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Deterrence Still Viable Against Terrorists, Official Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2005 – Deterring countries or groups who can or want to attack the United States is still a viable strategy in the 21st century, even as the nature of defense challenges broadens and moves to areas outside U.S. expertise, a top Defense Department official said here today.

Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, delivered opening remarks at the Fletcher Institute for Foreign Policy and Analysis Conference.

The United States historically has dealt with traditional threats, such as nation states that have large armies and engage in combat operations, Henry said. But more threats are becoming irregular, like terrorists and extremists, and even catastrophic, like large-scale terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

"The nature of the defense challenges that we have in a post-(Sept. 11) world are much broader, and they happen to be outside of our comfort zone," Henry said.

Deterrence -- the cornerstone of U.S. Cold War strategy through which the likely consequences of attacking U.S. interests kept potential adversaries at bay -- is a strategy that still can work on these asymmetric threats, as long as the U. S. takes the time to understand its enemy, Henry said.

One key element of deterrence is understanding the values system of the enemies and what they hold dear to determine what to hold at risk to prevent them from carrying out attacks, he explained. The most common strategies within deterrence are benefit denial and cost imposition, he said.

Many people believe that terrorist organizations cannot be affected by deterrence, because they value mission accomplishment above everything, even individual life, Henry said. While deterrence of these groups is more complicated, a breakdown of the organization and what it needs to function will reveal weaknesses where deterrence can be used, he said.

"The key here is understanding an alien culture, an alien way of thinking and an alien value system," he said.

In addition to terrorist networks, two other groups pose threats that DoD faces, Henry said. One is near-peer competitors, large nation states grouped under the traditional threats, that the U.S. already has a lot of experience with, he said. The other is rogue powers, nation states or other groups that have the ability to make a regional difference and cause significant problems, he said.

Coming up with deterrence capabilities to meet this wide spectrum of threats is a challenge for DoD, but one that is being addressed in the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, Henry said.

Another tactic that has not received enough attention in the past and could prove very useful is dissuasion, Henry said. Dissuasion is used before an adversary develops the capabilities or the will to attack the U.S., he explained, and aims to convince adversaries that there is a more effective way to achieve their national or political goals.

"We think that dissuasion and deterrence are a matched set," he said. "There are different forces involved there that we need to think of as we develop capabilities for the future."

DoD has a lot of work to do in developing adequate deterrence and dissuasion capabilities for the new security landscape, Henry said, but both tactics always will be important to U.S. security.

"I think you'll see when the Quadrennial Defense Review does hit the street, that a lot of the strategic thinking pointing in the direction of deterrence and dissuasion continues to be a bedrock capability that we need to have in the DoD and one that we will resource appropriately," he said.

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Ryan Henry


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