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Extended Deterrence in the Middle East: American Strategy Reconsidered

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011


WHEN leaders extend deterrence, they attempt to prevent a military attack against an ally by threatening retaliation should force be used against their protégé. At present, most analysts locate extended deterrence at the intersection of nuclear and conventional force in Europe; the United States relies heavily on this strategy to protect its allies. The extension of deterrence to Europe, however, is only one among several possible applications of the strategy. It has been widely used by the United States, for example, to manage conflict in the Middle East. We propose to examine this wider extension of deterrence.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1977

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1 A major exception is the seminal study of deterrence by George, Alexander and Smoke, Richard, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974)Google Scholar.

2 See Morgan, Patrick, Deterrence: A Conceptual Analysis (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, rev. ed., 1985), 30Google Scholar, for a discussion of the difference between “immediate” deterrence (the attempt to prevent an imminent use of force), and “general” deterrence (the extension of a general protective umbrella to an ally).

3 For a related distinction, see the discussion of deterrence and spiral models as explanations of war in Jervis, Robert, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 58113Google Scholar. Spiral theorists pay attention to leaders' fear of others, while those who emphasize vulnerability consider leaders' domestic weaknesses as well.

4 Ibid. See also Jervis, Robert, “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30 (January 1978), 167214CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Snyder, Jack, “Perceptions of the Security Dilemma in 1914,” in Jervis, Robert, Lebow, Richard Ned, and Stein, Janice Gross, Psychology and Deterrence (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 153–79Google Scholar.

5 In his examination of their decision-making calculus, Bruce Russett highlights the pervasive emphasis on loss by Japanese leaders. See his “Pearl Harbor: Deterrence Theory and Decision Theory,” Journal of Peace Research 4 (2, 1967), 89105CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Jervis, Lebow, and Stein (fn. 4).

7 Lebow, Richard Ned, “Windows of Opportunity: Do States Jump Through Them?” International Security 9 (Summer 1984), 147–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Alexander George has drawn attention to this problem in interpreting the evidence.

9 A recent investigation by Huth and Russett of extended deterrence from 1900 to 1980 looked for correlations between structural factors and success and failure of deterrence; George and Smoke “traced the process” through which leaders made their choices to use force. See Huth, Paul and Russett, Bruce, “What Makes Deterrence Work? Cases from 1900 to 1980,” World Politics 36 (July 1984), 496526CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Alexander George's discussion of “process tracing” in his “Case Studies and Theory Development” paper presented to the Second An- nual Symposium on Information-Processing in Organizations, Carnegie-Mellon University, October 1982.

10 Huth and Russett (fn. 9), 518–19.

11 George and Smoke (fn. 1), 520–22, 532, 562–65.

12 See Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence, Calculation, and Miscalculation: The View from Cairo,” in Jervis, Lebow, and Stein (fn. 4), 34–59, for a similar argument.

13 Schelling, Thomas, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 55Google Scholar.

14 See Jervis, Robert, “Deterrence Theory Revisited,” World Politics 31 (January 1979), 289324CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for a discussion of the importance of intrinsic interest. See also Maxwell, Stephen, “Rationality in Deterrence,” Adelphi Paper 50 (London: Institute of Strategic Studies, 1968)Google Scholar; George, Alexander, Hall, David, and Simons, William, The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971)Google Scholar; and George and Smoke (fn. 1), 560–61.

15 Huth and Russett (fn. 9), 503, 518.

16 George (fn. 9) distinguishes between “congruence” and “process-tracing” as research methodologies within a single case study.

17 We include in the analysis only those cases in which (1) there is evidence that U.S. leaders estimated that a use of force against an ally was under active consideration; (2) the historical record demonstrates that such action was indeed under consideration by a would-be challenger; and (3) either explicitly, or tacitly through the deployment of military force, U.S. policy makers threatened retaliation if the challenger proceeded to use force. The threat may be specific or phrased in general, even vague, language; leaders may prefer commitment or flexibility under different circumstances. See Lockhart, Charles, “Flexibility and Commitment in International Conflicts,” International Studies Quarterly 22 (No. 4, 1978), 545–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Huth and Russett (fn. 9) include only one of these six in their universe of cases of extended deterrence. This difference in the criteria of case selection could well account for some of the discrepancies in findings.

19 Such attacks did occur, of course, in 1967 and again in 1973, but neither of these two cases is relevant here. In October 1973, when Egyptian and Syrian forces struck at Israel, American policy makers were surprised by the attack and, consequently, had no opportunity to attempt deterrence. In 1967, President Johnson focused on trying to prevent Israel, America's ally, from resorting to a preemptive use of force against Egyptian military concentrations in the Sinai peninsula. The President at no time threatened Egypt directly with retaliation if it were to attack.

20 It was not easy for the United States to signal to Egypt the extent of its commitment to Saudi Arabia. President Kennedy had recognized the fledgling Republic of Yemen in 1962 and had also attempted to improve relations with President Nasser of Egypt during the first two years of his administration. The limited evidence that is available on Egyptian decision making suggests, however, that President Nasser understood the American commitment to the defense of the regime in Saudi Arabia, but rejected the attempt to constrain Egyptian military activity along the Saudi Arabian border as long as the Saudis supplied the royalist forces. The memorandum of a conversation in March 1963 between the American ambassador in Cairo and President Nasser is instructive. The Egyptian President insisted that his purpose was solely “to stop or make ineffective Faisal's support of dissident tribesmen,” and reiterated that “the purpose of the campaign was not a prelude to an attack on Saudi Arabia or a campaign to overthrow Faisal's government.” See Heikal, Mohamed, The Cairo Documents (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973), 220–21Google Scholar, for citation of the Memorandum of Conversation. The evidence suggests that President Nasser did not misperceive the American commitment, but challenged its appropriateness when it was extended to Saudi support of the royalist forces.

21 Simultaneously, Ralph Bunche, Under-Secretary at the United Nations, traveled to the region to discuss the stationing of U.N. observers to supervise the mutual disengagement. On April 29, 1963, a joint U.N.-U.S. plan was provisionally accepted by all parties.

22 As Kissinger astutely notes, even that message was mixed. The United States did warn the Soviet Union against advancing the missiles to within 30 kilometers of the Canal, but at the same time acquiesced in the presence of Soviet combat personnel in the interior of Egypt, although it had strenuously tried to prevent their introduction only three months earlier. Kissinger, Henry, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 574Google Scholar.

23 Ibid.

24 Rabin, Yitzhak, The Rabin Memoirs (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 178Google Scholar.

25 Nixon, Richard, RN, Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Grosset & Dunlop, 1978), 482Google Scholar.

26 Text of President Nixon's interview, July 1, 1970, Department of State Bulletin, July 27, 1970, 112–13.

27 Chicago Sun Times, September 17, 1970, cited in Quandt, William, Decade of Decisions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), 114Google Scholar.

28 Members of the Washington Special Action Group (WSAG), the interagency mechanism for crisis management, considered military action in Jordan problematic because the United States had lost most of its staging areas in the Middle East. Moreover, the United States had only four brigades capable of reaching Jordan quickly, and such an operation would commit its entire strategic reserve. Kissinger (fn. 22), 605, 608, 614.

29 The epilogue to the crisis is beyond the scope of this study, as American strategy shifted from extended deterrence to “compellence.” In a sharply worded note, the United States demanded that the Soviet Union impress on Syria the urgency of the withdrawal of its forces from Jordan; more to the point, Washington began to coordinate its military response with Israel. The following day, Israel began to maneuver its forces ostentatiously on Syria's flank as American naval forces were augmented in the Mediterranean. On September 22, an emboldened King Hussein engaged and defeated Syrian tank forces; the commander of the Syrian air force, Hafez al-Assad, refused to provide air support to the Syrian ground forces; and Damascus began to pull its troops back across its border.

30 Johnson, Lyndon, Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963–1969 (New York: Pergamon Press, 1971), 301–2Google Scholar.

31 The credibility of the Soviet threat to intervene is a matter of some controversy. Secretary of State Dean Rusk recalled that the expectation was that the Soviet Union was indeed on the verge of using its airborne troops. Paradoxically, however, Rusk made clear that American policy makers never considered using the Sixth Fleet to interdict a Soviet landing, but only as a “limiting show of force.” See the interview of Rusk, Dean by Wells, Anthony, March 1977, in Dismukes, Bradford and McConnell, James, eds., Soviet Naval Diplomacy (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971)Google Scholar. Most analysts of Soviet policy doubt that the Soviet Union had the military capability to organize and project force into Syria before Israel's army completed its advance.

32 Kissinger, Henry, Years of Upheaval (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982), 583Google Scholar.

33 Ibid., 587. Kissinger's evidence is not wholly reliable since he wished to underline the gravity of the Soviet threat. However, William Quandt, in his analysis of the intelligence data, essentially confirms Kissinger's interpretation:

There could be no question that the situation was dangerous. No one knew what the Soviet Union intended to do, but Brezhnev's note conveyed unmistakably his determination not to let Israel destroy the Egyptian Third Army Corps. … But did the Soviets have the capability to intervene, whatever their intentions? The answer seemed definitely to be yes. Quandt (fn. 27), 196.

Analysts of Soviet politics also tend to take the Soviet threat in 1973 more seriously than they do Kosygin's threat in 1967. In 1973, the Soviet Union had a far more substantial capability to project force than in 1967. The alert of airborne troops and the concentration of transport aircraft also lent credibility to their threat. See S. Neil MacFarlane, “The USSR and Conflict Management in the Middle East,” in Gabriel Ben Dor and David Dewitt, eds., Sources and Management of International Conflict: The Middle East (Lexington: Heath Books, forthcoming)

34 Richard Nixon (fn. 25), 938.

35 Kissinger (fn. 32), 591.

36 For a description of the intense American pressure, see Dayan, Moshe, Story of My Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1976), 444, 448Google Scholar.

37 The text of the note was published in the Washington Post, February 4, 1970, and in Arab Report and Record, March 1–15, 1970, p. 167. See also Kissinger (fn. 22), 560, and Quandt (fn. 27), 96.

38 Kissinger (fn. 22), 563.

39 The evidence on this point is indirect: on March 10, Ambassador Dobrynin met with Kissinger to suggest that if Israel ceased its bombing, Egypt “on its part will display restraint in its actions, without, of course, any official statement to that effect.” Kissinger (fn. 22), 568. This offer suggests that up to that moment the Soviet Union had not received any assurances.

40 Israel's ambassador in Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, informed Kissinger that Israel would agree to a cease-fire if the replacement figure of its aircraft were doubled and if President Nixon announced publicly his commitment to maintain Israel's air strength and the military balance in the Middle East.

41 George, Alexander L., “Problems of Crisis Management and Crisis Avoidance in U.S.Soviet Relations,” presented to the Nobel Institute Symposium on War and Peace Research, June 1985, mimeoGoogle Scholar; and George, , “Political Crises,” in Nye, Joseph S. Jr., ed., The Maying of America's Soviet Policy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 134–55Google Scholar.

42 For an analysis of management by regional allies of their superpower patrons, see Stein, Janice Gross, “Managing the Managers: Crisis Prevention in the Middle East,” in Winham, Gilbert, ed., New Issues in Crisis Management (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, forthcoming 1987)Google Scholar.

43 The United States pursued a complex mix of objectives simultaneously. It tried to deter attacks by several local militias and Syrian forces against the Lebanese government of Amin Jumayyil as well as against its own forces stationed in the Beirut area. American Marines had been deployed originally not to deter, but rather to act as “peacekeepers” among local warring combatants. In this case, deterrence was extended incrementally amid a civil war on behalf of a narrow, sectarian government; moreover, the targets of the strategy were numerous, small, and difficult to identify. Despite these inauspicious conditions, President Reagan defined the issue at stake in Lebanon as the credibility of America's deterrent reputation. He insisted that the maintenance of the Marines in Lebanon was “central to our credibility on a global scale.” He added: “If others feel confident that they can intimidate us and our allies in Lebanon, they will be more bold elsewhere. …” New York Times, October 25, 1983.

44 In 1960, the balance-of-payments deficit was 34.7 million dollars; by 1963 it had risen to 171.6 million dollars. By 1964, many factories operated below full capacity because of the scarcity of foreign exchange. See Dawisha, Adeed, “Perceptions, Decisions, and Consequences in Foreign Policy: The Egyptian Intervention in the Yemen,” Political Studies 25 (June 1977), 201–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 It is logically possible that President Nasser saw the coup in Yemen as an “opportunity” to strike at Saudi Arabia. However, the convergent evidence of domestic strain and international disappointment at the time was so strong that an interpretation of “vulnerability” is more persuasive.

46 Heikal, Mohamed, The Road to Ramadan (London: William Collins, 1975), 87Google Scholar.

47 An important caveat is in order here: our evidence speaks only to the impact of capabilities when deterrence was “immediate” rather than “general.” The role of capabilities may be quite different when a protective umbrella is extended over time in an environment of general hostility.

48 In 1962, Egyptian leaders misread the local military balance in Yemen. In the early sixties, the armed forces of Egypt were more numerous and better equipped than those of any other Arab country. Indeed, Egyptian defense expenditure was larger than the total expenditure of Iraq, Syria, and Jordan combined: $314 million compared to their $251 million, respectively. See United Nations Statistical Yearbook, 1963, 565–625. This advantage in the regional theater did not translate directly into local military advantage, however, because of the fierce loyalty of northern tribesmen to the deposed Imam of Yemen and because of the primitive state of the republican forces at the outset of the civil war. The early commitment of Egyptian forces was not sufficient to enable the fledgling republican forces to defeat the royalists; consequently, the interdiction of Saudi military supplies, despite its risks, became an increasingly attractive option to Nasser. In May 1967, Field Marshall Amer assured President Nasser that Egypt would lose only 10% of its air force if Israel struck first, and that Egyptian quantitative superiority in armor and artillery would prevail. See el-Sadat, Anwar, In Search of Identity (New York: Random House, 1977), 172, 174Google Scholar.

49 This conclusion contradicts that of Huth and Russett (fn. 9) in their analysis of extended deterrence. The differences can be explained in part by the difference in the selection of cases but, more importantly, by their omission of the factor of vulnerability from the analysis.

50 Contrary to theoretical expectations, Soviet compellence appeared to succeed in 1967 when both the strategic and the local military balance were unfavorable. Again, any judgment about the success of Soviet compellence must be tentative, pending conclusive evidence about decision making in the United States and Israel. One can argue, for example, that the Soviet Union did not compel the United States to constrain Israel because the United States wished to do so anyway. Indeed, some commentators in Israel have asserted that Kissinger deliberately exaggerated the danger of Soviet intervention in 1973 in order to restrain Israel more effectively. Nevertheless, the record shows, both in 1967 and in 1973, that the United States acted forcefully to restrain Israel's armies, which were still on the move, only after the Soviet Union issued its threats. If the Soviet Union succeeded, it did so from a position of conventional military inferiority in 1973 and of conventional and strategic inferiority in 1967. Its ability to do so was a function not of the conventional balance between the regional powers or the strategic balance between the superpowers, but rather of its clear and obvious interest in the security of its ally—an interest easily read by the United States. In short, if compellence worked, it did so not because of strategic or local superiority, but because of acknowledged strategic interest.

51 There is some controversy about the classification of American deterrence strategy during the war of attrition in May 1970. Even a single threat, which warned that the United States “could not remain indifferent,” could be considered sufficiently stern to constitute strong execution. We classify it as generally weak, however, because the United States did little to convey a message of military consequences. It did not threaten, for example, to supply Israel with the advanced fighter aircraft and the electronic equipment it was then requesting.

52 Our data are good enough, in most cases, to determine that challengers perceived American purposes accurately—there is little evidence of misperception here—but not good enough to ascertain whether they considered American threats credible.

53 Interview with a senior member of the National Security Council, May 15, 1985. The “defeat” reflected not only a poorly executed strategy with poorly defined purposes, but an inappropriate extension of deterrence with little attention to the political context.

54 Lebow, Richard Ned and Stein, Janice Gross, “Beyond Deterrence,” Journal of Social Issues 42 (Winter 1987), forthcomingGoogle Scholar.

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