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Pandemic-Nuclear Nexus Scenarios Project_Extended Deterrence and Extended Nuclear Deterrence in a Pandemic World

  • AUTHORAllan Behm
  • Oct 16, 2020

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Extended Deterrence and Extended Nuclear Deterrence in a Pandemic World

 Allan Behm

‘Extended deterrence’ and ‘extended nuclear deterrence’, as US security guarantees provided to allies, are artefacts of over six decades of US-led policy and planning. No other Nuclear Weapon State offers such guarantees. In the early post-WW2 years, extended deterrence used the overwhelming conventional military power of the US to deter armed aggression (particularly from the USSR) against its allies. The development of atomic weapons by the USSR and China, and the potential threat that such weapons might have posed for allies, expanded the scope of “extended deterrence” to include deterrence of possible nuclear weapon threats.

Deterrence relies on an aggressor’s uncertainty whether the third party providing the deterrent will provide the overwhelming military power to defeat aggression, and whether the cost of defeat will outweigh the benefit of victory. In other words, is deterrence a bluff or a guarantee?

In recent decades, the credibility of extended deterrence, including extended nuclear deterrence, has continued to decline. The fragility of the deterrence doctrine was already evident before the appearance of the coronavirus. But President Trump’s mercurial approach to the coronavirus pandemic and international agreements has encouraged the allies of the US to look at their national security through the lens of his approach to the coronavirus. If the US cannot effectively protect itself against the coronavirus, how can it protect its allies?

Deterrence is a faith-based system. There is no evidence that it works. The logic of deterrence ultimately depends on its failure: the conduct of warfare on a massive scale.


Nuclear weapons, extended deterrence, nuclear umbrella, credibility, trust, leadership, alliances