Silhouette of missiles against the setting sun

A whole-of-government approach to facilitate international stability

21st Century Warfare Requires 21st Century Deterrence

October 2022, Number 072


Most analysts believe that the absence of war between the superpowers after World War II was the result of effective deterrence. This concept can be defined as the prevention of action by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction and/or belief that the cost of action outweighs the perceived benefits. Deterrence did not end the strategic competition between the United States and the USSR, it simply pushed it into areas which limited the risk of triggering an unacceptable counteraction. Consequently, both superpowers used sub-conventional tactics to try and achieve strategic objectives. However, technological limitations minimized the effectiveness and impact of these tactics. This is no longer the case. Technological change, an interconnected global environment, and a ubiquitous information environment allow states to achieve their strategic objectives without crossing the threshold of an acceptable counteraction. Therefore, a deterrence model based solely on an adversary’s belief that the cost of action outweighs the perceived benefits will not discourage sub-conventional attacks. This paper examines the declining relevance of our traditional deterrence model and makes recommendations for improving it, in order to decrease the prospect of all forms of attacks in the 21st century.

About the Author

Colonel Jeffrey W. Pickler commissioned in June 2001 as a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery from the United States Military Academy. He has served in a number of leadership positions with the 82nd Airborne Division, 2nd Ranger Battalion, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and 4th Infantry Division. Colonel Pickler has a Masters in Organizational Psychology and Leadership from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. He has served on the staff at the United States Military Academy at West Point and within the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Colonel Pickler recently completed his War College Fellowship at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany is a German-American partnership and trusted global network promoting common values and advancing collaborative geostrategic solutions. The Marshall Center’s mission to educate, engage, and empower security partners to collectively affect regional, transnational, and global challenges is achieved through programs designed to promote peaceful, whole of government approaches to address today’s most pressing security challenges. Since its creation in 1992, the Marshall Center’s alumni network has grown to include over 15,000 professionals from 157 countries. More information on the Marshall Center can be found online at

The articles in the Security Insights series reflect the views of the authors and are not necessarily the official policy of the United States Army, the United States, Germany, or any other governments.