Deterrence and Terrorism: Can Global Terrorism be deterred?

Essay, 2004

9 Pages, Grade: 2+ (B+)

Abstract or Introduction

For more than four decades during the Cold War, deterrence has been a key element of US defence policy and it can even be argued that the strategy of nuclear deterrence thwarted a major military confrontation between the Soviet Union and the USA. With the end of superpower tensions and the end of the Cold War itself, the deterrence system became obsolete. However, the terrorist attacks of September 11 brought deterrence back on the political agenda. In its National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction the USA calls for “new methods of deterrence” in order to meet the threats of global terrorism.
The question arises whether deterrence, which seems to have worked in a traditional setting, where one state deters military action of another state, can work in a non-traditional confrontation between a state and an abstract opponent like terrorism? In order to establish whether deterrence can work against terrorism, this essay will firstly look at the theory of deterrence. What are the criteria that must be fulfilled for deterrence to be successful and why does it not work in all situations?
Secondly, this essay identifies the main characteristics of the terrorist threat and establishes what the difficulties of deterrence in this specific asymmetric confrontation might be. The main difficulty seems to be the problem to execute appropriate action should deterrence fail, since the target is often unclear and the perpetrator of the terrorist action most likely dead. Special attention is given to the moral dilemma that derives from suggestions to execute retaliation actions against the families of suicide bombers in order to deter others from becoming suicide bombers as suggested by Steinberg. He argues that terrorism can indeed be deterred, if the concept was applied correctly, that is against terrorist leaders, who are “not so quick to give up their own lives” .
Finally, this essay will conclude that although it might be possible to deter individual terrorist actions , terrorism itself cannot be deterred by military means. And if the aim is indeed to eradicate terrorism completely, like the rhetoric used in the war on terrorism seems to suggest, deterrence is certainly not the most effective strategy.


Deterrence and Terrorism: Can Global Terrorism be deterred?
University of Kent  (Brussels School of International Studies)
2+ (B+)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
493 KB
The strategy of deterrence is as old as conflict itself. During the cold war, the concept of US nuclear strategy was further developed and is now once again being discussed in connection with global terrorism. This essay argues that deterrence is not a suitable way to hinder terrorism and in various developments is actually in violation of international law.
Deterrence, Terrorism, Global, Terrorism, Detered
Quote paper
Patrick Wagner (Author), 2004, Deterrence and Terrorism: Can Global Terrorism be deterred?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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