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Can America Still Protect Its Allies?

How to Make Deterrence Work

The deterrers: Polish forces at a NATO exercise in Poland, November 2018 Craig Ruttle / Redux

Since the end of World War II, U.S. strategic thinking has been dominated by the doctrine of deterrence. At its most simple, deterrence refers to one state’s ability to use threats to convince another that the costs of some action—say, invading one of its neighbors—will outweigh the benefits. Such was the logic behind the Cold War concept of mutual assured destruction: if either the United States or the Soviet Union used nuclear weapons, the other would respond with nuclear strikes of its own, resulting in the total devastation of both. By making the costs of war intolerably high, both sides hoped to keep the peace. 

Yet for Washington, deterrence was never merely about protecting the U.S. homeland. As it built the postwar system of alliances that today forms an essential part of the global order, the United States developed a strategy of “extended deterrence.” According

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