Deterrence and Defense Strategy: Old Lessons and New Contexts

October 2021 No Comments

Speaker(s): Malkasian, C. (CNA)

Date: 3 November 2021

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Carter Malkasian (CNA) as part of its SMA STRATCOM Academic Alliance Speaker Session.

New academic studies focusing on multipolar nuclear deterrence are necessary to understand how posturing and brinksmanship by actors can deter a potential conflict or lead to impending nuclear disaster. Dr. Malkasian commented that methodologies used in war gaming exercises can be used to predict the outcome of real-world conflicts. However, these simulations tend to leave out some nuanced factors, such as the actual resolve and risk acceptance of individual leaders. For example, the risk acceptance and the brinksmanship of actors can result in unintended consequences and an escalation to military conflict. However, it was pointed out that traditional military conflict is unlikely to occur between two nuclear powers.

To avoid a conflict, actors must be careful not to cross tripwires, or actions that cross a metaphorical boundary constructed by their adversary and forces them to engage in a military conflict. State leaders may also be forced to commit an action because their constituents expect it. This is referred to as an audience cost. Also, states can commit actions that take varying degrees of effort or cost that send signals which either escalate or de-escalate a conflict. Guessing a leader’s true intentions is sometimes difficult. However, if they undertake an action which is costly, then they are rarely bluffing. These signals could be economic, political, or military actions. Dr. Malkasian concluded his presentation by suggesting the US should not avoid sending costly signals. This is because actions are the strongest drivers of both escalation and de-escalation of conflicts.

Speaker Session Recording

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Briefing Materials

Malkasian Slides


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