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Adamsky's 'Lessons forDeterrence Theory and Practice'Lukas Milevskiaa Graduate
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3 7, Nos. 6-7, 1050-1065, 90.2014.952408Deterring
'Able Archer': Comments Arising from Adamsky's 'Lessons for Deterrence Theory and
Practice'LUK AS MILEVSK IGraduate School of Politics and International Studies,
University of Reading, UK ABSTRACT This is a short commentary on Dmitry Adamsky's
recent article 'The 1983 Nuclear Crisis - Lessons for Deterrence Theory and
Practice'. First, it teases out nuances in the relationship between deterrence and
strategy and considers deterrence to be both a strategy and an effect. Second, it
explores the culminating point of deterrence in theory and considers it untenable,
as it does not conform to the logic of, or to any logic analogous to, Clausewitz's
culminating point of victory. Deterrence logically cannot culminate. Moreover, any
culminating point of deterrence would ignore why the potential deteree should
perceive the actions of his deterrer in such a way as to render strengthened
strategies of deterrence counterproductive. It is the deteree who is the only
strategic actor to determine whether the deterrer is actually practising a
successful strategy of deterrence or not.K EY WORDS: Strategy, Deterrence, 'Able
Archer', War Scare, Culminating PointThe year 1983 has entered historical memory
and imagination as the year of maximum danger, the most recent of one of the
relatively few moments during which the world was, or was believed to be, palpably
close to superpower nuclear war. As an extraordinary episode during the Cold War,
much has been written about the Soviet war scare which commenced after the approval
in 1980 of Presidential Directive 59 (PD-59), the United States' new countervailing
nuclear strategy, and culminated with the 'Able Archer' exercise of November 1983 ,
and scholars are now finally delving into the affair in search of theoretical
lessons or concepts. Dmitry Adamsky's efforts in this regard have led to the idea
of a culminating point of deterrence, an idea which belongs to the important and
estab- lished literature debating the limits of deterrence.Because neither
deterrence nor its specifically nuclear variant have lost their relevance, it is
necessary to consider the full spectrum of possibility and impossibility. First,
the relationship between deterrence????????(C) 2014 Taylor & FrancisDownloaded by
[University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 2015and strategy will be
considered. Deterrence is frequently referred to as a strategy, which may be
correct, although the manner of reference matters significantly. Yet, deterrence is
not only a strategy. Second, the culminating point of deterrence appears to be
theoretically unten- able. It does not conform to the fundamental logic of
Clausewitz's culminating point of victory, nor to that of any analogous logic.
Finally, the culminating point of deterrence ignores why the opponent perceives his
opposite the way he does. Deterrence is fragile, but not because it has a
culminating point.Deterrence and StrategyDeterrence, like strategy, is a word which
fulfils a number of conceptual roles. Strategy has been defined variably as a
function, a plan, a process, a document, and so on. Deterrence has been described
as a policy, as a strategy, and may also be defined as an effect of either policy
or strategy. The differences among these various understandings of deter- rence are
important both in clarifying each individual definition and in their ramifications
for strategic theory.Andre? Beaufre, a French general and strategic theorist,
suggested that '[a] lthough deterrence cannot be classed as an operation of war, it
is - contrary to some beliefs - neither policy nor diplomacy. It is a powerful
instrument, at the disposal of policy: it is a strategy.'1 This is an unfortunate
evaluation of deterrence because it conceptually turns deterrence into an
instrument, which by definition is predictable, whereas deterrence is not.
'Precisely because it is a theory of motivation, deterrence cannot rest on
axiomatic logic alone but must deal with the metaphysics and psychopolitics of a
challenger's calculations.'2 One cannot pull deterrence out of a toolbox and employ
it. It must be induced in the other.Though often, perhaps unusually, feasible,
deterrence is inherently unreliable ... Quite literally, deterrence can work only
if the intended deterree chooses to be deterred. There is no way in which such a
choice, for deterrence, can be guaranteed. The stra- tegic world is significantly,
though by no means entirely, non- linear. No matter how many missiles I buy, I
cannot be absolutely certain that they will deter. The problem by definition, is
that1Andre? Beaufre, Deterrence and Strategy, trans. R.H. Barry (London: Faber
1965), 171. 2Janice Gross Stein, 'Calculation, Miscalculation, and Conventional
Deterrence I: The View from Cairo', in Robert Jervis, Richard New Lebow and Janice
Gross Stein (eds), Psychology and Deterrence (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP 1985),
3 5.Deterring 'Able Archer' 1051?Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at
21:13 18 January 20151052 Lukas Milevskistrategy (and war) is a dialectic of two
independent, albeit other-regarding as well as self-regarding, wills.3 As Colin Gray
further clarifies elsewhere, '[d] eterrence is a relational variable that works at
the discretion, though admittedly not wholly at the volition, of the candidate
deterree'.4 By considering deterrence as a strategy, and strategy as an instrument,
Beaufre confuses the desired outcome of strategy with the means of strategy. This
leads to undisci- plined thinking such as 'the nuclear deterrent', which confuses
capabil- ity with the desired effect of that capability, always a grievous, and
sometimes a fatal, mistake in strategy.Adamsky also defines deterrence as a
strategy, but does so in a different and more theoretically favourable way than
Beaufre did: 'Deterrence is a strategy of using threats to influence the strategic
calculus of the other side.'5 This is similar to William K aufmann's explanation of
deterrence as a policy, which focuses on what mixture of capabilities and measures
may achieve deterrence of the Soviet Union.6 This interpretation of deterrence is
theoretically more amenable because it hews closer to the nature of strat- egy. J.
C. Wylie's definition of strategy as '[a] plan of action designed in order to
achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its
accomplishment' emphasises this fundamental nature of strategic thought. The
definition 'enforces a dichotomous thinking - both the purpose and the system of
measures to achieve it must be included in the thoughts of the strategist'.7 Unlike
Beaufre's definition, it does not take effect for granted, but instead describes
deterrence as an inquiry into achieving deterrence. Any such inquiry must
concentrate upon this central point. Stephen Cimbala has observed that 'deterrence
theory offered little guidance for military tactics and operational art, and even
more proble- matically, often fell short of strategic effect when it failed to
create a viable 'bridge' between policy and the threat or use of force'.8 No matter
how a strategist thinks about or seeks to achieve deterrence, it fundamentally
3 Colin S. Gray, 'Deterrence and the Nature of Strategy', Small Wars & Insurgencies
11/2 (2000), 20.4Colin S. Gray, 'The Definitions and Assumptions of Deterrence:
Questions of Theory and Practice', Journal of Strategic Studies 13 /4 (1990), 13 .
5Dmitry (Dima)
Adamsky. 'The 1983 Nuclear Crisis - Lessons for Deterrence Theory and Practice',
Journal of Strategic Studies 3 6/1 (Feb. 2013 ), 8.6See K aufmann, 'The Requirements
of Deterrence', in William W. K aufmann (ed.), Military Policy and National Security
(Princeton UP 1956), 12-28.7J.C. Wylie. Military Strategy: A General Theory of
Power Control (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press 1989), 14.8Stephen J. Cimbala,
'Revisiting the Nuclear "War Scare" of 1983 : Lessons Retro- and Prospectively',
Journal of Slavic Military Studies 27/2 (April-June 2014), 253 .?Downloaded by
[University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 2015cannot be guaranteed,
although this was frequently forgotten by strategists immersed in the West's arcane
Cold War calculations.Both definitions of deterrence as strategy (or as policy, per
K aufmann) are founded upon a relatively neglected definition of deter- rence, which
is deterrence as an effect of strategy. Deterrence, as strat- egy, refers to the
whole system of strategic thought, inasmuch as it is geared toward the generation
of deterrence, as effect, in the opponent. The study of deterrence as an effect
emphasises how difficult it is to achieve and stresses the limitations of the
would-be deterrer in influen- cing the candidate deterree's strategic calculus.
After all, to exist at all, deterrence requires acquiescence from the opponent.
Grammatically, the active verb 'to deter' is sound. Theoretically and practically,
it is inappropriate in a political or strategic setting. One does not actively or
unilaterally deter, for that implies that one side has control over the perceptions
and decision-making processes of the other side. Rather, the enemy is deterred - or
he is not. He alone decides, based on the evidence in front of him, of capability,
credibility, and costs. Deterrence theory is thus the theory of which confluence of
factors may cause deterrence, what the theoretical and practical limits of
deterrence are, how deter- rence may be induced, etc. In this interpretation, one
would not speak of a strategy of deterrence, but rather of a strategy for
deterrence - a strategy aimed at inducing a particular effect.It is interesting to
note, however, that of all the various possible effects, only deterrence is treated
also as a strategy, which encourages Wylie's dichotomous thinking. Victory is an
effect as well, and holistic ends, ways, and means thinking is required to achieve
it, much as with deterrence. Yet never would anyone consider victory to be a
strategy in the same manner that deterrence is frequently considered a strategy.
Perhaps this is because victory is frequently considered an end in itself, whereas
deterrence rarely is, although frequently it may be synonymous with political ends.
Deterrence in Europe during the Cold War coin- cided with the safeguarding of
Western Europe from the Soviet Union, for instance. Strategy begins once two
competing political actors are sufficiently dissatisfied with the political order
to war one against the other, and (ideally) ends when one is sufficiently satisfied
with the changes wrought by force to bring the conflict to a conclusion - always
accepting the fundamental insight that the result of war, or any other engine of
political change, is never final. In other words, victory ends the practice of
strategy, but not of politics. Deterrence, by contrast, does not end the practice
of strategy because it does not end the political conflict, and indeed the
strategist cannot actually know whether his opponent is truly being deterred. Thus
when a strategy for deterrence ends, there are commonly considered to be two
possible reasons why: the opponent was not deterred and therefore the strategy for
deterrenceDeterring 'Able Archer' 1053 Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library]
at 21:13 18 January 20151054 Lukas Milevskiends as it is irrelevant, the issue
becoming one of waging war or backing down; or, the opponent has ceased to be a
threat to the hopeful deterrer, such as Russia immediately after the collapse of
the Soviet Union. A situation of (arguable) deterrence, such as the Cold War, is
undesirable much as a state of war is, because either party may believe a better
condition is or may be achievable.The Culminating Point of DeterrenceAdamsky's
contribution to the literature of deterrence theory is the idea of the culminating
point of deterrence. It introduces the notion of a third reason why a strategy for
deterrence ends: through failure of deterrence, ironically by practising it too
well. Adamsky describes it thus:Inspired by the logic of the famous Clausewitzian
term 'culminat- ing point of victory (attack)' the 'culminating point of
deterrence' refers to a moment after which additional threats may become counter-
productive; instead of leading to an actor's restraint they will provoke
escalation. When the 'culminating point of deter- rence' is crossed a threat
becomes more likely to incite the oppo- nent to attack rather than to back down.
Thus, 'culminating point of deterrence' is similar to 'diminishing marginal return'
in eco- nomics theory. After this point, credible threats become so con- vincing
that the adversary feels cornered with nothing to lose, assumes that the enemy is
about to strike anyway, and decides to pre-empt, thus overreacting.9This idea must
be considered from two different perspectives. First, is the parallel drawn between
the culminating point of deterrence and that of victory (attack) an apt one?
Second, some theorists of deterrence posit different types, or perhaps contexts, of
deterrence, immediate or general; does the culmination of deterrence apply to one
or both of them? Moreover, which type does the 1983 war scare represent? Third, it
returns to the idea of deterrence as but a single variable within a larger
relationship, and seeks to consider the 1983 nuclear war scare from a wider
perspective.The Differing Logic of Culminating PointsThe first perspective
considers the aptness of comparing Clausewitz's original idea of the culminating
point of victory to Adamsky's concept9Adamsky, 'The 1983 Nuclear Crisis', 3 3 .?
Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 2015of the
culminating point of deterrence. The culminating point of victory is based on the
strategic interaction of an attacking army versus a defending army, through the
medium of combat, and so went hand- in-hand with his definition of strategy.Victory
normally results from the superiority of one side; from a greater aggregate of
physical and psychological strength. This superiority is certainly augmented by the
victory, otherwise it would not be so coveted or command so high a price. That is
an automatic consequence of victory itself. Its effects exert a similar influence,
but only up to a point. That point may be reached quickly - at times so quickly
that the total consequences of a victorious battle may be limited to an increase in
psychological superiority alone.10Clausewitz considered victory a tactical concept,
something which described and stemmed from the consequences of battle, rather than
of war. Battle is an adversarial event in which both belligerents apply violence
directly against the other in the hope of achieving the desirable fruits of
victory. In Clausewitz's conception, '[s] trategy is the use of the engagement for
the purpose of the war.'11 Strategy is thus the use of the fruits of victory (and,
in certain circumstances, also of one's own defeat) to further one's political
cause in, and through, war. Combat, even successful combat, is not simply about
achieving victory and so inflict- ing dreadful casualties and psychological damage
upon the enemy. As an adversarial event, the victor also takes losses, sometimes to
the extent that victory does not even augment one's material superiority, as
Pyrrhus' experience may attest.Moreover, in Clausewitz's experience, particularly
of Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812 which inspired his idea of the culminating
point of victory, victory also leads to the dispersion of strength to secure
conquered regions and the supply lines necessary to continue the advance. Thus, in
Clausewitz's estimation the entire structure of war as a human and social activity
naturally limited the attacker's ultimate potential. This is one reason why
Clausewitz favoured the defence as the strongest form of warfare, because attack
was entirely a gamble and, if it failed, the attacker was left in an unenviable and
overstretched defensive position. Thus once the culminating point of victory has
been reached by the attacker due to unavoidable physical limitations and his
opponent's political and military tenacity, the defender has the chance10Carl von
Clausewitz, On War, (eds and trans.) Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton UP
1984), 566.11Ibid., 177.Deterring 'Able Archer' 1055?Downloaded by [University of
Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 20151056 Lukas Milevskito counter-attack
meaningfully in his own turn. The culminating point of victory does not directly
describe the defender's will or capability to fight, but only indirectly indicates
it through the ever weakening state of a continuous attacker relative to the
defender. The defender is not directly relevant because he has already made the
political decision to resist, and the attacker must therefore break his will. The
idea of a culminating point of victory merely suggests that there may be scenarios
where the attacker himself might run out of offensive capability before the defence
definitively fails or loses the will to fight. This is the logic of Clausewitz's
concept of the culminating point of victory.The culminating point of deterrence
does not follow Clausewitz's logic. Indeed, as Bernard Brodie implicitly suggested,
nuclear deterrence was conceptualised specifically to eschew that logic. 'Thus far
the chief
purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief
purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.'12 The
purpose of (nuclear) deterrence is to avoid the reciprocal violence of war, which
is the necessary foundation of the culminating point of victory, because nuclear
war would not be strate- gically sensible. It would be far too easy to pass the
culminating point of victory in nuclear war, due to the character of the nuclear
weapons themselves. Thus in deterrence, the very mechanism upon which the power and
fortunes of the opposing powers are balanced is missing.Moreover, the logic of
deterrence has no similar aspect which may replace the mechanism of battle. Nuclear
weapons are, as Brodie points out, inactive: 'Objects at rest can do enormous work
- if those objects are such things as nuclear weapons. The work, though enormous,
may also be subtle, so that it may not be noticed.'13 The logic of deterrence is
conditional: if x, then y; if not, then no retaliatory action is taken. There is
nothing within the logic of deterrence which weakens the would-be deterrer's force,
credibility, or commitment. Nor is there any inherent tendency within deterrence
which weakens the hoped-for deterree's force, credibility, or commitment, or leads
him to overestimate those of his opponent. In theory, the conditional nature of
deterrence sets very firm parameters on the use of force by one polity against
another.Thus one might say that deterrence as strategy does not, in theory,
culminate. There is no dynamic inherent within it which may cause a strategy of
deterrence to become so successful actually to fail. Strategy is practised to
achieve effect. Therefore if strategy cannot culminate in the manner described,
neither may effect. This leaves the strategist12Bernard Brodie, 'Implications for
Military Policy', in Bernard Brodie (ed.), The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and
World Order (New York: Harcourt, Brace 1946), 76.13 Bernard Brodie, War and Politics
(New York: Macmillan 1973 ), 3 76.?Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at
21:13 18 January 2015Deterring 'Able Archer' 1057 investigating the 1983 war scare
at a minor impasse: deterrence theorymay not theoretically accommodate actual
historical experience.Different Types of DeterrenceThe second perspective on the
culminating point of deterrence stems from various identified types of deterrence.
Thus Adamsky writes that '[l] iterature distinguishes between 'situation of
deterrence', in which 'an actor is deterred without anyone having tried to send a
deterrence message', and 'strategy of deterrence', when such a signal is
deliberately crafted and sent.'14 He seems to have based these identified types on
Patrick Morgan's interpretation of deterrence as being either immediate or general:
Immediate deterrence concerns the relationship between opposing states where at
least one side is seriously considering an attack while the other is mounting a
threat of retaliation in order to prevent it. General deterrence relates to
opponents who maintain armed forces to regulate their relationship even though
neither is anywhere near mounting an attack.15Adamsky's interpretation of the
literature differs subtly from the origi- nal distinction pioneered by Morgan,
largely by erasing the distinct boundary between the two. The differences between
Morgan's two types of deterrence are clear. Adamsky detaches 'strategy of
deterrence' from the crisis atmosphere of immediate deterrence, which thus allows
it to spill over into portions of general deterrence. One might deliber- ately
craft a new or stronger general deterrence posture through a strategy of
deterrence. Ultimately, any strategy of deterrence loses its immediacy and becomes
part of the background noise of the competi- tive relationship which deterrence
might be hoped to moderate, and so structurally becomes a part of the 'situation of
deterrence'.The question is thus, which type of deterrence was PD-59, which first
posited a countervailing nuclear strategy, and its subsequent iterations meant to
be? Adamsky does not answer this question - he introduces the distinction in types
of deterrence between 'strategy of' and 'situation of' without actually employing
this distinction anywhere else in his article to understand the 1983 war scare
crisis. The American nuclear strategy revisions were clearly not an example of
immediate deterrence; they had no belief that they were under actual immediate
threat of attack from the Soviet Union. The revisions are an example of 'strategy
of deterrence',14Adamsky, 'The 1983 Nuclear Crisis', 8.15Patrick M. Morgan,
Deterrence: A Conceptual Analysis (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications 1977), 28.?
Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 20151058 Lukas
Milevskihowever, as they were undertaken explicitly to strengthen the US posture
for deterrence. Thus, the US case is one of strategy of deterrence for the purposes
of improving general deterrence, presumably in the hope of ultimately achieving a
more favourable 'situation of deterrence'.The Soviet side of the history is also
interesting, as it represents a potential jump directly from a posture of what
would be described as general deterrence immediately to waging nuclear war, without
attempting actually to craft a specific strategy of deterrence in an immediate
deterrence context - likely an indication that the Soviets thought differently
about deterrence, and indeed about the Cold War context, than the United States
did.Adamsky's culminating point of deterrence bears a resemblance to Morgan's
proposal that 'steps to bolster credibility can be irrational in terms of
deterrence stability. If the point is to deter an attack, and stability rests on
each side being confident it can deter, then one side's determined effort to gain
the capacity to fight and win for the sake of credibility will breed deterrence
instability.'16 At first glance, this seems somewhat at odds with Morgan's
distinction of immediate and general deterrence. It implies a constantly simmering
near-crisis atmo- sphere closer to a perpetual state of immediate deterrence than
one which should actually be governed largely by general deterrence. Morgan also
notes that nuclear weapons 'did not displace the primacy of politics'.17 That is,
for an attack to be credible there must be a political rationale worth the use of
nuclear weapons, a condition much closer to an immediate rather than general
deterrence scenario and so correspondingly less apparently relevant to the American
actions which inadvertently contributed to the 1983 Soviet war scare. In the early
1980s Robert Jervis proposed the same idea as Morgan and Adamsky, but also
acknowledged the weaknesses of the thought.The second general cost of the
countervailing strategy is that, by stressing that war could result from Soviet
calculation that the balance of forces permits military adventures, it is likely to
exacer- bate what is probably a greater danger: that the Soviet Union might become
desperate because of internal or external pressures and come to see war as either
necessary or inevitable.18Yet Jervis ultimately conceded that '[i] t is hard to say
exactly what could make the Russians believe that war was inevitable, and here
16Patrick M. Morgan, Deterrence Now (Cambridge: CUP 2003 ), 52.17Ibid. ? 27.18Robert
Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP 1984),
165.?Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 2015again
the general state of Soviet-American relations could be more important than the
military doctrine the United States adopted.'19 Cimbala has specifically noted how
the war scare mood in the Soviet Union developed due to the unfortunate confluence
and influence of otherwise relatively unrelated factors.What had brought the Soviet
Union to this brink of pessimism and near fatalism about US intentions and, in the
case of Andropov, nearly apocalyptic doomsaying? A series of events treated in iso-
lation by political actors at the time apparently combined, in unexpected and
potentially dysfunctional ways, to produce a men- tality among some members of the
Soviet high command that shifted policy expectations in Moscow tectonically from
1979 through 1984.20These isolated factors included the introduction of the United
States' new intermediate range missiles ('Euromissiles') to Western Europe, the
announcement of its Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) (of which Cimbala observed
that '[t] he reaction in Moscow was predictably nega- tive, but unpredictably
hysterical')21, the Soviet downing of the K orean Airliner 007 on 1 September 1983
as well as the ensuing international reaction, a Soviet false warning about a
purported US missile launch, and only then the 'Able Archer' exercise itself to
test Soviet decision- making during a war scare.Most importantly, however, the
Soviet war scare occurred not in reaction to 'Able Archer' or any other nuclear
strategic concerns but in the humiliating aftermath of the downing of K AL 007. 'To
divert attention from the downing of a passenger aircraft, Moscow seized on the
Reagan administration's political exploitation of the tragedy as a pretext for
instigating an orchestrated war scare in the Soviet Union.'22 Significantly,[t] he
war scare engineered by Soviet propaganda remained unaf- fected by 'Able Archer'...
The scare went on because Moscow believed it was useful in its campaign against
NATO's 'Euromissiles' as the crucial vote about their deployment was approaching in
the West German Bundestag on 23 November 1983 . Once West Germany's parliament
approved the installation19Ibid., 166.20Cimbala, 'Revisiting the Nuclear "War
Scare" of 1983 ', 23 6.21Ibid., 23 8.22Vojtech Mastny, 'How Able was "Able Archer"?
Nuclear Trigger and Intelligence in
Perspective', Journal of Cold War Studies 11/1 (Winter 2009), 117.Deterring 'Able
Archer' 1059?Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 2015
1060 Lukas Milevskiof the missiles and the weapons were deployed, the campaign
became not only pointless but also counterproductive in view of the panic it had
begun to generate within the Soviet populace. The war scare was soon called
off ...23 Deterrence as a RelationshipOne must not forget that deterrence is a
relational variable. Its condi- tional logic is very clear in theory. If you do x,
I will deny you your goal by doing y, or I will punish you by doing z.24 Deterrence
is very clearly the effect of a conditional threat. Force will remain leashed
unless certain conditions are broken. As long as communication is clear, the
messages sent are accepted, and the opponent understands that it is a deterrent
rather than compellent threat, then it is difficult to imagine deterrence failing
and escalating into war as long as the condition is not broken. Yet the significant
condition for the success of deterrence remains whether or not the opponent
understands that one is hoping to deter rather than compel or coerce. Deterrence is
a relational vari- able, therefore at the very least the deterree has to understand
that he is being deterred, even if the deterrer does not. In other words, it is the
other party, the deterree, who determines whether or not the relation- ship is
actually one of deterrence or not.Language plays a large part in how people think.
It was noted during the Cold War that there is no word in Russian analogous to the
verb 'to deter', or of 'deterrent' or 'deterrence'. Rather than a single neutral
term such as nuclear deterrence, the Russian language employs two grada- tions
which bound communist ideology and strategic thought and were applied to the two
sides of the Cold War. 'For their deterrence of the West, the Soviets most commonly
use the word sderzhivaniye (restrain- ing); for Western deterrence of them they use
the word ustrasheniye, which comes very close to meaning "intimidation."'25 The
Soviet mili- tary and leadership did not recognise in the American threat the nega-
tive conditional logic of deterrence, but rather the positive conditional logic of
compellence. The Soviet leadership was thus linguistically and ideologically
opposed to considering implicit and explicit American nuclear threats as deterrent
in purpose, rather than compellent or coercive. Andropov's accession to power after
Brezhnev's death in23 Ibid., 120-1.24Glenn H. Snyder, Deterrence by Denial and
Punishment (Princeton Univ. Center of International Studies 1959).25Geoffrey Jukes,
'The Military Approach to Deterrence and Defense', in Michael MccGwire, K en Booth
and John McDonnell (eds), Soviet Naval Policy: Objectives and Constraints (New
York: Praeger 1975), 484.?Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18
January 2015November 1982 only exacerbated this tendency, due to his K GB back-
ground 'in the work that prizes suspicion and deception [and] had bred a
conspiratorial view of the world, conducive to bad judgment'.26In such a context,
one cannot speak of a culminating point of deterrence. Deterrence, as has been
emphasised, takes effect in the opponent's mind and decision-making apparatus. To
succeed, it requires that the adversary understand the attempt to induce deterrence
and the culminating point would then occur in the foe's mind. But if he mistakes an
attempt to deter for an attempt to compel, the culminating point of deterrence
makes no sense. Instead, the adversary sees intensi- fying efforts at intimidation,
which unless pre-empted might plausibly escalate to attack.In addition to this
misguided belief about the intentions of the United States, other factors were also
significantly influencing Soviet thinking during the early 1980s. It is noteworthy
that the end of the 1970s and early 1980s marked a sudden negative reversal in
Soviet fortunes glob- ally, compared to a sudden upswing for the United States.27
Janice Gross Stein, commenting on an instance of deterrence failure, noted that
'more important than the negative assessment of the military balance in the debate
about the use of force was the evaluation of trends in relative capabilities'.28 By
1983 , the Soviets were facing the pressures of adverse global, and not solely
military, trends.K en Booth had warned only four years prior to the war scare of the
distorting effects of ethnocentrism on strategy in theory and practice, of assuming
that everyone, including one's opponents, thinks in the same manner and with regard
to the same value systems as oneself.29 In one sense, PD-59 and the refinements
made by the Reagan administration were a triumph over ethnocentrism in the making
of a new nuclear strategy: for perhaps the first time, American nuclear strategists
had determined targets the Soviet Union was truly concerned about and specifically
targeted them. US nuclear strategists had determined exactly how to stoke Soviet
fears most powerfully. Indeed, as history indicates, they performed this task
nearly too well. However, at the same time this episode represents a failure of
overcoming ethnocentrism. The same nuclear strategists who clearly understood the
Soviet Union's vulner- abilities failed to understand the wider Soviet perception
of US nuclear strategy as intimidation rather than deterrence, particularly in a
wider geopolitical context in which the Soviets suddenly seemed to be losing
26Mastny, 'How Able was "Able Archer"?', 115-16.27Gordon S. Barrass, The Great Cold
War: A Journey Through the Hall of Mirrors (Stanford UP 2009), Chapter 22.28Stein,
'Calculation, Miscalculation, and Conventional Deterrence I', 47.29K en Booth,
Strategy and Ethnocentrism (London: Croom Helm 1979).Deterring 'Able Archer' 1061?
Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 20151062 Lukas
Milevskiall around the globe. Instead, the US strategists instead mistakenly
assumed that both sides understood US strategy as one of deterrence.Thus PD-59 and
the Reagan administration's expansion of that strategy and build-up of military
forces was not seen in Moscow as a revitalisation of a US strategy of deterrence.
Instead, having always considered the US to be attempting to intimidate the Soviet
Union, Soviet decision-makers in the years leading up to November 1983 witnessed US
attempts to make credible that threat, although this mis- taken perspective was
certainly buttressed by Reagan's rhetoric and strategic and foreign policy
initiatives. The story of the 1983 war scare is not one of the culminating point of
deterrence. Rather, it is the story of the most important decision-making body in
the relational variable of deterrence mistaking its opponent's strategy of
deterrence for something entirely different - a strategy of intimidation or
compellence.This failure of ethnocentrism extended to both sides. The Soviet Union
paid little attention to the US strategic studies community, for instance, which
might have allayed their fears long before they mounted to crisis proportions. As
Colin Gray observed in 1982, 'when news of the revised American nuclear-weapon
employment policy (as outlined very tersely in Presidential Directive 59) became
public, strategists were not slow to observe that the military means for full
implementation were close to ten years in the future'.3 0 As Len Scott has similarly
observed more recently, '[a] mong several perplexing aspects of SDI was the effect
on the Soviets. Moscow behaved as though SDI was a reality rather than the
aspiration of a president unencumbered by understanding of its implications for
foreign policy, strategy, or rela- tions with allies (or indeed understanding of
the technological obstacles).'3 1 Instead, the Soviet policy-making process
minimised any potential influence of their own learned analysts of US strategy and
defence policy, such as Henry Trofimenko or Alexei Arbatov.If one desires to fold
this recognition of ethnocentrism into a formal theoretical concept, the
appropriate concept is that of the security dilemma rather than of the culminating
point, the logic of which is unsuitable for deterrence. The security dilemma
revolves around the insight that 'many of the means by which a state tries to
increase its security decrease the security of others'. This is further tied to
what was called the offence-defence balance: 'when defensive weapons differ from
offensive ones, it is possible for a state to make itself more secure3 0Colin S.
Gray, Strategic Studies: A Critical Assessment (London: Aldwych Press 1982), 151.
3 1Len Scott, 'Intelligence and the Risk of Nuclear War: Able Archer-83 Revisited',
Intelligence and National Security 26/6 (Dec. 2011), 761.?Downloaded by [University
of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 2015without making others less secure. And
when the defense has the advantage over the offense, a large increase in one
state's security only slightly decreases the security of the others, and status-quo
powers can all enjoy a high level of security and largely escape from the state of
nature.'3 2 Nuclear weapons provided positive offensive capability, and through that
the possibility of negative deterrent effect. Moreover, the character of delivery
systems reduced the difficulty of striking the opposing power. As William Liscum
Borden observed, contempora- neously with Bernard Brodie's consideration of the
absolute weapon, 'There Will Be No Time' due to the advent of rocketry.3 3 In other
words, the offence-defence balance became entirely unbalanced in favour of the
offence. In the ambiguity of international affairs, when a single type of weapon -
nuclear weapons, whether mounted in bombers or on rockets - provides for both
offence and defence, the conditional logic of deterrence is difficult to
accept uncritically and seriously because the opponent's capabilities (and one's
own, should one reflect on this) may just as easily fulfil the more aggressive
logic of compellence.ConclusionIt is an incontrovertible fact that the US efforts
to improve the cred- ibility of their nuclear forces and war plans did nearly
backfire. The reasons for this near disaster, however, lie not in a culminating
point of deterrence, which appears to be theoretically dubious because the logic of
the culminating point has no purchase in deterrence theory. The use of threat in
deterrence theory is clearly conditional, and so by definition cannot be over-used
because the condition remains in force. One must look elsewhere, outside of
deterrence theory, for the nearly disastrous Soviet reaction in November 1983 .
Thus, the reasons for the war scare lie in the Soviet misperception of the United
States' actions not as being for purposes of deterrence, but rather for purposes of
intimidation.The importance of fully understanding the adversary's perceptions is
paramount. Infusing one's posture for deterrence with too much cred- ibility may
certainly backfire, but only if the adversary already inter- prets that posture as
an intimidating compellent threat rather than as an attempted deterrent threat.
Deterrence is a fragile phenomenon, but not because deterrent effect may turn into
its opposite. Instead, it is fragile and unpredictable because ultimately only the
opponent and his3 2Robert Jervis, 'Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma', World
Politics 3 0/2 (Jan. 1978), 169, 187.3 3 William Liscum Borden, There Will Be No Time:
The Revolution in Strategy (New York: The Macmillan Company 1946).Deterring 'Able
Archer' 1063 ?Downloaded by [University of Chicago Library] at 21:13 18 January 2015
1064 Lukas Milevskithought processes determine whether one is attempting to deter,
or rather to compel and coerce. The real lesson of the 1983 nuclear war scare is
that the perception of one strategic actor does not necessarily parallel the
intentions of the other, with undeniable implications for how the respective
polities may then act. 'If the crisis was as dangerous as it has been portrayed, it
is also a demonstration of the case for losing some sleep over our inability to
understand the fears of our adversaries.'3 4 The operating logic behind the war
scare was that of the security dilemma, with its holistic view of the uncertain and
ambig- uous relations between polities, rather than of the culminating point, with
its far narrower theoretical perspective.Notes on ContributorLukas Milevski is a
visiting fellow at Oxford University's Changing Character of War Programme. He is
the 2010 winner of the RUSI Trench Gascoigne essay competition and a member of
Infinity Journal's Special Advisory Group. He has published numerous articles in
journals including Journal of Strategic Studies, Joint Force Quarterly, Parameters,
and Infinity Journal, a number of which have been incorporated into curricula at
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