10. Editors’ Concluding Observations
Through this collection of essays, the contributors address the doctrine of deterrence from diverse perspectives on the underlying assumptions that inform policymaking on nuclear deterrence; extended deterrence; the impact of new technologies on nuclear deterrence; and the increasingly blurred lines between conventional and nuclear deterrence.
There may be a temptation to apply old strategies to address new issues, but there is little certainty that these strategies will work in new contexts. It has always been wise to operate on the assumption that deterrence may fail in a crisis, and thus to think about what type of mitigation measures may be necessary to prevent conflict escalation if and when deterrence fails. Such mitigation measures would only make a country or alliance more resilient against threats. This does not necessarily mean that states that rely on the value of nuclear deterrence should immediately change their nuclear postures and policies. It does mean, however, that they should put in place additional plans and policies alongside nuclear (direct or extended) deterrence as part of their resilience planning. In the long run, it is the resilient countries that will endure.
Planning and policymaking must take into account, for one, the significant technological changes and developments as they apply in the nuclear realm, and the implications of integrating and overlapping these new technologies. In addition to exacerbating the unpredictability of perceptions and reactions, emerging technologies shift the context within which we think about nuclear deterrence, and challenge our assumptions on the latter. This relates closely to the issue of the ‘blurring’ of the lines between conventional and nuclear deterrence – and notably the increasing number of so-called ‘grey zone’ threats – and calls into question what it is that states and alliances are actually seeking to deter.
Moreover, it has been questioned whether the practice of nuclear deterrence, including extended deterrence, is still worth it, when set against the inherent risk of nuclear use. With the enduring military concerns and tensions on the Korean peninsula, for instance, and the deteriorating credibility of extended deterrence, both conventional and nuclear, to the US’s allies in the Asia-Pacific and Europe, greater focus on other tracks – including renewed emphasis on diplomatic capabilities – may be desirable to ease insecurity and promote new regional arms-control and risk-reduction initiatives.
The contributors to this paper may have diverging views on the value of nuclear deterrence. Some have argued that continued reliance on nuclear deterrence is dangerous – and potentially catastrophic – as deterrence itself is at risk of becoming destabilized. Others have taken a more circumspect view, making the case that while nuclear deterrence certainly now needs to take account of more threats and contingencies, the present situation does not necessarily render it redundant: there is space for improvement through patience, consistency, and a willingness to learn by doing. Regardless of one’s position, it is undeniable that a number of current factors cast doubt on the overall credibility of nuclear deterrence in its present manifestations; and that there is value in revisiting existing assumptions and approaches to nuclear deterrence to ensure that the way forward takes account of these contemporary risks and challenges.