296 - Deterrence: a virtual strategy of a real efficiency

N. Lygeros

From a strictly argumentative point of view, deterrence is a rhetorical form based on dialectical elements. It works in virtual to get real repercussions. In that way, it is a mental model as we defined this expression in a previous article. By its very conception, it naturally works in a psychological register. Its target is essentially negative, aiming at the action neutralization of the opponent before its beginning. And the entire problem is there. How deterring, persuading the opponent about the pointlessness, even the nuisance of an action before its accomplishment? Only the failure of deterrence is in line with reality, its nature belongs to virtual. From a traditional meaning, deterrence is long-standing being already present in the expression Si vis pacem, para bellum, but it only got its real dimension with the nuclear age. The nuclear weapon, being naturally a weapon of mass destruction, can’t be used in a classical way in a conflict, at least in its traditional version. Indeed, it is not impossible that it is used as an assault weapon on a local level. And the context of deterrence is the most adequate for this kind of weapon. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t require its direct utilizing (impact) but first and foremost its existence (ubiquity). Thus, via the nuclear weapon, deterrence has become a global strategic mode. Nuclear deterrence, now an archetype, includes technical, psychological and cultural elements. It is the spearhead of a military conception being organized around it. Despite its importance, it is not unique in its modes and rigid as a concept. Its polymorphy has been stated by the states according to their targets and the environment. Thus, the United-States single out two essential forms of deterrence: deterrence by punishment relying on the threat of reprisals, deterrence by denial increasing the level of forces in order to deter the opponent to get involved in a strategy of means. In France, Gallois and Poirier, against Aron’s ideas thought about the proportional deterrence known as the weak one facing the strong one. This doctrine is worthy if the damages inflicted on the enemy exceed the value of the stakes. In that case, the action of a potentially stronger opponent can be neutralized. So, it is a view, not based on the quantity of weapons but on the quality of the targets aimed at by reprisals. Thus, it needs some capability known as second strike i.e. some resources uncontrollable by a preventive force. One of its concrete demonstrations is the American conception MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) used with a famous success against the ex -Soviet Union. The group of Mc Namara has also presented the flexible response concept that can apply the defence of a state to the one of the Allies via its flexible response. From a cognitive point of view, these different forms are the same as the ones of the chess game concentrating essential points of strategy. Deterrence is equivalent to nullity. Thus, pat is like proportional deterrence, the repetition of moves like the MAD conception and the nil proposition like deterrence strategy itself. So, the previous moves represent in their own way the technical resources in place to neutralize the attack of the opponent and above all to prove its pointlessness. Resources are visible, not strategy. As for deterrence, a basic element for its efficiency remains the information given to the opponent concerning resources. Because its reality leading to reasoning with meta-information unable to be carried out or leading not only to statu quo but sometimes to an unfavourable end, is a virtual element neutralizing the real. Deterrence proves that the control of virtual realities within a mental theory is an effective way to face reality.