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Deterring Complex Threats

PI: Erik Gartzke, University of California, San Diego

Year selected for award: 2013

Deterring Complex Threats: The Effects of Asymmetry, Interdependence, and Multi-polarity on International Strategy

Principal Investigator: Erik Gartzke, University of California, San Diego

Co-Investigators: Jon Lindsay, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy; Michael Nacht, University of California, Berkeley

Years of Award: 2013-2019

Managing Service Agency: Office of Naval Research

Project Description: Deterrence as a strategy and doctrine was convincingly and effectively deployed by the United States during the Cold War. Today, however, states face a widening range of destabilizing threats, in particular to space, cyberspace, financial, and other critical infrastructure. The interconnectedness of the contemporary world creates many new opportunities for state or non-state adversaries to seek asymmetric advantages (i.e., low-cost actions which undermine high-cost sources of power) against advanced industrial countries, including the United States. Technological and political complexity generates tremendous uncertainty, undermining in one stroke both the simple logic of the basic deterrence frameworks applied in the previous era and also the credibility of such efforts. “Cross domain deterrence”

(CDD) seeks to counter threats in one arena (such as space or cyber warfare) by relying on different types of capabilities (such as sea power or nuclear weapons, or even non-military tools such as access to markets or normative regimes) where deterrence may be more effective. The increasing complexity of CDD poses both opportunities and challenges that necessitate, and will benefit from, a major evolution in thinking (and practice) about how deterrence operates.

The University of California San Diego’s Center for Peace and Security Studies (cPASS), in collaboration with UC Berkeley, University of Toronto, the Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL), develop analytical clarity concerning the effects of increasing technological and political complexity on the logic of CDD. We combat the complexity of CDD by breaking the concept into three complementary characteristics of the global political system: asymmetry, interdependence, and multipolarity. These interrelated concepts are strongly affected but not uniquely determined by emerging technologies. They build on one another in a modular yet cumulative process which will enable us to systematically explore key questions such as: How does asymmetric access to nuclear weapons, counterspace operations, and cyberspace capabilities shape threats and the use of force? How does political economic and technological interdependence affect strategic calculations and a willingness to fight or compromise? How does the proliferation of diverse types of weapons to a growing number of actors shape the nature of deterrence or alter its scope? Our research aims to advance the social science of national security and inform policy for tackling emerging cross-domain threats.

Select Publications:

Lindsay, Jon R., and Erik Gartzke, eds. Cross-Domain Deterrence: Strategy in an Era of Complexity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
Jon R. Lindsay, Information Technology and Military Power, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs.Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020.

Link to complete set of publications that acknowledge DoD funding: