We can both afford to sit and think about it

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Real deterrence comes from your ability to survive the enemy’s first strike and then strike back, Techniques of Systems Analysis reminds us:

Assume, for example, that you are trying to choose between two forces, one which we will call Force A, and the other Force B. A is such that if you strike first, you will be able to get 90% of the enemy, but if he strikes first, you will be able to get only 20% when you strike back. B is a different kind of force. It gets 40% of the enemy whether you or he strikes first. It is indifferent to how the war starts.

It is clear that if there is a tense situation and he is trying to decide whether or not to launch a surprise attack on you, then Force A will not deter him from launching such an attack. Quite the contrary, it will induce him to do it. He will argue that not only is there a tremendous payoff to him if he gets the first strike but that in fact he had better hurry up and get it. He feels that you must also realize the importance of going first, and if he does not move right away it may be too late. In fact, if the situation is as pictured, you could conceivably feel force to take action yourself.

In other words, the A type of force might be called an “invitational force.” The invitation is so strong that it practically commands you and the enemy to get in your blows early. Force A is a very unstable influence.

Force B, on the contrary, is a stabilizing force. The enemy looks at it and says, “I had better not start a war because if I do he will destroy 40% of me and that will hurt. Also, I get no advantage by moving first, because this thing will perform just as well regardless of who makes the first move. For the same reasons, he is in no hurry either, and we can both afford to sit and think about it.”

Let us now look at a third force, Force C, also on the chart. At first sight it seems to combine the best virtues of Forces A and B. It gets 90% if you go first, and 40% if he goes first. It is clear, however, that Force C is not as good a deterrent, at least in the sense in which we have been using the word, as Force B. Even though it does the same damage as Force B when the enemy strikes first, the enemy is still (relatively speaking) anxious to start the war. If he waits, you may start it and then he will really be badly off.

Therefore, if you are thinking only of deterring the enemy from a direct attack, you would probably prefer Force B to Force C. Furthermore, if you want to improve your offensive capability, it probably behooves you at the same time to improve your defensive ability, as illustrated by Force D. The extra strain on your deterrence is then matched by your extra strength.

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