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The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New Direction

The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New Direction

Keith B. Payne
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New Direction
    Book Description:

    In 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain hoped that a policy of appeasement would satisfy Adolf Hitler's territorial appetite and structured British policy accordingly. This plan was a failure, chiefly because Hitler was not a statesman who would ultimately conform to familiar norms. Chamberlain's policy was doomed because he had greatly misjudged Hitler's basic beliefs and thus his behavior. U.S. Cold War nuclear deterrence policy was similarly based on the confident but questionable assumption that Soviet leaders would be rational by Washington's standards; they would behave reasonably when presented with nuclear threats. The United States assumed that any sane challenger would be deterred from severe provocations because not to do so would be foolish. Keith B. Payne addresses the question of whether this line of reasoning is adequate for the post-Cold War period. By analyzing past situations and a plausible future scenario, a U.S.-Chinese crisis over Taiwan, he proposes that American policymakers move away from the assumption that all our opponents are comfortably predictable by the standards of our own culture. In order to avoid unexpected and possibly disastrous failures of deterrence, he argues, we should closely examine particular opponents' culture and beliefs in order to better anticipate their likely responses to U.S. deterrence threats.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4849-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Surprises can be pleasant; but they are particularly unwelcome when it comes to questions of war and peace. Unfortunately, such surprises are fairly common in international relations.

    In August 1941, for example, Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson reassured President Roosevelt that war with Japan was unlikely because “no rational Japanese could believe an attack on us could result in anything but disaster for his country.”¹ Four months later Japan launched a surprise attack against the United States at Pearl Harbor. Despite Acheson’s confident prediction that Japanese leaders would never dare to strike the United States, they did exactly that,...

  5. Chapter 2 Cold War Deterrence Theory and Practice
    (pp. 17-38)

    Belief that a foe will be rational cum reasonable, and thus ultimately predictable and controllable, has been most apparent, and potentially most dangerous, in the U.S. approach to nuclear deterrence. During the Cold War confident conclusions about the reliability of nuclear deterrence were the norm. Such conclusions typically were based on extrapolations from the implicit assumption of Soviet reasonableness, occasionally dressed up with quantitative modeling of a nuclear force exchange.¹

    If the modeling demonstrated that both sides possessed a manifest and secure capability for devastating nuclear retaliation, “mutual deterrence” generally was judged to be “stable.” The underlying assumption was that...

  6. Chapter 3 Why the Cold War Deterrence Framework is Inadequate
    (pp. 39-78)

    How is it possible to reach conclusions that question much of what has for years passed for accepted wisdom regarding deterrence? The answer is relatively straightforward: historical studies consistently demonstrate that the deterrence theory assumption of well-informed leaders operating rationally, reasonably, and thus predictably, frequently does not correspond with actual crisis decision-making; and deterrence, therefore, can fail or not apply.

    Take, for example, the most important assumptions in deterrence theory, the assumed prevalence of rational, well-informed calculation in decision-making. Case studies often demonstrate that decisions about peace and war are not well-informed, thought through, or made dispassionately. As Oxford professor...

  7. Chapter 4 Cold War Deterrence Thought in the Post-Cold War World
    (pp. 79-96)

    Despite the end of the Cold War and the attendant dramatic changes in the international environment, much of the official and expert discussion of nuclear deterrence throughout the 1990s continued to reflect the past practice of assuming that challengers would be rational and reasonable, and thus predictably deterrable in familiar ways. Deterrence continued to be viewed as a function of lethal threats, and a goal that could be achieved with assurance.

    Numerous statements by prominent civilian and military officials and commentators reflect this view. For example, as the commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic Command in 1997, Gen. Eugene...

  8. Chapter 5 The Dilemma of Popular Usage and a New Direction
    (pp. 97-114)

    A general finding from this review is that the outcome of deterrence and coercive threats can be affected significantly by the participant’s modes of thought and the context. Various factors that may be unique to the context and challenger, including idiosyncratic leadership beliefs, can be decisive in determining whether deterrence threats “work.” Confidence should not be placed in generic formulas for deterrence directed toward a wide spectrum of challengers because of the large number of leadership and context variables that can be decisive.

    Confident generalizations about the effectiveness of deterrence should wane with greater recognition that diverse leadership thought and...

  9. Chapter 6 Testing the Deterrence Framework
    (pp. 115-168)

    The following is a case study intended to explore the possible value of the new deterrence framework described in the previous chapter.¹ The intention here is not to “fill in” or even address each of the points in the outline; some elements of the outline are impractical for the chosen case and others are well beyond the scope of this effort. Nor is the goal here to predict a future crisis, or to influence U.S. policy with regard to current events. It is to provide an initial check of the methodology, and to test the proposition that a more empirical...

  10. Chapter 7 The New Deterrence Framework, Evidence and Misplaced Confidence
    (pp. 169-184)

    The framework for thinking about post-Cold War deterrence policy suggested here leads to less confidence in the predictability of deterrence than generally has prevailed in Washington, including in discussions of the prospects for U.S. deterrence of China. The difference between the conclusions offered here and those drawn from the Cold War deterrence framework are stark.

    For example, Joseph Nye, as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, confidently claimed, “I know how to deter” Chinese missiles. The basis of Nye’s confidence? “If deterrence prevented 10,000 Soviet missiles from reaching the United States, it baffles me as to why it...

  11. Chapter 8 Lessons Of This Case Study
    (pp. 185-196)

    At least four significant “lessons” can be drawn from this analysis of deterrence and the China case study. Each is discussed below.

    First, the China case illustrates well the unprecedented mission for U.S. deterrence policy in the post-Cold War period: deterring a regional challenger’s WMD escalation while conventionally defeating that challenger on or near its own territory, i.e., “deterring their deterrent.”

    NATO’s Cold War deterrence strategy was built on the assumption that the Soviet leadership would never be confident that it could employ its conventional force superiority against Western Europe without triggering Western nuclear retaliation. Although it generally was conceded...

  12. Selected Works Cited
    (pp. 197-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-225)