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There’s nothing that complicated about deterrence theory. To successfully deter potential adversaries from doing bad things to you and your friends, they need to believe you are willing and able to do unacceptably bad things to them and their friends in response. The degree to which they believe this is the degree to which deterrence is effective. Hence, successful deterrence employs the tactic of ambiguity to create doubt in adversaries’ minds over how far you may be willing to go, which is where the phrase “all options are on the table” has often been employed through past conflicts and crises.
So, what lessons have we learned about deterrence over the past two months?