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Knowledge Base

Deterrence in Foreign Policy: Lessons From World War II

Why should we avoid making empty threats?

The consequences of making empty threats can be dire, because they teach our enemies that they can get away with violence and aggression. They also lower our credibility and cause our allies to lose trust in us, which takes years to cultivate. Thus, in order to maintain credibility and trust, we must always mean what we say.

To learn more, watch “No Empty Threats: Establishing Credibility in Foreign Affairs.”

Why is it important to communicate the consequences of violating threats?

Clear communication is an important part of deterrence. To ensure that our adversaries understand the consequences of their actions, we must communicate what we will and will not accept and how violators will be punished. Ultimately, the adversaries may back down if the consequences raise the cost of war for them.

Why is deterrence useful?

Deterrence doesn’t rely on trust or hope that an adversary is good natured. Instead, it’s based on the expectation that our enemies will see restraint as the rational or only option. Deterrence is about preventing unwanted behavior, not compelling it. If done correctly, you don’t need to use military force at all.