Rituals of Extended Nuclear Deterrence: NATO-Warsaw Pact (1949-1990)

This case study contextualises and historicises NATO’s re-emerging nuclear deterrence narratives and practices in the Cold War-era patterns. The task of this case study is to explore how a shared belief in the legitimacy of nuclear deterrence was produced in the NATO-USSR/Warsaw Pact interactions during the Cold War by mapping the evolution of nuclear deterrence thinking and the conventionalization of its practice by NATO vis-à-vis its historical antagonist in Eastern Europe. The core objective is to establish how extended deterrence was practically made to matter in the Cold War; how NATO sought to accomplish its credibility towards the Soviet Union and later the Warsaw Pact via staging physically performative acts and ritualising practices (e.g., political statements, allied military exercises; troop and weapons movements), and how the Alliance’s bête noire reciprocated these moves.

The focus will be on contextualising NATO’s current political and military resorting to deterrence in the critical history of allied deterrence during the Cold War when the strategy of extended deterrence was conceptually developed and made strides with the evolution of nuclear weapons. This case study will provide a historical reconstruction of deterrence interaction ritual chains in NATO’s relationship with its original raison d’être.

Questions addressed:

  • What was considered to be the essence of credible deterrence during the Cold War in NATO-Warsaw Pact interactions? How was the cost of particular deterrence signals politically determined in the Cold War context, combining nuclear and conventional deterrence?
  • How were extended deterrence, assurance and reassurance ritualised during the Cold War in NATO? How was extended deterrence ritualised in the relationship between the USSR and the rest of the Warsaw Pact states, in turn?
  • How were arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament ritualised during the Cold War?
  • How has nuclear deterrence made NATO, and what is NATO making of nuclear deterrence in the context of contemporary combined military, cyber, and political/information warfare challenges, drawing on the particular ‘lessons’ accumulated during the Cold War confrontation with the USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries?
  • How did the Soviet leadership assess the allied deterrent during the Cold War? How did Moscow’s perception of NATO’s deterrence and its credibility evolve over time?
  • What is the affective politics related to extended nuclear deterrence? How were the pertinent claims about the boundaries of political communities and the nature of political identities made in practice during the Cold War – and how do they compare to today’s?

Rituals of Extended Conventional Deterrence: NATO-Russia (post-Cold War)

This case study will provide an interactive analysis of NATO and Russia’s deterrence narratives and counter-narratives, ritualised actions and reactions focusing on the context of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Poland and the Baltic states. The study will dissect in detail NATO’s ‘speaking’ and ‘acting’ of deterrence to Russia since 2014 (Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine) and Russia’s responses to NATO’s deterrence messages and moves in its turn through interpretive practice tracing. Particular attention will be paid to delineating the ‘lessons’ either side has drawn from the earlier post-Cold War dynamics of NATO-Russia relations (including the many earlier points of tension, e.g., the 2008 war in Georgia).

The key task is to investigate how the abstraction of allied deterrence is made real and believable in case of NATO’s forward presence in the Alliance’s eastern flank, and assess its effects for the (re)production of the North Atlantic solidary security community. These are issues of high policy relevance in light of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and the intra-Alliance debates on solidary burden-sharing for territorial defence and out-of-area missions, defence spending, general and tailored deterrence options in light of ‘hybrid’ challenges, and NATO’s rotational vs permanent military presence in its north-eastern flank.

Questions addressed:

  • How is NATO’s modern deterrence politically and militarily performed vis-à-vis Russia?
  • What are the political meanings attributed to the Alliance’s Enhanced Forward Presence in NATO’s eastern flank?
  • How has NATO’s posture in its eastern flank evolved post-enlargement? Which historical analogies and lessons have informed the specifics of NATO’s allied posture in Poland and the Baltic states? How has Russia reacted to and reciprocated NATO’s deterrence moves in the region?
  • What have been the prevalent understandings about the credibility of deterrence on NATO’s eastern flank throughout the different phases in the post-Cold War era, particularly since 2014, and the 2022 full-on Russian war on Ukraine? How is Finland and Sweden’s pending membership in the Alliance perceived to contribute to allied deterrence in the Baltic Sea space?
  • How have various conventional deterrence models (e.g., tripwire, forward defence, deterrence by denial, deterrence by punishment; permanent versus rotational presence) been debated and reasoned about in the context of building NATO’s posture in the eastern flank?

Rituals of Cyber and Hybrid Deterrence: USA-Russia (2014-present)

This case study will focus on the evolution of deterrence signalling and practice in the realm of cyber and hybrid engagements in contemporary Russian-US relations. The principal task is to delineate Russian and American conceptual and practical extensions of the logic and strategy of deterrence to the realm of hybrid warfare (including cyber, information and political influence operations, covert and proxy deployments). This entails documentary analysis of Russian and American security strategies, political (official speeches, diplomatic reports) and strategic discourse analysis (articles in military journals by high-profile practitioners, coupled with various thematic think tank reports) with the systematic investigation of the pertinent micro-practices, their interaction and political reasoning; interviews and pertinent site visits with diplomats, defence, cyber security and strategic communication experts. The attention will be on the evolution of the Russian and US cyber and hybrid deterrence concepts and practices and their embeddedness in their respective political and strategic cultures. The analysis will pay close attention to specific discursive and practical manifestations of cyber/hybrid deterrence in relation to respective state identities.

Questions addressed:

  • How are the parameters of credible deterrence envisioned in the realm of cyber and hybrid conflicts by various practitioners and theorists?
  • How is deterrence in the cyber and/or hybrid realms related to other types of deterrence in the US’s and Russia’s respective security policies? What are their respective doctrines, strategies and planning?
  • What is the political logic of extending deterrence to cyberspace and to hybrid threats?
  • What are the United States’ and Russia’s respective strategic visions of desirable interstate cyber conduct, pertinent international order and the related dystopias of international cyber disorder?
  • What is the relationship between the emerging practices of cyber and hybrid deterrence in the US-Russian relations and the evolution of global cyber norms, the ritual rules of statecraft and international interactions ranging from diplomacy to subversion and war?

Rituals of Non-Western Deterrence: USA-China (post-Cold War)

This case study will untangle the ritualisations of deterrence through the analysis of the respective Chinese categories, concepts and practices in interactive performances with the United States of America in the post-Cold War era. The focus will be on the articulations and practices of Chinese weishe (威慑) – a concept referring to ‘deterrence’ in the Chinese use of the term, encompassing both dissuasion and compellence. The interaction ritual chains of the American strategy of ‘hegemonic deterrence’ and the Chinese approach of ‘active defence’ will be explored with a combination of discourse analysis, practice-tracing and auxiliary expert interviews.

As with other case studies, the analytical process entails:

  1. tracing deterrence interaction ritual chains, tracking the supposed material and psychological effects of deterrent moves and signals in line with their reported responses from the targeted actors;
  2. thick description of deterrence interaction ritual chains in military and political-diplomatic contexts;
  3. historicising the strategic narratives, concepts and categories of deterrence;
  4. dissecting the cultural meanings ascribed to particular deterrence practices;
  5. delineating the political rationalities underpinning deterrence strategies and realities.

Questions addressed:

  • How is the capacity of particular political, military and legislative practices to produce deterrent effects politically determined in the US-China interactions?
  • How are mutual assessments of credibility performance made in the practices of deterrence in US-China interactions? How are the respective understandings on the believability of threat and commitment subsequently produced?
  • How are forms of political identity and community generated and consolidated through US-China mutual deterrence practices? 
  • How are Chinese and American mutual deterrence efforts performed and ritualised? 
  • What are the historical, cultural and political rationalities underpinning contemporary strategic narratives, concepts, categories, strategies and practices of mutual deterrence?

Rituals of Memory-Political Deterrence: Memory Laws in Eastern Europe (in the 2000s)

This case study expands the application of deterrence to ontological security, more specifically to mnemonical security. The focus is on the mutually targeted memory laws in Eastern Europe in the 2000s. As instances of legislations that govern the permissible boundaries of remembering the past, including punitive measures to dissuade the denial of historical atrocities and bans prohibiting the use of totalitarian symbols of the past, memory laws can be understood as ritualised collective remembrance practices which pertain to identity, community and solidarity-building. Memory laws seek to provide a suitable autobiographical story of origin and thus legitimate a particular political authority. Self-exculpatory memory laws have in particular emerged as international, not just domestic deterrence devices in the diverse contestations over the legitimate narratives of the 20th-century wars and totalitarianisms.

This case study will focus on the proliferation and mutual entanglement of punitive memory laws in Russia and Ukraine, against the backdrop of their related political contestations of historical narratives in the past decade.

Questions addressed:

  • How do states address their self-defined threats to ontological security by means of dissuasion? 
  • How is deterrence signalled and the credibility of warnings, threats and promises communicated in memory politics?  
  • What types of memory-political deterrence can be identified? 
  • Which repertoires of memory-political dissuasion are prevalent in contemporary Eastern Europe? 
  • How is the costliness of memory-political deterrence signals politically and culturally determined? 
  • How is memory-political deterrence related to other modes of practicing deterrence?