Challenges to 21st Century Deterrence (Part III)

January 2022 No Comments

Speaker(s): Astorino-Courtois, A. (NSI); Bragg, B. (NSI)

Date: 7 January 2022

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a panel discussion with Dr. Allison Astorino-Courtois (NSI) and Dr. Belinda Bragg (NSI) as part of its SMA STRATCOM Speaker Series. 

As US adversaries reach nuclear parity—or near nuclear parity—with the US, multi-actor deterrence is becoming more prevalent in global influence competition. However, having more than two actors involved in deterrence does not change the nature of deterrence itself: it only changes the structure of deterrence scenarios. Dr. Astorino-Courtois commented that multi-actor deterrence forces actors to acknowledge that deterrence is not dyadic, and that US deterrence policy has not modernized to account for multiple actors taking part. She identified four different deterrence scenarios and related each to US competition with China over Taiwan. These different scenarios can be identified through understanding participating actors’: a) interest relationships, b) their preferred roles in deterrence, and c) understanding actors’ resolve in relation to the preferred outcome. In the future, there will be deterrence occurring with more actors than there is today; however, effective deterrence will likely always include: a) capability, b) credibility, and c) communication.

While deterrence is an important aspect of global competition, it is also important to understand how US adversaries are attempting to shape the future competition environment. Dr. Bragg commented that her report focuses on four actors: a) Russia, b) China, c) Iran, and d) North Korea. She emphasized that most US adversaries’ actions relate back to their regime survival. To support their regime survival, these actors have a vested interest in supporting other autocratic regimes and weakening US and Western ideals in foreign countries. Russia and China have been especially active in exporting their own media and culture to weaken US influence or replace US influence where it is already deteriorating. Furthermore, even though Russia and China have historically been in conflict, their global competition with the US and Western countries has led to their short-term cooperation. Dr. Bragg pointed out that US adversaries’ activities are too varied, and US interests are too interdependent for a single deterrence strategy to be sufficient. Instead, the US should focus on its foreign policy’s ‘say-do-gap,’ and increase its focus on helping its allies to strengthen their own weaknesses and lessen US adversaries’ opportunities to undermine democratic principles. 

Speaker Session Recording

Note: We are aware that many government IT providers have blocked access to YouTube from government machines during the pandemic in response to bandwidth limitations. We recommend viewing the recording on YouTube from a non-government computer or listening to the audio file (below), if you are in this position.

Briefing Materials


Submit A Comment