Nuclear Deterrence and Four Types of Force: Definitive, Coercive, Catalytic, and Expressive

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 6, June 2017

By Captain Robert C. Rubel USN (Ret)

North Korea’s drive to attain a nuclear warfare capability is currently on the front burner in the Pentagon, and is a driver of tensions in East Asia. This has precipitated plenty of dialogue in the national security community, including on the issue of extended deterrence, the policy of the US that threatens nuclear response if an ally is attacked with nuclear weapons. One input from a former colleague at the Naval War College was the final catalyst that got me tapping on the keys. First, he quoted one of his scholars as saying that the real question concerning nuclear weapons “… is whether strategic nuclear forces have any genuine relevance today in the context of deterrence and warfighting, or whether they’re troublesome legacy weapons of a bygone era.” In a subsequent email he said that he was “interested in deterrence stopping all wars, not just nuclear.” It may be that the general umbrella of nuclear deterrence did suppress some wars that might have otherwise taken place during the decades after 1945, but it is almost impossible to know. However, my colleague’s faith in the utility of the manifold uses of deterrence is not that distant from those who advocate tailored deterrence, which is a scaled or graduated deterrence structure that includes the option of preemptive strikes.[1] Tailored deterrence to some extent reflects the logic behind the DoD concept of flexible deterrent options (FDO), which are defined as “…a wide range of interrelated responses that begin with deterrent oriented actions carefully tailored to produce a desired effect.”[2] In my view, such policies would incur considerable risk, as they ascribe, in an a priori manner, effects on an opponent’s political decision making and strategic planning processes in lieu of any specific intelligence (frequently) and certainly without any historical track record, especially in the nuclear arena. In this short article I will discuss a different way to analyze deterrence and gain insight into the thought processes of my colleague.

File photo taken in October 2015 in Pyongyang is of a North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile on display during a military parade. Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images

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Investment implications of President Rohani’s economic opening

Iranian car workers assemble a car at the state-run Iran-Khodro automobile manufacturing plant near Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 29, 2014. Iran began exporting automobiles to Russia for the first time in five years on Sunday, after meeting upgraded emission standards, the country's largest auto manufacturer said. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian car workers assemble a car at the state-run Iran-Khodro automobile manufacturing plant near Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 29, 2014. Iran began exporting automobiles to Russia for the first time in five years on Sunday, after meeting upgraded emission standards, the country’s largest auto manufacturer said. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 2, No. 7, July 2014.

By Reza Yeganehshakib

After the election of Hasan Rohani as the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, there has been hope among Iranians and the international community for change in Iran’s economy and foreign policy.[1] Hasan Rohani, who is known for being relatively moderate particularly in comparison with his conservative predecessor, made several promises during his campaign regarding his government’s efforts to lift foreign sanctions, restore Iran’s relationship with the West, and decrease inflation, for example. The supreme leader’s approval of Rohani’s election can also be interpreted as an indicator of a potentially major shift in Iran’s policies. Considering Iran’s economic and strategic massive capacities, the incorporation of Iran into the global market and the possibility of further security cooperation between the U.S. and Iran will contribute to a more secure Middle East that can be used as a safe pool for investments. As Iran already proved in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, its cooperation with the U.S. could contribute to the security of the volatile Middle East and an increase in foreign investment in the region. Likewise, the Syrian conflict and recent turmoil in Iraq have shown that Iran and the U.S., as well as Israel and other U.S. allies, have one enemy in common, the jihadists and Islamist radicals.[2] It seems that if Rohani can overcome the obstacles to Iran’s entering the global economic system such as sanctions, lack of a sustainable relationship with the West, and unresolved nuclear issue, Iran could become an investment hub in the Middle East, especially in the oil and gas industry.

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South Korean public opinion shifts towards independent nuclear capability

Gallup opinion polls conducted following North Korea’s third nuclear weapons test found that approximately 64% to 66.5% of South Koreans believe South Korea should develop an independent nuclear weapons capability. They want the capability to defend against North Korea if the United States unexpectedly withdraws its security commitment to South Korea (New York Times).

The United States is fully committed to the defense of South Korea, and North Korea is well aware of this fact. For this reason, South Koreans should not be overly concerned with the latest North Korean antics. The United States stands firmly with its ally South Korea.

Nevertheless, South Koreans are understandably uncomfortable having an unpredictable and highly belligerent nuclear-armed neighbor to the North. South Korean nuclearization would be a major blow to nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The nonproliferation regime works because member countries show self-restraint by not developing independent nuclear weapons. Rather, they entrust their defense to a close security partnership with the United States, NATO, and other friendly alliances.

If the strength of the alliance is not apparent to the voting population of a non-nuclear country — in this case South Korea — then it is incumbent upon the stronger member of the alliance to take greater measures to display that commitment. These measures should include improved specification of treaty obligations, greater numbers and quality of forces deployed to South Korea, higher levels of South Korean inclusion and diplomatic collaboration in U.S. foreign policy decision-making, and improved diplomatic relations overall through improved trade relations. Deepening all facets of the relationship between South Korea and the United States will enhance the trust required for South Koreans to place the security of their nation in the hands of the United States.

Not taking proactive measures to improve the trust of South Koreans in the United States risks nuclearization of South Korea, which by example, will exponentially increase the risk of further global WMD proliferation. South Korea is a highly respected member of the international community. South Korean nuclearization will erode the taboo against proliferation, making it seem a respectable option for many small and medium-sized nations. We cannot afford the increased risk of nuclear war that this entails.