New report: Reimagining Deterrence, Towards Strategic (Dis)Suasion Design

March 10th 2020 - 11:00

New report out now! To read, click here.

Given the increasingly tense posturing of world powers like the U.S., Russia, and China, as well as political volatility across the globe, deterrence has once again become a popular feature of many governments’ strategies. However, the old framework of deterrence that was developed during the Cold War has become outdated in an age of more and more complex international relations. Therefore, new approaches are needed for effective security policies.

To that end, this report argues that rather than framing the strategy of negative influence as deterrence, it is more useful to reconceptualize it as dissuasion, which offers a much more sophisticated perspective from which to consider new tactics. Thus, after surveying historical and current understandings of deterrence, this report offers a new framework of deterrence strategies, better described as compliance-seeking efforts, that includes both dissuasive and persuasive methods.

The report’s main finding is that while deterrence is a popular topic among security experts, their approach to it is growing increasingly obsolete. The traditional deterrent of the nuclear age, fear, is no longer the most effective way to influence behavior. The use of fear and punishment or even just discouragement is not the only way. Thinking through what can be done to dissuade other actors from pursuing undesired courses of action through positive incentives may deserve more attention that it currently receives.

Above all, what is needed is a new dialogue among the security community that focuses on reconceptualizing deterrence for the current global situation, a dialogue that must include input from many avenues such as psychologists, educators, and criminologists to offer varied insights for a more creative, flexible, and better designed approach that produces optimal strategic results in today’s fraught geopolitical climate.

Download the report here.


The research for and production of this report has been conducted within the PROGRESS research framework agreement. Responsibility for the contents and for the opinions expressed, rests solely with the authors and does not constitute, nor should it be construed as, an endorsement by the Netherlands Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the feedback and inputs from Dr. Paul Davis from the RAND Corporation and from Dr. Ben Taylor from Defence Research and Development Canada. They also thank Frank Bekkers from HCSS for his final editing touches.

Stephan De Spiegeleire is Principal Scientist at HCSS. He has Master’s degrees from the Graduate Institute in Geneva and Columbia University in New York, as well as a C.Phil. degree in Political Science from UCLA. He worked for the RAND Corporation for nearly ten years, interrupted by stints at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and the WEU’s Institute for Security Studies. Mr. De Spiegeleire started out as a Soviet specialist, but has since branched out into several fields of international security and defense policy. His current work at HCSS focuses on strategic defense management, security resilience, network-centrism, capabilities-based planning, and the transformation of defense planning.
Dr. Khrystyna Holynska is an Associate Professor at the Kyiv School of Economics (Department of Public Administration).
Yar Batoh is a Associate Research Fellow at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies since 2019. He has a BA in international relations (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv) and certificate in political science (Granada University). From 2017-2019 he was an analyst at VoxUkraine. Batoh focuses on international security, conflict resolution, Ukrainian and Russian foreign policy.
Dr. Tim Sweijs is the Director of Research at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. He is the initiator, creator and author of numerous studies, methodologies, and tools for horizon scanning, early warning, conflict analysis, national security risk assessment, and strategy and capability development. Tim has lectured at universities and military academies around the world. His main research interest concerns the changing character of contemporary conflict. Tim is a Senior Research Fellow at the Netherlands Defence Academy and an Affiliate at the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.