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Horns of a Dilemma

Jul 16, 2021

American security policy has made use of tripwire forces for many years.  One of the most prominent examples cited is the case of Berlin: As Thomas Schelling famously described the logic, the small garrison of US soldiers stationed there during the Cold War weren’t militarily capable of defeating the far-larger East German or Soviet forces nearby but, the East Germans or Soviets would be deterred from attacking because any attack would result in the deaths of that small US force, drawing America into a conflict. Our guests today, Professor Dan Reiter of Emery University and Professor Paul Poast of the University of Chicago, argue that Schelling was wrong. Their article, “The Truth About Tripwires: Why Small Force Deployments Do Not Deter Aggression,” in Vol 4, Iss 3 of TNSR, argues that deterrence relies almost exclusively on the military value of force deployment, so small token deployments are unlikely to deter a determined attacker.  They illustrate their argument with two cases from the Korean peninsula, and a counterfactual example from World War I.