Transregional Perspectives on Extended Deterrence

On February 26-27, the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) hosted a workshop on meeting the new challenges of extended deterrence, particularly the “compete, deter, win” strategy in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. As a member of the Pacific Forum’s Young Leaders Program, I was invited to participate in this critical dialogue which brought together over sixty participants from the U.S. and allied countries.


Nuclear Deterrence & Extended Nuclear Deterrence

Nuclear deterrence in its simplest form is the ability of a country to convince a potential adversary that the risk of taking nuclear action against that country would be greater than any resulting benefit due to that country’s ability to retaliate. This threat of reprisal is key to not only deterrence, but also extended deterrence – which “extends” the same risk of reprisal if that adversary were to take action against protected allies of another country. To make the threat credible, and to ensure U.S. allies feel assured in the ability of the U.S. to deter threats, the U.S. maintains a high level of instant destructive capability through military forces, particularly nuclear forces, against any aggression.

Nuclear deterrence has been a central element of American security policy since the Cold War. Deterrence is still a central element as seen through the “Compete, Deter, Win” strategy laid out in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The workshop discussions highlighted the need for the U.S. and its allies to tailor deterrence strategies for each potential adversary. This is because each adversary’s capabilities differ and there are differing extended deterrence challenges across regions.  Some workshop participants discussed how U.S. alliances are shakier than they have been in the past – and that adversaries are attempting to take advantage of this. With a focus on Russia, China, and North Korea, the workshop participants highlighted some emerging military tactics and capabilities and how the U.S. and U.S. allies are working to counter these threats.

LLNL Extended Deterrence Workshop

Gray Zone Challenges

The workshop participants addressed gray zone challenges and looked at how the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the U.S. bilateral alliances in the Asia-Pacific have dealt with these efforts. Gray zone conflicts are not conventional conflicts or formal wars, but rather use of non-military means to achieve a state’s objectives. In literature, the gray zone is often described as the “space between war and peace.” The group discussed how gray zone tactics are on the rise from countries seeking to challenge the U.S. and U.S. allies. The discussions focused particularly on China and Russia’s use of tactics such as information and cyber warfare. Some participates shared details of efforts by NATO allies to strengthen their capabilities to deal with aspects of Russia’s aggression, but more needs to be done. Some in the workshop agreed that the gray zone challenges show that the U.S. did deter, since the adversary is finding a new way to fight since they will not do what the U.S. is deterring.

Limited Nuclear Attacks

The workshop participants also addressed deterring and responding to limited nuclear attacks – which is the small-scale use of nuclear weapons. The workshop participants highlighted the increasing recognition of the consequences of limited nuclear war, including increased bipartisan recognition. They emphasized the deterrence strategy in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review stating that any North Korean nuclear attack against the United States or its allies would result in the end of that regime. The participants also stressed the importance of getting software (consultations, planning, exercises, etc.) and hardware (capabilities) right. On software, the discussion focused on nuclear planning – thinking about what a nuclear operation would look like, political-military consultations, and U.S. and allied nuclear exercises. On hardware, the discussions focused on improving conventional capabilities to deter and developing other conventional capabilities.

Pacific Forum Young Leader Participants (Jordan Hibbs, Sooyeon Kang, Stephanie Damann, & Jinwon Lee)

Much of the discussion at the workshop centered around the concept of “out-thinking, out-partnering, and out-innovating” potential adversaries. As a young leader in the Pacific Forum, the workshop particularly highlighted to me the importance of U.S. alliances and the need for tailored approaches for different regional challenges. I appreciate the support of the Pacific Forum and CGSR for coordinating the Young Leaders participation in this important workshop. To read the official workshop report, click here.



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