Negotiation and deterrence: two of the more often used methods for avoiding war. Both have seen success and failure throughout history. Let’s take a look at both negotiation and deterrence and evaluate their pros and cons.
A deterrent is something that prevents someone from doing something. In terms of keeping the peace, deterrence generally means having a bigger stick than the other guy. Hoping that, upon viewing your position of strength and ability to defend yourself, the other guy won’t want to attack.
- Pros. The nuclear bomb kept the peace, on a large scale, for decades. The Cold War was a nuclear stalemate between the United States and the Soviet Union. The threat of nuclear retaliation and mutually assured destruction kept the two superpowers in a nervous relative peace for over thirty years. Military buildups can also make the other guy think twice about attacking.
- Cons. Deterrence makes assumptions about an opponent. It assumes that the other side is well enough informed about your own strengths to want to avoid a fight. It further assumes that the other guy is as interested in keeping the peace as you when, in fact, he may not be and your own strength is irrelevant.
Negotiation is discussing something to come to an agreement. It’s an attempt to resolve a contentious issue through discourse, not armed conflict.
- Pros. When conflict is avoided by (or limited to) words, the various ravages of war like lost lives and economic stresses are also avoided.
- Cons. Like deterrence, negotiation can make assumptions of an opponent. One side may use negotiation simply to delay a war until they can strike. In WWII, Japan and America were engaged in talks right before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Negotiation can also become unending capitulation as one side takes advantage of the other’s desire for peace.
Negotiation and deterrence have historically been used to avoid fighting, but, unfortunately, neither is perfect.