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Since the Cold War ended a quarter century ago, we haven’t learned to love the Bomb, but we have stopped worrying about it. As the Obama administration insists on driving the entire Middle East toward nuclear weapons, we had better start worrying about it again. A good place to start may be to dust off the concept of deterrence and re-familiarize ourselves with it.
What is deterrence?
Deterrence is a strategy of using the threat of military punishment to dissuade an aggressor from attempting to achieve his objectives. A defender deters his opponent by convincing him that any expected gains from his aggression will be outweighed by the punishment he will suffer. A threshold assumption underlying the logic of deterrence is that the aggressor is “rational,” in the sense that his military means are reasonably related to his political goals and he acts based on a comparison of expected gains to potential costs.