It wasn’t until the early Cold War era that warfighters began developing systematic models of how to operationalize the art of influencing someone to NOT take a grievously severe action such as using nuclear weapons against another country. This is the essence of strategic deterrence.
If I owned Automobile Junk yard, it would be in my best interest to protect my automobiles against theft at night. The most basic way to protect my property would be to build a big fence around my junk yard. Although effective, this would not be a deterrent, but rather, a simple barrier that complicates the task of entering my Junk Yard. So, how could I “deter” thieves. One deterrent against thievery would be to have several mean watchdogs roaming around my property at night. Although the dogs do not make it any harder to climb the fence, the presence of the dogs will help the thieves to decide to NOT climb the fence. I would not want to hide the dogs in a pen, because it is the obvious presence of these dogs that will deter the thieves from climbing or cutting the fence. Nearly equivalent deterrence might be gained by simply hanging “Beware Of Dog” signs on my fence. Even simpler, deterrence can be gained by simply spreading the rumor that I have watchdogs. If something causes the thieves to go elsewhere, that thing has had a deterrent effect.
We see deterrence play out with increasing frequency in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the outset of the war, Russia has not been shy making nuclear threats and brandishing their newly re-capitalized strategic nuclear forces. Taking a step back, you can discern that the nuclear weapons of Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France all cast shadows on the Ukrainian war.
If you’d like to learn more about this subject, consider taking the upcoming new ATI course, Nuclear Weapons and Strategic Deterrence. Over two days the course will cover the physics, technology and operations of strategic nuclear weapons. To learn more about this course, and to register, please go here.