Deterrence Beyond the State

by Thomas Rid on 13 April 2012

Rid, T (2012) “Deterrence Beyond the State. The Israeli Experience” Contemporary Security Policy, April, vol 33,
iss 1,  p. 124-147, DOI:10.1080/13523260.2012.659593

Israel’s experience with deterrence is unique: it is older, more diverse, and more experimental than that of any other state. How did Israel’s strategy of deterrence evolve? How was it adapted to fit the non-state threat? And what is its utility? This article argues that Israel’s experience with deterrence beyond the state can best be understood through the conceptual lenses provided by the other grand deterrence debate, that in the philosophy of law, not international relations. Israel’s use of military force against non-state enemies doesn’t fit the classic concepts of strategy: it is not just one act of force to compel one actor to fulfill one specific political goal at one given time; deterrence consists of a series of acts of force to create — and maintain — general norms of behavior for many political actors over an extended period of time. Using force, consequently, doesn’t represent a principal failure of deterrence but its maintenance through swift, certain, but measured responses. The inquiry concludes by identifying the method’s limitations.

Deterrence is as old as fear. Punishing offenders is a common theme in the Bible. Threatening potential aggressors with costly consequences has been a subject of political philosophy for centuries, especially in the theory of law. Yet in the history of strategy and international relations, deterrence received remarkably little attention before the mid 20th century. None of the masters of strategy of the 19th century has left much worthy of note about the age-old practice of administering threats by military means. Only in the Cold War were deterrence and retaliation explored in theory and elevated to policy. ‘The twentieth century is not the first century in which “retaliation” has been part of our strategy’, observed Thomas Schelling in the 1960s, ‘but it is the first in which we have systematically recognized it.’ [...]

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Deterrence — The Israeli Experience” (27min) War Studies Podcast, 18 March 2012

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