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The Role of Deterrence in America's European Strategy

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The relevance of nuclear deterrence to U.S. interests has not generally been questioned from the late 1940s to the present time. Given the military capabilities of the Soviet Union and its intention to dominate Europe, the weak position of the United States West European allies in the aftermath of World War II, and the limits Congress would place on the number of U.S. troops stationed in that region, deterrence of Soviet aggression by the threat of nuclear retaliation seemed the best solution to the European security problem. In combination with a diplomatic strategy of collective security and an economic strategy of European reconstruction, the defense strategy of deterrence supported a larger grand strategy of containing Soviet power. Over time, the economic and diplomatic strategies faded in importance. Deterrence became the principal component of containment. The strategy was worth sustaining as long as the Soviets maintained capabilities and persisted in their intent to dominate the European continent. Today, the United States has good reason to believe that Soviet capabilities and intentions in Europe are undergoing radical change. There is a real chance to reverse the circumstances in Europe that required containment and made deterrence so relevant to the pursuit of national interests. If the old problem of European security was the protection of Western Europe from Soviet attack, coercion, or subversion until U.S. allies could stand on their own, deterrence was the essential component of grand strategy. But deterrence cannot achieve containments longer-term objectives -- to promote a mellowing or disintegration of the Soviet Union to promote self-determination in Eastern Europe and negotiate the reunification of Germany and a stable European security regime. These goals need a reemphasis on the diplomatic and economic instruments of policy. The success of containment means that it must be replaced with a new grand strategy.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Nuclear Weapons

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