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The Future of Extended Deterrence: The United States, NATO, and Beyond

The Future of Extended Deterrence: The United States, NATO, and Beyond, edited by Stéfanie von Hlatky and Andreas Wenger. Georgetown University Press, 2015, 259 pp. 

This edited collection draws on the analysis of workshop participants brought together by the work’s editors to discuss the complex relationship between the US and its European allies in the context of deterrence. The Future of Extended Deterrence contains seven individual contributions organized into three sections: “New Thinking on Deterrence,” “the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Nuclear Weapons Policy,” and “The Politics of Missile Defense.” The contributors range from professors and think-tank experts to policy makers representing Western nations including the US, Canada, and European countries. The contributors emphasize the critical importance of reassessing deterrence from a broader lens in light of post-Cold War developments. More specifically, this collection’s impetus derives from a number of developments that have occurred in the last decade, including the Obama administration’s US National Security Strategy (2010) and NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (2012).

Extended deterrence refers to the protection the US offers its allies to deter an attack or other coercive action by a third party. The benefits of extended deterrence to the US, it is argued, include the ability to treat war as an “away game” and the reduction of “adventurism” by other nuclear powers (pp. 44–45). If deterrence fails, however, the US response need not involve the use of nuclear weapons. Indeed, it is likely that the US would use conventional weapons to respond (p. 47). This owes much to the improvement in US conventional capabilities, which has been somewhat destabilizing because it provides the nation with an asymmetric advantage over Russia. This “high precision deterrence” rests, not only on conventional weaponry, but also on advanced cyber and space capabilities (p. 205). By contrast, Russia remains invested in an approach that stresses its nuclear capabilities (p. 184), and these competing visions have stalled negotiations between NATO and Russia, among other factors. Also, as the deterrence weapons have changed for some parties, so, too, have ideas about the purpose of deterrence. Increasingly, Western policymakers view deterrence as a flexible tool that can achieve many aims, including the “protect[ion] of global norms” and the maintenance of the liberal international order (p. 21).

Most of the work addresses extended deterrence in Europe to evaluate the changes NATO previously has considered making, with the purpose of helping NATO arrive at a more decisive solution the next time it engages in similar talks. Russian aggression in Ukraine had helped stimulate this round of discussion, as did concerns about a wider array of threats, including Iran. But the expansion of NATO makes consensus-building even more challenging because its members have such wide-ranging interests and national security concerns. At the same time, it is the very strength of this alliance that is as important to deterrence’s success as the alliance’s military capabilities. Yet NATO’s 2012 Deterrence and Defense Posture Review only resulted in the “paper[ing] over” of key areas of disagreement (p. 19). In particular, members cannot agree on whether or not the US should continue to maintain nonstrategic nuclear weapons (NSNW) in Europe. Although they constitute less than 2 percent of the earth’s nuclear weapons (p. 107) and are of questionable military utility given the alliance’s conventional capabilities, they occupy a significant portion of the debate for a variety of reasons, including their high classification level (p. 112–13). Also of great importance to NATO is missile defense, which has received increased emphasis since the end of the Cold War. In the context of deterrence, this represents a shift away from relying solely on offensive capabilities for deterrence to using defensive ones as well. 

Different issues are at play in Asia, where the US relies on bilateral agreements and does not maintain NSNW. The work includes some scattered disagreement over the applicability of the Asian model to Europe (pp. 62, 208). Unfortunately, despite the title promising to cover deterrence “beyond” NATO, the collection lacks a chapter focused solely on Asia, not to mention other regions of the world, to provide more detailed and systematic comparative insights. Such a chapter might also reduce some of the monotony that comes from repetitive background information about Europe. 

As mentioned, the book stresses the increased complexity and changing understandings of deterrence, which are both strengths and a weaknesses. In some ways, the book rests on the assumption that today’s political climate is more challenging than in previous times, but these kinds of assessments come with the benefit of hindsight. It is potentially shortsighted to claim, as one contributor does, that the changes occurring today are far more profound than those that occurred with the Cold War’s ending (p. 34). Elsewhere, though, the collection’s emphasis on breadth results in the incorporation of many facets of NATO members’ concerns ranging from individual nations’ strategic cultures to trends in popular opinion.

This work also occupies a somewhat uncomfortable position in terms of its target audience. The work is neither a primer on deterrence for those interested in national security nor an argumentative work with ground-breaking insights to offer. Rather, it is a broad, yet nuanced, treatment that touches on and explores multiple aspects of deterrence. As such, this book should be most helpful to policy makers given the work’s wide coverage. But they will have to draw some of their own conclusions regarding the best path forward. In a lengthy and detailed conclusion, for example, the authors offer as one of their “Final Thoughts” that NATO members “cannot afford to shy away from tough policy trade-offs (p. 221).” Despite not having to compromise like NATO members, the contributors themselves resist setting forth a compelling vision for the future of extended deterrence in Europe, instead relying more on offering readers a variety of alternatives and explanation for consideration.  

Dr. Heather Venable
Maxwell AFB, Alabama

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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