The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New Direction

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In 1938, Britain's policy of appeasement toward the Third Reich was doomed because British leaders greatly misjudged Hitler's basic beliefs and thus also his behavior. Confident expectations - built on hope instead of evidence - were far out of line with reality. U.S. Cold War nuclear deterrence policy was similarly based on the confident but mistaken assumption that Soviet leaders would be reasonable by Washington's standards. They would view nuclear weapons sensibly, as understood in Washington, and behave reasonably when presented with U.S. nuclear threats. The U.S. assumption was that any sane challenger would be deterred from severe provocations because not to do so would be irrational. In The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and A New Direction, Keith B. Payne addresses the question of whether this assumption is adequate for the post-Cold War period. Using historical cases as evidence, and examples such as a U.S.-Chinese crisis over Taiwan, he proposes that U.S. policymakers should move away from the assumption that all our opponents are comfortably predictable by the standards of our own culture. If we are to avoid unexpected and possibly disastrous failures of deterrence, he argues, we should examine closely particular opponents' culture and beliefs in order to better anticipate their likely responses to U.S. deterrence threats.