Category Archives: Deterrence

Sheldon speaks on Cyber, Deterrence

I shall be taking part in two events this week in Washington, DC – both hosted by the Marshall Institute.

The first event, “Examining the Role of Government in Private Sector Cyber Security,” shall be moderated by yours truly and will feature contributions from Dr. Lani Kass, just recently retired as senior adviser on cyberspace issues to Admiral Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Mr. Daniel Gallington, former DASD; and noted cyber security expert Dmitri Alperovitch. The event takes place on Tuesday, 15 November, 3pm-5pm at the Capitol Hill Club, 300 First Street, SE, Washington, DC, 20003.


The second event, “Returning to Fundamentals: Deterrence and U.S. National Security in the 21st Century,” is a roundtable featuring Dr. Bob Butterworth, Peter Marquez, Eric Sterner, and myself, where we shall all be talking about our respective chapters in the Marshall Institute publication Returning to Fundamentals: Deterrence and U.S. National Security in the 21st Century, published in August 2011. This event takes place on Wednesday, 16 November, 8am-11am, again at the Capitol Hill Club.

See you there!

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Filed under Conventional Deterrence, Cyberpower, Cyberspace, Cyberwar, Deterrence, Events, George C. Marshall Institute, Publications, Shameless Self-Promotion, Speaking Engagements

Sheldon on Deterrence: Returning to Fundamentals: Deterrence and U.S. National Security in the 21st Century

I have contributed an essay, “A Fatal Disconnect: Conventional Deterrence in a Nuclear-Armed World,” to an excellent edited volume produced by the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington, DC, titled Returning to Fundamentals: Deterrence and U.S. National Security in the 21st Century.

Along with my modest contribution, there are outstanding essays by Bob Butterworth, “Nuclear Force Planning: Odin or Onan?”; Peter Marquez, “Space Deterrence: The Prêt-á-Porter Suit for the Naked Emperor;” and Eric Sterner, “Deterrence in Cyberspace: Yes, No, Maybe?”

We hope that they all contribute something useful to understanding the vitally important concept of deterrence.

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Filed under Conventional Deterrence, Cyberpower, Cyberspace, Cyberwar, Deterrence, George C. Marshall Institute, Nuclear Weapons, Shameless Self-Promotion, Spacepower, Strategic Theory, Strategy

Sheldon at Munk Center’s ‘Securing the Cyber Commons: A Global Dialogue’ at University of Toronto, 27-28 March

Shout it from the rooftops
I shall be attending – and moderating the 'War and Control: Deterrence and Arms Control in Cyberspace' panel – the Munk Center's 'Securing the Cyber Commons: A Global Dialogue' to be held at the University of Toronto on 27-28 March.

I shall be moderating Herb Lin of the National Science Foundation, Dave McMahon of Bell Canada, Lt. Gen. Andrew Brooke Leslie, Chief of Transformation of the Canadian Armed Forces, Ted Tzavellas of S4 Incorporated, and Col. Ilmar Tamm, Director of the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia.

Should be an interesting panel!

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Filed under Arms Control, Cyberpower, Cyberspace, Cyberwar, Deterrence, Events, Shameless Self-Promotion, Speaking Engagements, Theory of Cyberpower, Web/Tech

The Futile Quest for Strategic Certainty


All too often the so-called 'debates' over the utility of nuclear weapons and missile defenses consist of one certainty talking past another.

On one side are those who have yet to see a missile defense system or a nuclear warhead modernization program they don't like and for which they would pay any money. Their unshakeable belief is that a robust nuclear posture combined with missile defenses will absolutely protect the United States. Diplomacy is at best a necessary evil, at worst a pathetic sign of unforgivable weakness.

On the other side are those whose faith in arms control cannot be shaken regardless of evidence of bad faith by other powers and a pisspoor historical record. No arms control proposal is too compromising, and there is no diplomatic option but arms control. The military option can never be countenanced, and what options exist are so deeply flawed because they cannot guarantee 100 per-cent security, so should not even be deployed at all.

As Seth and Amy say on Saturday Night Live: Really!?!

I'm slightly reassured by the fact that the perpetrators of these 'either-or' worldviews are far removed from policy circles where nuance and uncertainty are prominent in the minds of officials regardless of administration.

And that's the point. From the political right or left I trust no one who claims to have the answer to the issue of nuclear weapons, missile defenses and diplomacy, and who trashes all alternatives in order to promote his or her favored approach. I am deeply skeptical of arms control and disarmament, not because I don't want peace but because, based on the historical record, I do not believe either is useful or feasible in statecraft. I do, however, believe in the power of diplomacy when its agenda is to resolve the political animus at the heart of differences between states that is the cause of arms competition, not tinker at the edges with doomed technical agreements to fundamentally political problems. This requires statesmanship – which is, tragically, either something of a rarity today or is impossible to perform in an age of Wikileaks, intense media scrutiny and a culture of instant gratification where patience doesn't even exist, never mind a virtue.

By the same token, I do not for one minute believe that a missile defense system will be perfect – indeed, far from it – or that a nuclear arsenal, no matter how modern and robust, will inherently deter a determined enemy. I do believe, however, in a backstop that will sow doubt in adversary military plans, and even an imperfect missile defense is as good as anything else in achieving that. I do believe that if our politicians behave like grown-ups and treat our nuclear arsenal like the political weapon it is then, combined with a balanced conventional military force, deterrence will be given a chance to succeed. 

Missile defense will not stop nuclear terrorism because it's not designed to do so. This should be an obvious point, but is an argument that rears it silly head now and then. Indeed, it is just as silly – and therefore as pointless – to claim that efforts to counter nuclear terrorism cannot stop a ballistic missile attack, and so are a waste of time an effort. Speaking for myself, I'll have as much missile defense I can afford to help counter the ballistic missile threat and as much counter-nuclear terrorism capability I can afford in order to try to prevent the unconventional delivery of nukes.

Ultimately, counter-terrorism methods, diligent intelligence work and international cooperation might prevent the surreptitious delivery of nuclear weapons, just as missile defense might defend against a ballistic missile attack; or a robust nuclear posture combined with a determined political will might deter an attack; or committed, good-faith diplomacy might lead to a political settlement.

Nothing is certain. Skepticism of every means at our disposal is the only sane approach. There is no one answer or solution. All options are on the table. I suggest we use them all in the humble knowledge that uncertainty lurks at every corner. And it should be of little consolation that that very same uncertainty stalks everyone else.

I am confident (though not certain) that Thucydides and Clausewitz, if they were alive today, would probably unhappily concur.

Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite.


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Filed under Arms Control, Deterrence, Strategy

Sheldon speaks on cyber and deterrence


I am talking on cyber and deterrence this coming Thursday in London. The latest agenda is here and I shall post my remarks on the day. Sneak preview, I am far from optimistic about the prospects of deterring cyber threats.

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Filed under Cyberspace, Deterrence