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Deterrence and Escalation in Competition with Russia
The current U.S. National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy both emphasize that the United States is locked in competitionwith other powers. This is a competition in which hostile powers seek advantage often through coercive measureswithout escalating to the level of armed conflict.1 Despite the clearly articulated threat of malign activities to U.S. national interests, U.S. guidance is much less clear about how to deter such activities. Historically, the United States has relied on its forward military posturethe combination of U.S. overseas forces, footprint, activities, and agreements used to project military poweras a core pillar of deterrence. The deterrence of armed conflict hasbeen studied intensively for decades, as have the dynamics of escalation along the path to such conflicts. But how relevant is forward military posture in a competition that is waged frequently (if not primarily) through nonmilitary tools? This question has received much less attention.We recently conducted a study within RAND Arroyo Center to provide insight into the dynamics of deterrence in strategic competition, seeking to understand how the United States might use its military posture in Europewith a particular focus on ground forcesas part of a strategy to deter Russian malign activities in the competition space. We had two objectives. First, we sought to illuminate past patterns of deterrence and escalation in strategic competition to understand how demonstrations of U.S. commitment and capability might deter hostilemeasures below the level of armed conflict, just as a previous generation of deterrence theory sought to understand how these factors might deter armed conflict.
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