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Deterrence theory

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Deterrence is a theory that one can prevent someone from doing something by fear of potential consequences.

USS Growler, one of two submarines designed to provide a nuclear deterrence(The USS Growler, one of two submarines designed to provide a nuclear deterrence using missile cruise with a 500-mile (800 km) range-placed on patrol carrying the Missile Regulus I (shown at Pier 86 in New York, its home as a museum ship).)

Classical theory of deterrence

At the base of the theory of deterrence is the assumption that the frequency of offenses and crimes varies inversely with the certainty and severity of the punishment. It comes from the jurists of the classical school, Montesquieu, Jeremy Bentham, Cesare Beccaria. Penal sanctions produce an intimidating effect. According to criminologist Maurice Cusson, we can add three variables to this theory: knowledge of punishment, criminal communication and justice. Thus, the penal sanction does not only produce an intimidating effect, but also constitutes a message aimed at persuading citizens to respect the law and the fundamental rules of justice.

Military domain

In the field of defense, in the military sense of the term, deterrence is to force peace by making war too expensive for an attacker. Both the idea and the application are old (see the Roman maxim “si vis pacem, para bellum“, or the principle of reprisals), but they have found their ultimate completion with weapons of mass destruction. During the Cold War, we talked about the balance of terror.

The general objectives of a deterrenceare:

  • to prevent a challenge by a hostile power
  • to address the threats that might be posed by regional powers with weapons of mass destruction.

Communication strategy

Deterrence can be seen as a communication strategy that involves self-restraint to coerce the other: “Hold me back by holding you back, otherwise a misfortune will happen and you will bear the responsibility! In view of my present dispositions of which I communicate the characteristics to you, only your moderation or your renunciation is likely to prevent me from acting out.”

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