Deterrence: A Theoretical Introduction



Deterrence, in one sense, is simply the negative aspect of political power; it is the power to dissuade as opposed to the power to coerce or compel. One deters another party from doing something by the implicit or explicit threat of applying some sanction if the forbidden act is performed, or by the promise of a reward if the act is not performed. Thus conceived, deterrence does not have to depend on military force. We might speak of deterrence by the threat of trade restrictions, for example. The promise of economic aid might deter a country from military action (or any action) contrary to one’s own interests. Or we might speak of the deterrence of allies and neutrals as well as potential enemies — as Italy, for example, was deterred from fighting on the side of the Dual Alliance in the First World War by the promise of substantial territorial gains. In short, deterrence may follow, first, from any form of control which one has over an opponent’s present and prospective ‘value inventory’; secondly, from the communication of a credible threat or promise to decrease or increase that inventory; and, thirdly, from the opponent’s degree of confidence that one intends to fulfil the threat or promise.


Military Force Military Action Credibility Factor Potential Aggressor Theoretical Introduction 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1970

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