Saber Rattling Works, But Which Way?

We hear repeated assurances that appearing strong and belligerent will get our adversaries to back down and behave. A 1995 USSTRACOM report even argued that we should cultivate a national persona that is “irrational and vindictive” in order to induce fear in our opponents. But the historical evidence indicates that such behavior sometimes has the opposite effect from what was intended. Plus, in hindsight, our perception of “bad behavior” was sometimes far off the mark.

Khrushchev’s threats over Berlin didn’t get us to back down, nor did his putting missiles in Cuba. While it might be argued that our bluster got Khrushchev to back down in both those cases, the Berlin Wall and Kennedy’s trading our Turkish missiles for Khrushchev’s Cuban missiles make that less than an ironclad case.

More recently, a Reuters article argued that sending US soldiers to train Ukrainian troops is likely to have blowback:

As part of its effort to support Ukraine, the U.S. military recently sent 290 troops … to train the Ukrainian National Guard. … while the administration’s decision is understandable, it is likely to result in retaliation by the Kremlin in a variety of ways that are not in America’s best interests. … 

First, Russia will likely become even more brazen in its support for its separatist proxies in Eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region. … Second, we will likely see further nuclear saber rattling by the Russians in the upcoming weeks …

Russia also just took a small, but provocative step against NATO member Norway. Russian Deputy Prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is banned from entering Norway due to international sanctions against him over Ukraine, stopped on the Norwegian island of Svalbard on a trip to the North Pole — an action that infuriated Norway.

It’s time that we stopped assuming that our actions will always have their desired outcomes and started looking at the evidence. If we did, diplomacy would be given a larger role in solving international conflicts, and military solutions would be seen as they should – as a last resort.

Martin Hellman

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About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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2 Responses to Saber Rattling Works, But Which Way?

  1. JCGibbons says:

    If I get my hands on the numbskull who advised “irrational and vindictive” we will be doing a little bonding on interpersonal relations. Joel Gibbons

  2. Jan Goopta says:

    Nuclear dangers, pollution, money, greed, all are tied into a knot together. We can untie this knot only by dealing with all of them together. The ebook “Only Two Ways Left” with sub-title “Continue as at present and perish, or change” chalks out the way.

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