In This Review

By Lawrence Freedman
Polity Press, 2004, 160 pp.

Lawrence Freedman's prolific career has produced major works on many important national security issues, especially nuclear strategy. He remains one of the rare leading academics whose work is intelligible to normal people. In a snappy commentary that builds on his store of wisdom, Deterrence surveys and updates the status of the most fundamental strategic concept of the past half-century, the be all and end all of strategy in a Cold War world of bipolarity and mutual vulnerability and also a buzzword used to rationalize any and all security policies.

In today's unipolar world, where the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has been trashed and threats of highest priority seem to come from fanatics who cannot be restrained by fear, the concept of deterrence has fallen from grace. The Bush administration has replaced it with preventive war as prime guidance for strategy. Drawing on fields of knowledge apart from nuclear strategy (criminology, for example), Freedman considers the evolution of thinking about deterrence, the limitations of the idea as a basis for policy, and its continuing relevance in the post-Cold War world. As usual, he provides a wealth of sensible observations. He departs from the traditional focus of deterrence on strategic means, however, when he argues that "what we need to think about is not so much how to make deterrence work, but about what sorts of behavior we now wish to proscribe" and that the main objective now "has to be to encourage the development of an international order in which there are formidable restraints on the use of force." This hints at one question on which Freedman does not concentrate but which has become urgent for much of the world: What can deter the United States?