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Jul 28

The Great American Gamble: Deterrence Theory and Practice from the Cold War to the Twenty-First Century

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium

The Great American Gamble examines the past, present and prospective future of U.S. deterrence theory, strategic forces, nuclear weapons and policy.  Based on an extensive review of previously classified documents, it demonstrates how and why U.S. Government policies came to adhere to the guidelines established by the theory of deterrence popularly called the "balance of terror."  Dr. Payne presents the assumptions, judgments and hopes that led U.S. policy makers in consecutive Republican and Democratic administrations to that choice.  While acceptance of a balance of terror as official policy was challenged on occasion during the Cold War, it persisted as the lodestar for U.S. strategic policies.  Most Americans presumed they were defended, but U.S. Government choices were predicated on the belief, as noted by Henry Kissinger, "that vulnerability contributed to peace, and invulnerability contributed to war."

Looking forward, the key question is, to what extent do the basic tenets of Cold War academic deterrence theory provide useful guidance to contemporary strategic policy given contemporary threats and conditions?  Dr. Payne argues that familiar Cold War guidelines are a manifestly imprudent basis for U.S. policy.  Much of what we believed we knew about deterrence during the Cold War now appears to have been more fleeting hope than wisdom.

More About the Speakers

Dr. Keith B. Payne
President,
National Institute for Public Policy,
and Head of the Graduate Department of Defense and Strategic Studies,
Missouri State University (Washington, D.C. area campus)