• Stefan Brooks Joint Forces Staff College, National Defense University, Norfolk
  • Lasha Tchantouridzé Director of the graduate programs in international affairs, Norwich University – the Military College of Vermont, Northfield
Keywords: Deterrence, war in Ukraine, nuclear weapons, the United States, NATO


Research Paper 

DOI: 10.37458/ssj.4.2.2 

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it became evident that the longstanding American deterrence policy that had worked during the Cold War failed. In February 2022, Russia started a war of conquest against its neighbor, and the United States and its European allies were unable to prevent it. America’s deterrence broke down for two main reasons. First, successive American Presidents failed to act when Russia used its brute military force against its neighbors. In 2008, Russia attacked Georgia and captured two provinces, proclaiming them “independent states.” In 2014, Russia attacked Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and established military control over two other provinces in Donbas, and announced their “independence.” In both cases, the United States and its European allies imposed mild trade sanctions on Moscow, most of which they soon repealed. The most remarkable act in this regard was sponsored by the Obama administration, which in 2011-2012 pushed hard for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization by bullying Georgia not to veto Moscow’s application. The second, more significant cause for the failure of deterrence was America’s refusal to invest in a new generation of strategic weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has developed very little in terms of upgrading its nuclear arsenal and creating new delivery systems. At the same time, Moscow invested hundreds of billions of dollars in developing and deploying new long-range cruise missiles, new hypersonic missiles, and a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles.


Bezpalko, Ulyana (2023). “Perelom bitvy za Kiev. Kak Ukraina ostanovila rossiyan i ne dala vragu zakhvatit’ stolitsu” (in Russian). RBK-Ukraina, April 3, 2023

Bluth, Christoph, (2023). “Ukraine war: why Poland is piling pressure on allies to increase military support for Kyiv.” The Conversation, January 18 2023.

Bigg, Claire, (2005). “World: Was Soviet Collapse Last Century’s Worst Geopolitical Catastrophe?” Radio Free Europe, April 25, 2005. World: Was Soviet Collapse Last Century's Worst Geopolitical Catastrophe? (

Bosco, David, (2011). “U.S. pressures Georgia on Russia’s WTO accession,” Foreign Policy, May 26 2011.

Braithwaite, Sharon, (2022). “Zelensky refuses US offer to evacuate, saying ‘I need ammunition, not a ride’.” CNN, February 26, 2022.

Buteux, Paul (1983). Strategy, Doctrine, and the Politics of Alliance: Theater Nuclear Force Modernisation in NATO. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Clark, Ian, (1985). Nuclear Past, Nuclear Present: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Contemporary Strategy. Boulder, CO: Westview.

C-SPAN (2001), “User Clip: Bush saw Putin's soul,” June 27, 2001,

Danar, Awil, (2008). “Putin Warns Over NATO Expansion.” The Guardian, April 4, 2008.

Eckel, Mike, (2023). “’Escalatory and Deeply Damaging:’ What Putin’s Claim of a Missile Test Means for Nonproliferation,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 6 2023.

Freedman, Lawrence, (2004). Deterrence. Cambridge, UK.

Frieden, Jeffry, David Lake, and Keeneth Schultz, (2022). World Politics. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Gordon, Chris, (2023). “Long-Delayed Nuclear Modernization More Important Than Ever, AFGSC Boss Says,” Air & Space Forces Magazine, May 7, 2023.

Greenblatt, Alan, (2013). “Frenemies Forever: Why Putin and Obama Can’t Get Along”, National Public Radio, September 12, 2013,

Gutman, Israel, (1998). Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Boston, MA: Mariner Books.

Headley, James, (2008). Russia and the Balkans. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Heinrich, Jacqui and Adam Sabes, (2022). “Gen. Milley says Kyiv could fall within 72 hours if Russia decides to invade Ukraine: sources.” Fox News, February 5, 2022

Hennigan, W. J. (2022). “Inside the $100 Billion Mission to Modernize America’s Aging Nuclear Missiles,” Time, September 13, 2022.

Jervis, Robert, (1968). “Hypothesis on Misperception,” World Politics, volume 20, no. 3, April, 1968.

Jervis, Robert, (2017). How Statemen Think: The Psychology of International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Judah, Tim, (2022). “How Kyiv was saved by Ukrainian ingenuity as well as Russian blunders.” Financial Times, April 10 2022.

Kelly, Lidia and Andrew Osborn, (2023). “Belarus starts taking delivery of Russian nuclear weapons,” Reuters, June 14, 2023.

Kotlyar, Mikhail, (2022). “’Mozhet sozdat’ ad na Zemle,’ Ispitaniya raketi “Sarmat” zaversheny” (in Russian),, November 18, 2022.

Kurzman, Dan, (1993). The Bravest Battle: The Twenty-eight Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press.

Liptak, Kevin and Kylie Atwood, (2021). “Biden administration off to a combative start with tough rhetoric on Russia, China.” CNN, March 20 2021.

Lonas, Lexi, (2022). “US officials concerned Kyiv could fall to Russia within days: reports.” The Hill, February 25, 2022.

Mazar, Michael, (2018). “Understanding Deterrence.” Perspective, RAND Corporation,

Mingst, Karen and Heather McKibben, (2021). Essentials of International Relations. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Nau, Henry, (2021). Perspectives on International Relations. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (2014). “Wales Summitt Communique,” September 5. 2014. NATO - Official text: Wales Summit Declaration issued by NATO Heads of State and Government (2014), 05-Sep.-2014

North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (2016). Warsaw Summit Communique, July 9, 2016. NATO - Official text: Warsaw Summit Communiqué issued by NATO Heads of State and Government (2016), 09-Jul.-2016

North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (2022). Madrid Summit Communique, June 29, 2022. NATO - Official text: Madrid Summit Declaration issued by NATO Heads of State and Government (2022), 29-Jun.-2022

North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (2023). Vilnius Summit Communique, July 11, 2023, NATO - Official text: Vilnius Summit Communiqué issued by NATO Heads of State and Government (2023), 11-Jul.-2023

Osborn, Andrew and Andrey Ostroukh, (2021). “Putin Rues Soviet Collapse as Demise of ‘Historic Russia.” Reuters, December 12, 2021.

Piper, Elizabeth, Andrew Macaskill, and Tsvetlana Tsolova, (2022). “Insight: How Boris Johnson helped Ukraine with its weapons shopping,” Reuters, July 8 2022.

Putin, Vladimir, (2005). “Russia: Excerpts from Putin’s State-Of-the-Nation Speech,” Radio Free Europe, April 25, 2005. Russia: Excerpts From Putin's State-Of-The-Nation Speech (

Rasmussen, A. F., (2014). “A Force for Freedom,” Speech by NATO Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Carnegie Europe, NATO, September 15, 2014,

Reuters, (2009). “Clinton, Lavrov push wrong reset button on ties,” Reuters, March 6 2009.

Schelling, Thomas, (2020). Arms and Influence. New Haven: Yale, CT: Yale University Press.

Trump, Donald, (2018). “Trump Confirms He Threatened to Withdraw from NATO,” Atlantic Council, August 23 2018.

Tsygankov, Andrei, (2018). “The Sources of Russia’s Fear of NATO.” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, May 2.

United States Department of Justice, (2019). “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” March 2019,

United States Department of State, (2007). County Reports on Human Rights Practices.

Waltz, Kenneth N. (2009). “Nuclear Myths and Political Realities,” in Robert J. Art and Kenneth N. Waltz, eds. The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics, 7th ed. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

The White House, (2022). “FACT SHEET: United States, G7 and EU Impose Severe and Immediate Costs on Russia,” April 6 2022.