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Deterrence Theory

  The idea of deterrence, in politics, is really a general theory of social control, which assumes that the threat of retaliation can prevent an individual, group or state from committing an act of aggression. The primary criterion for effective deterrence is assumed to be the establishment of a credible threat of retaliation. Credibility is determined by whether (a) the threat is understood by the potential aggressor, which requires clear communication of the intention to retaliate; (b) the potential aggressor realizes that the potential target values its strategic position sufficiently to retaliate; and (c) the aggressor has confidence in the potential target\'s capability to retaliate effectively.

The most elaborate developments in deterrence theory have been produced in the fields of criminology, jurisprudence and strategic studies. In criminology and jurisprudence deterrence provides a utilitarian justification for punishment. Punishment is alleged to serve as a deterrent to both the individual criminal as well as to society at large: punishment is supposed to give credibility to the state\'s intent to retaliate against criminal behaviour. In strategic studies a distinction is made between the application of deterrence on a limited scale, for example, between two states or on an extended scale in a regional or even global level, for example, the Strategic Defence (or Star Wars) Initiative. Another is made between fixed-response deterrence tactics where the threat of retaliation is predetermined, and flexible-response deterrence where the degree of retaliation is determined by the extent of aggression. The latter was adopted by the US under President Kennedy\'s defence secretary Robert McNamara who encouraged NATO to maintain a credible conventional force deterrent in Europe in order to pre-empt the rapid escalation to the nuclear level of any initial conflict with forces of the Warsaw Pact. BO\'L

See also balance of power; game theory.Further reading M. Charlton, From Deterrence to Defence: the Inside Story of Strategic Policy; , J.P. Gibbs, Crime, Punishment and Deterrence; , B. Moller, Common Security and Nonoffensive Defence: a Neorealist Perspective.



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