The death of deterrence

Linked with Gabriel Kolko – USA, with Iraq, The United States, & the End of the European Coalition, and with The Decline of the American Empire.

Text by Gabriel Kolko, (Read the whole long article on Asia Times, August 30, 2006).

The United States had a monopoly of nuclear weaponry only a few years before other nations challenged it, but from 1949 until roughly the 1990s, deterrence theory worked – nations knew that if they used the awesome bomb, they were likely to be devastated in the riposte.

Despite such examples of brinkmanship as the Cuban missile crisis and numerous threats of nuclear annihilation against non-nuclear powers, by and large the few nations that possessed the bomb concluded that nuclear war was not worth its horrendous risks.

Today, by contrast, weapons of mass destruction or precision and power are within the capacity of dozens of nations either to produce or purchase. With the multiplicity of weapons now available, deterrence theory is increasingly irrelevant, and the equations of military power that existed in the period after World War II no longer hold.

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Israeli missiles target Beirut: The US war in Iraq is a political disaster against the guerrillas – a half-trillion US dollars spent there and in Afghanistan have left the United States on the verge of defeat in both places. The “shock and awe” military strategy has utterly failed save to produce contracts for weapons makers – indeed, it has also contributed heavily to de facto US economic bankruptcy.

The administration of President George W Bush has deeply alienated more of America’s nominal allies than has any US government in modern times. The Iraq war and subsequent conflict in Lebanon have left its Middle East policy in shambles and made Iranian strategic predominance even more likely, all of which was predicted before the Iraq invasion. Its coalitions, as Thomas Ricks shows in his wordy but utterly convincing and critical book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, are finished. Its sublime confidence in and reliance on the power of its awesome weaponry are a crucial cause of its failure, although we cannot minimize its peremptory hubris and nationalist myopia.

The United States, whose costliest political and military adventures since 1950 have ended in failure, now must face the fact that the technology for confronting its power is rapidly becoming widespread and cheap. It is within the reach of not merely states but of relatively small groups of people. Destructive power is now virtually “democratized”.

If the challenges of producing a realistic concept of the world that confronts the mounting dangers and limits of military technology seriously are not resolved soon, recognizing that a decisive equality of military power is today in the process of being reimposed, there is nothing more than wars and mankind’s eventual destruction to look forward to. (Read the whole long article on Asia Times, August 30, 2006).

1. Mark Williams, “The Missiles of August: The Lebanon War and the Democratization of Missile Technology”, Technology Review (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), August 16, 2006.
2. Henry Sokolski, ed, Taming the Next Set of Strategic Weapons Threats, US Army Strategic Studies Institute, June 2006, pp 33ff, 86.

Gabriel Kolko is the leading historian of modern warfare. His latest book is The Age of War. He wrote this article for Japan Focus. (Copyright 2004-2006 JapanFocus )

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