MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. — The end of the Cold War, coupled with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, caused American decision-makers to focus on present-day conflicts, but a resurgent Russia, the rise of new nonstate actors and new threats in the cyberrealm have brought about a renewed focus on the concept of deterrence, according to faculty and researchers at Air University.
Joint Publication 1-02 defines deterrence as “the prevention of action by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction and/or the belief that the cost of action outweighs the perceived benefits.”
“Part of what makes deterrence difficult is that deterrence is successful when nothing happens, so it’s very hard to measure.” said Dr. Adam Lowther, a former AU research professor, who now serves as the director of the School for Advanced Nuclear Deterrence Studies.
Lowther said conflict can be conceived as a pyramid.
“At the top of that conflict is nuclear conflict,” he said. “At the bottom is terrorism as we generally think of it. The top is the worst case but least likely. At the bottom is the least dangerous but most likely.”
The nuclear deterrent force remains to be defined by the triad of bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines.
“The Air Force and the Navy are all looking to update their nuclear arsenals,” said Col. Charles Patnaude, the Air University Global Strike Command chair.
However, deterrence is not an exclusively military concept, said Lt. Col. Dave Lyle, the deputy director of warfighting and education and AU’s Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education.
“It’s part of everyday human interaction,” he said. “We have different competing interests, we have different ways we would like to see the world and we try to influence others to go along with the way we like to see things happen.
“When you’re talking about trying to deter terrorists or nonstate actors, they usually exist in a much larger social context. We concentrate on how many foreign fighters are in one area of Syria, but the even more interesting question is, ‘where are they all coming from?’ What is causing them to want to collect in this one area to fight in support of their ideology?”
Air University has committed its intellectual resources to the study an understanding of deterrence. The 2015 AU Strategic Plan identifies deterrence as an area where it is committed to providing research, analysis, and recommendations that address priority issues for the Air Force.
“Deterrence is resurgent,” Lowther said. “Both an interest and need for an understanding of deterrence is really returning, and Air University and the Air Force are making a distinct effort to improve the understanding of Airmen in regards to deterrence — both conventional and nuclear and in the new realms of cyber.”