is the implication of many early quantitative works on general deterrence—that the sole variable determining whether a state will to go to war is the presence or absence of a credible threat. Some scholars assume states to be rapacious entities just waiting for the opportunity to expand. Statistical approaches to rational deterrence provide evidence that deterrence theory has succeeded in the main, especially in the post–World War II world by showing a correlation between structural predictors of successful deterrence and the propensity of disputants to back down in crises. Perhaps the best known works in this vein come from Huth and Russett. Huth and Russett (1984) used statistical analysis to argue that credible threats determined outcomes in immediate deterrent crises. Similarly, Reiter (1995) argued that RDT explains the relative absence of preemptive wars since 1816. The results of these statistical analyses are problematic, for their assumption that the correlation of nonevents (peace) with interests, capabilities, and resolve signifies success for RDT. The controversial logic that pervades studies of immediate deterrence is that states defined as challengers may have had no interest in changing the status quo and considered a challenge purely as a tactic of diversion or bluff, thus overdetermining their backing down in a crisis. Though more complicated models have attempted to account for the inferential problem by doing a better job controlling for the domestic and perceptual sources of deterrence, early quantitative research surely overestimated the frequency of RDT’s success.

The case study literature, however, persuasively argues that RDT fails because challenges of general deterrence do occur in spite of credible threats, just as immediate deterrent crises sometimes end in war. George and Smoke’s (1974) 11 case studies “demonstrate [a] sequential, gradual failure of deterrence” (p. 103). One cannot infer a success for RDT, George and Smoke argue, from the absence of conflict. Other process-tracing case studies (see Jervis, Lebow, & Stein, 1985) also provide powerful evidence that RDT is invalid not because deterrent threats are not credible but rather because these threats are rarely accurately perceived by decision makers.

But just as findings from the statistical tests of deterrence theory were predetermined by the assumptions implicit in the way the methodology interprets evidence, so too were the results of research employing the case study method. The near exclusive focus on crises in these works made certain conclusions more likely than others, especially those concerning the effects of psychological biases in causing failure of the rational deterrence model (see Jervis, 1976). Case studies usually focus on deterrence theory in crises because assessing the validity of RDT in noncrisis cases is problematic given the lack of archival materials on nonevents like the absence of war. But because crises are the circumstances in which RDT is most likely to fail, case studies are thus prone to sampling issues by selecting on the dependent variable—in this case the breakdown in general deterrence that leads to a crisis (see King, Keohane, & Verba, 1994)—a practice that can overstate RDT’s inability to predict outcomes. Similarly, reliance of case studies on political memoirs can indeed be problematic because they are written after crises and are not necessarily indicative of actual deliberations as a crisis played out. Further, critics contend, because RDT is concerned only with choices, not the details of deliberations, evidence of misperceptions or failures to calculate probabilities in specific ways does not undermine RDT.

The point here is not that case studies cannot produce unbiased conclusions or that statistics cannot generate reasonable inferences. It is rather that there is great difficulty in assessing the validity of RDT, and the methods by which one does so often predetermine the focus of inquiry, the methodology employed, and thus the results. Assumptions made on the part of statistical analyses cannot help but do violence to the nuances of history in their efforts to achieve unit homogeneity. Conversely, comparative case studies may see the issue of bias in decision makers during crises as proof positive that RDT is wrong. But neither of these interpretations has a monopoly on wisdom. No method is without its biases or assumptions. What each method measures is as much a product of its own assumptions as it is an observation of positivistic truths about the validity of RDT. More honesty on this point would serve not only deterrence scholars but also the enterprise of social science as a whole.

B. Game Theory, Deterrence, and Reputation

We also see that unacknowledged assumptions of methodology play a role in the dispute over the importance that reputations for resolve had to deterrence credibility. Von Neumann and Morganstern (1944), among others, provided the basic mathematical tools for game theory to develop, and immediately their work was seized on by politicians for its ability to prescribe best responses to Soviet actions and vice versa. It is from this dynamic—the interplay between mathematically inclined academics and military strategists (outlined in the section titled “The Political and Conceptual Lineage of Deterrence Theory”)— from which one of the enduring debates the cold war stemmed. Indeed, the concern over American reputation during the cold war, reflected in the conduct of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, may owe its existence to the intuitive plausibility of the assumptions of certain game theoretic metaphors for conflict. Before examining one of these assumptions, a bit of background is warranted.

Bertrand Russell may have been the first to liken the subset of deterrence that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles at the time called brinkmanship to a game called chicken (Schelling, 1966). The chicken game is widely acknowledged to be the most appropriate game theoretic representation of immediate deterrence—that is, deterrence in circumstances when an aggressor state is considering challenging the status quo (Snyder, 1971). General deterrence, on the other hand, because it is more dependent on military capabilities and arms acquisitions, may be more accurately captured by the prisoner’s-dilemma game. Because the most common policy debate was a question of whether crisis behavior affected general deterrent credibility through reputation creation, this research paper begins examination of the tenability of this proposition through examination of the hedonic sources of the chicken game’s utilities.

In the chicken game, two teenagers arrange two cars a few hundred yards apart, facing each other on a one-lane road, with an audience watching the contest. In the classic formulation of the game, the cars then drive toward each other, with the object being, as the name of the game implies, to force the other driver off the road. The game is pitched as a test of courage, with each driver choosing to continue on or swerve at the last possible moment. A collision is the worst outcome for each driver personally and for the two drivers collectively. In this sense, the drivers want to avoid this outcome but not at all costs, because to swerve while one’s counterpart does not results in the second- worst outcome for the individual who swerves. In this case, the driver who swerves while the other continues is the chicken. Each driver determines the appropriate move to make by assessing the other’s likelihood of continuing on toward collision. This likelihood is calculated as is the credibility of a deterrent threat—that is, by assessing the other driver’s interests in continuing, his or her capability to do so, but most importantly by gauging his or her resolve (or commitment) to doing so. And so in the chicken game, as in crisis deterrence, the contest is a test of wills that requires participants to ask themselves how willing they are to risk disaster in order to prevent the loss of face that would come from swerving. Convincing an opponent to swerve can be aided by convincing him or her that one has irrevocably decided to not swerve, perhaps by throwing the steering wheel out the window. This may up one’s chances of compelling the opponent to swerve, but it also escalates the risk of collision if the opponent chooses to do the same.

What sorts of costs and benefits determine the utilities in each outcome of the game? The possibility of a collision produces tangible material harm—harm that would be apparent even to a visitor from another planet. In the case of swerving while the other continues (the chicken payoff), on the other hand, what each suffers is completely a product of what the opposing driver (and observers of the game) might think. In this sense, the damage done by cooperating while the other driver defects is not tangible harm but rather is simply the harm of losing face and looking cowardly in the face of a challenge. This sort of intangible harm may not be obvious to the naive observer, given his or her lack of familiarity with the primitive social psychology that teaches the participants of the game the negative consequences they will suffer if they swerve, now and in the future. The fear of being labeled a chicken is a fear of another’s perception and the possibility that one will get a reputation for swerving, not a fear of some material state of being. Implicit in the chicken game’s utilities are embedded assumptions about the importance of reputation and the presence of a watchful audience who ascribes that reputation to the chicken— after all, why would being a chicken be bad if one cared not about what observers or an opposing player thought? In the game, players care about their reputation for resolve because their commitments are interdependent—what they do here will affect their ability to get what they want elsewhere. This underappreciation of the importance of the source of utility within the chicken game metaphor laid critical groundwork for subsequent controversy among deterrence scholars and practitioners about whether (and if so, what types of) reputation matters to credibility.

1. Reputations for What Characteristics and for What Actors?

Schelling (1966) famously argued that reputations for resolve mattered because American commitments were interdependent. Accordingly, behavior in a peripheral crisis in which American interests were not obviously engaged would affect the perceived strength of American commitments in areas of vital interest. “[The United States] lost thirty thousand dead in Korea to save face for the United States and the United Nations, not to save South Korea for the South Koreans, and it was undoubtedly worth it” (pp. 124–125). There is a certain amount of intuition behind the idea that reputations of some sort should matter, but these intuitions do not constitute proof that reputations for resolve matter to deterrence.

Most people readily acknowledge that the external validity of any abstract model is affected by the semblance its structure and assumptions bear to empirical reality. By the chicken game’s logic, decision makers in a crisis should make choices based on the premise that other actors will use present crisis behavior to assess future general and immediate deterrence credibility. No policymaker, however, could know that reputations for resolve mattered; they simply assumed that they did. Indeed, the whole of nuclear deterrence was and is a speculative enterprise by nature; because no one had any experience fighting thermonuclear wars, no one knew exactly what prevented them. Though it seems clear that policymakers worry about their reputations for resolve, the empirical evidence that this concern is warranted is far less convincing. Empirical work on reputations for resolve grew up in the shadow of the cold war and has converged around the idea that although reputations can matter to crisis credibility, the types of reputations that matter are not the ones that policymakers during the cold war most predominantly feared.

Seminal efforts to empirically assess the importance of reputations for resolve included Hopf’s (1994) study of the inferences Soviet decision makers drew from American losses in peripheral areas of the globe. If reputations for resolve formed based on American behavior in the periphery, once would expect American losses, withdrawals, or both to lead the Soviet Union to conclude that U.S. core commitments to defend their vital interests were incredible on this basis. Hopf instead found that American retreats were explained away as a result of biased inferences that led Soviet decision makers to not focus on an American loss of face but instead on how the United States would never again allow such a loss in the future, especially in a strategically critical region. Furthermore, aggressive peripheral American interventions solidified Soviet perceptions of an imperialist America and thus brought about the very Soviet challenges they were designed to prevent. Though Crescenzi (2007) found evidence that extradyadic reputations correlated to the likelihood of extradyadic general deterrent challenges, the type of reputations that mattered were not reputations for resolve as assumed in the chicken game. Rather, Crescenzi’s conclusion concerned “reputations for hostility,” and so his results are complimentary of Hopf’s in suggesting that peripheral foreign policy interventions lead to reputations for hostility and thus are frequently counterproductive.

Mercer (1996) uses attribution theory as an empirical device for the study of reputations for resolve, arguing that a reputation can only form when a dispositional, rather than a situational, inference is drawn about behavior that may be classified as irresolute. Observers’ attributions were dependent on whether they were explaining the behavior of an ally or an adversary and the desirability of said behavior. Generally, Mercer contended that desirable behavior was attributed situationally whereas negative behavior was explained dispositionally. By this logic, adversaries can easily get reputations for having resolve, since undesirable behavior is explained dispositionally, but do not get reputations for lacking resolve since desirable behavior was explained away situationally by virtue of its desirability. Contrarily, allies can easily get reputations for lacking resolve but rarely for having it. Press (2005) went even further, suggesting not only that reputations for irresolute behavior don’t form, but also that decision makers do not use another state’s past actions in any way to appraise their credibility. Rather, they rely instead on the “current calculus” of interests and capabilities to determine credibility.

Studies of many methodological stripes would disagree with these sweeping claims. Quantitative analyses have suggested that irresolute behavior informed calculations of credibility but only in cases involving repeated intradyadic crises (Huth & Russett, 1988). Although the inferences that policymakers feared would be drawn as a result of irresolute behaviors in the periphery were not drawn, behavioral evidence indicates dyadic reputations for a lack of resolve did seem to form. So although the research program on reputation indicates that peripheral interventions to uphold reputations for resolve may be inadvisable, it does suggest that intradyadic behavior now can affect threat credibility later because other types of reputations do form. A great deal of work suggests that the dynamics of enduring rivalries offers microlevel reasons to buy into this conclusion. Enduring interstate rivalries persist because conflicts can spiral recursively (Jervis, 1976), and decision-makers’ interpretations of any novel situation are held prisoner by their prior beliefs (Tetlock, 1999). Enduring dyadic rivalries thus shape the images actors hold of each other and can affect the ability of states to make successful deterrent threats as well. Regardless of the movement toward scholarly consensus, the intuitive plausibility of the idea that U.S. behavior in any given conflict affects its credibility in future crises ensures that the debate will rage on in domestic political forums in the coming years. Examination of this debate, however, does strongly suggest that U.S. efforts to manage and manipulate its reputation in peripheral military adventures during the cold war were, in fact, unnecessary.

Though most of the work cited previously assumes that reputations can accrue only to states, there have been increasing suggestions that leaders acquire reputations that affect coercive bargaining processes. Recent scholars have suggested that a leader’s tenure and his proximity to his next election influence the reputations international actors attribute to them. As the fields of general and immediate deterrence coalesce into the unified field of bargaining, scholars have realized that reputations accrue to both leaders and states and that more work is needed to understand the way that multiple levels of analysis interactively generate coercive credibility in the international arena (Greenstein, 2010).

V. Conclusion

The preceding section concluded that movement away from the state–state relations in deterrence inquiry may prove fruitful. This suggestion is perhaps reflective of the fact that U.S. security priorities are different today than they were during the cold war; the uncertainty of rogue states and substate terrorist groups have replaced the certainty of mutually assured destruction. Scholars have already begun work on these questions, with an abundance of research examining the utility and limitations of deterrence against terrorist organizations (Davis & Jenkins, 2002; Kenyon & Simpson, 2004; Lebovic, 2007; Trager & Zagorcheva, 2005), other nonstate actors (Auerswald, 2006), and rogue states (Smith, 2006). If this research paper has one critical conclusion, it is that deterrence scholars have too frequently lost sight of the assumptions and limitations of their theories and methodologies. Just as policymakers during the cold war learned from what they considered to be the failures of Munich, today’s scholars must be vigilant in this new era to avoid repeating the mistakes of yesteryear. If the recent push toward more conscientious multimethod approaches in political science is any indication, the early indications of lessons learned are fairly promising.

See also:

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