The role of robustness in deterrence

Nuclear deterrence was the subject of much academic attention especially in the 80's, but I believe the focus on the nuclear side of deterrence led to a neglect of certain aspects of the deterrence topic.

Imagine these scenarios:

There's a certain multiplier (0...1) between nominal military usefulness under ideal conditions and actual military usefulness under the most adverse conditions. The military power that matters for deterrence is the military usefulness under the most adverse conditions. Only this military usefulness/capability remains for sure in face of a surprise aggression. The aforementioned multiplier depends on the potential aggressor(s), of course.

This idea is in my opinion more alien to contemporary thought about military affairs than most readers will believe me. The West in particular has been on the offence for decades, picking the fight most of the time. This tended to give the West the aggressor's advantage of choosing the time and often even the place of the action. Naturally, Western armed forces chose a setting for the strike that allowed them to come close to their full (quality) potential. The West didn't suffer much from strategic surprise attacks, either.

I have looked at European armed forces for years and found many examples of much military spending on capabilities that would not be available under adverse conditions.
This ranges from drones that wouldn't survive in peer warfare to Polish armed forces barracks in artillery range to Russia and a horrible potential vulnerability of extremely expensive combat and combat support aircraft to surprise attacks on airbases.

We could save a lot on the military without suffering a loss of deterrence or defence capability if we got rid of the non-robust elements of our military power that we cannot depend on anyway. Alternatively, we could save a lot by making those non-dependable, non-robust forces more robust so we can afford to reduce expenses on some other end instead.

Either way, potential savings become apparent once one pays more attention to what would be useful under adverse conditions and what wouldn't be.



  1. I don't know if you have been following discussions over on tank-net, but I have been making the point about the pointlessness of basing our conventional defence on non survivable systems and infrastructure for years now. Where I woukd take it a step further is that vital civilian infrastructure here is essentially impossible to defend. We therefore need a survivable conventional deterrent to dissuade Russia from holding it at risk as a bargaining chip in a possible future crisis.

    1. Keep in mind we live in peace. So evidently what we have is enough deterrent so far.
      My interest is rather on making the deterrent more efficient (cheaper), not better. There's little if any to be gained through military expenditures beyond keeping the peace.

    2. That our deterrent has worked so far is not entirely certain. If the potential enemy was not inclined to invade or take other military action against NATO because peace better serves their objectives at the moment, or he is simply waiting to build capabilities to ensure a quicker, less costly victory whilst hoping for more gaps to appear in our alliance, it would appear outwardly the same to most of the inhabitants of Western Europe. It is not hard to find huge potential savings simply by avoiding incredibly expensive, desperately vulnerable kit and the infrastructure to base it. It seems to me that we could spend a lot less than we do now and yet render Western Europe very uninviting indeed to invade. However, the political will would need to be there to take the necessary measures and political will is often much harder to find than cash.

  2. Absolutly agree here with chris, that the main problem far beyond our military robustness is in truth the robustness of our civilian part of the society. Our western tm societies, and especially germany are extremly vulnerable in this part. And i agree that at the moment that civilian part cannot be defended.

    One way to improve here would be to strengthen the civil defence very much and to create stocks of vital ressources / spare parts etc and to create civilian structures which would work on without electricity. Because the main achilles heel is imo the electricity. Our societies and especially germany are not prepared in any way to exist further only a few weeeks without electricity even in only some parts of the country. An enemy attack on this weakness would therefore lead to an fast collapse of our society perhaps even in days.