Kingston Conference on International Security

KCIS2018 The Return of Deterrence Banner



This year’s theme, The Return of Deterrence: Testing Credibility and Capabilities in a New Era, re-introduced and re-booted concepts and understanding of deterrence, and outlined the challenges that face NATO in particular in attempting to practise deterrence in a threat environment that is very different to that of the Cold War.

Since the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, deterrence has made a comeback for the West in general and NATO in particular. To be sure, deterrence was always central to the transatlantic security architecture during the Cold War. In the post-Cold War era, out-of-area operations and security cooperation with partner nations captured the attention of Western armed forces, with a concomitant decline in the centrality of deterrence as a theoretical and policy concept. With the transformation of great-power politics in the last decade, however, we have seen the re-emergence of deterrence in Western policy as the United States and its allies are increasingly confronted with challenges in relations with both the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.

What are the implications of re-emphasizing deterrence in defence policy? What is the appropriate balance of capabilities and political commitments to restore a credible defence posture while keeping the door open for constructive dialogue with Moscow and Beijing? In Western Europe, NATO’s defence capabilities must be able to both deter adversaries and reassure allies. Canada, along with the United States, Germany and the UK, has become lead nation for one of the four battlegroups in the Baltics and Poland. Yet even with NATO’s enhanced forward presence, it is not yet clear what deterrence will entail: is it a return to the Cold War or is deterrence in a more hybrid conflict environment fundamentally different? What is the respective importance of conventional forces, nuclear weapons and missile defence in upholding deterrence and reassurance?



  • Opening Keynote and Challenge to the Conference, Lieutenant-General Stephen J. Bowes, Canadian Joint Operations Command
  • Deterrence, M. Elaine Bunn, Former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy
  • Logistics of Deterrence, Major General Edward F. Dorman lll, Director of Logistics & Engineering, J-4, United States Central Command
  • Canada's Perspective on the Return of Deterrence, Gordon Venner, Associate Deputy Minister, National Defence

Panel 1: The Foundations of Deterrence

Deterrence has served as the underlying basis for the defense of the West since the development of the atomic bomb and the foundation of NATO in the late 1940s. The foundations established in the early Cold War have influenced force structure decisions, policy positions, and diplomatic behavior between potential antagonists in Europe, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Asia. In the post-Cold War environment, deterrence theory has moved away from the nuclear dimension but extended deterrence is still central, wherein a third party provides security guarantees for a second party against a first party. Extended deterrence is a concept fraught with challenges of credibility but is better than most conceivable alternatives for keeping global conflict at bay. What is deterrence theory? Why is deterrence still relevant today? How is deterrence applied in practice and what are the observable effects? What is the role of extended deterrence? How do the key threads of these concepts carry through to today's international security environment?

  • Amy Woolf, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress [video]
       Strategic Deterrence over the Years: The Evolution of Declaratory Policy 
  • Paul Bernstein, Center for the Study of WMD, National Defense University [video]
       Contemporary Deterrence Challenges 
  • Dr. Jacek Durkalec, Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [video]
       The Foundations of Deterrence 

Panel 2: NATO's Defence and Deterrence Debates

This panel examined the evolution of NATO’s deterrence and defence strategies, with a focus on conventional deterrence and Enhanced Forward Presence. How do these forward-deployed forces support broader deterrence and defence objectives for the Alliance? What is the continued relevance of NATO’s missile defence and nuclear sharing arrangements? What is the appropriate mix of capabilities? What is animating the current deterrence debate?

Panel 3: The Evolving Character of Deterrence

Warfare has changed since the Cold War, introducing new options for aggressors as well as new frontiers to be defended. This panel explored how the current understanding of emerging concepts such as cyber warfare, space warfare, information warfare, and political warfare can change the way we think about deterrence. How do these changes affect deterrence? How do these new concepts in warfare affect NATO and NATO members’ ability to deter aggression?

  • Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University [video]
       Relearning Deterrence for Modern Conditions
  • Dr. Cori E. Dauber, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [video]
       Deterrence in the Online Space
  • Colonel Walter Wood, Acting Director-General Cyberspace, Canadian Armed Forces [video]

The following two panels explored the importance of contextual considerations to effectively deter an adversary. They identified unique contextual considerations to deter China, North Korea, Iran, and Violent Extremists; and examine NATO's interest and potential role in deterring them. The challenge to each panel was to address the following questions:

Panel 4A: Deterrence in Asia

What are the unique challenges and opportunities associated with deterring these threats? Does Asia provide an alternative model for extended deterrence?

  • Dr. David Lai, Asian Security Affairs, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College [video]
       Deterring China? [1.1 MB]
  • Dr. Jae Ku, US-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins SAIS [video]
       Deterring North Korea
  • Dr. C. Christine Fair, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University [video]
       Filling the Deterrence Gap in India: The Need for Sub-conventional Deterrence

Panel 4B: Deterrence in NATO's Southern Flank

What are the unique challenges and opportunities associated with deterring these threats? What should NATO's role be to facilitate that deterrence?

Panel 5: Deterrence Policy and Implications for Military Strategy

What policy implications does the return of deterrence in its many forms, old and new, have for the United States, Canada and their NATO allies in Europe? How should military strategy be shaped in an era when the need to deter adversaries includes nuclear, conventional and cyber threats to national interests? This session drew on the lessons provided by the conference panels to put forward concrete suggestions for the structure and posture of western armed forces in the decade ahead to maximize their deterrent capabilities against a wide range of threats.

  • Prof. Stephen M. Saideman, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University [video]
       Deterrence and Reassurance in the Incredible age of Trump
  • Loren DeJonge Schulman, Center for a New American Security [video]
       Deterrence in Real World Decisions
  • Prof. Hugh White, Australian National University [video]
       Deterring Moscow's and Beijing's challenges to the post-Cold War Order