Desert Storm and Deterrence

F-15Es parked during Operation Desert Shield.

In Operation Desert Storm the United States employed for the first time a new class of military systems that gave American forces a revolutionary advance in military capability. Key to this capability is a new generation of military support systems-intelligence sensors, defense suppression systems and precision guidance subsystems-that serve as "force multipliers" by increasing the effectiveness of U.S. weapon systems. An army with such technology has an overwhelming advantage over an army without it, much as an army equipped with tanks would overwhelm an army with horse cavalry.

This new conventional military capability adds a powerful dimension to the ability of the United States to deter war. While it is certainly not as powerful as nuclear weapons, it is a more credible deterrent, particularly in regional conflicts vital to U.S. national interests. It can play a potentially significant role in deterring those regional conflicts that would involve the confrontation of armored forces (as opposed to guerrilla wars). With the increasing proliferation of modern weapons in politically unstable parts of the world, those types of wars might be expected to occur with increasing frequency. The new military capability can also serve as a credible deterrent to a regional power's use of chemical weapons. It should also strengthen the already high level of deterrence of a major war in Europe or Korea. The United States can now be confident that the defeat of a conventional armored assault in those regions could be achieved by conventional military forces, which could enable the United States to limit the role of its nuclear forces to the deterrence of nuclear attack.


That the United States has achieved a revolutionary advance in military capability is suggested by the results of the Gulf War. One overall measure of performance is the relatively low number of coalition losses: tanks destroyed, prisoners captured and, not least, casualties incurred. These losses were so lopsided-roughly a thousand to one-that there is virtually no historical precedent. It is tempting to conclude,

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.