Deterrence: Strategy, Theory, Practice

Course content

This course explores deterrence and the broader repertoire of coercive diplomacy: the related concepts, theory, doctrine, strategy, and application across a spectrum of environments. It provides students with a practitioner's perspective of nuclear and conventional deterrence in the 21st century and enhances their knowledge of deterrence theory and practice by offering case studies of deterrence strategies from a nation-state perspective.

Deterrence may not always have been explicitly theorized or recognized as a distinct construct, yet this phenomenon has been a fundamental aspect of conflicts throughout humanity’s history. The concept foregrounds the idea to prevent the use of force by inducing a threat and thus discouraging an opponent from taking an undesirable course of action. Once you understand deterrence, its ubiquity becomes evident: from the thorns on a rose to the patterns of birds’ feathers, a leader’s address to a nation, a military parade, and ultimately, the looming presence of a nuclear bomb. Simply put, all these acts share the same objective—to instill fear, dissuade potential challengers, communicate resolve, and reassure allies.


The rationale behind deterrence is relatively straightforward: it offers a safer and arguably more cost-effective means of advancing security objectives compared to engaging in war. However, deterrence is inherently elusive. Its potency depends on its credibility, which is often linked to military capability and the clear communication of one’s interests and commitment. But in the end, its effectiveness remains uncertain until it is tested and fails. Conversely, what may seem like a successful instance of deterrence, validating the credibility of a chosen strategy, can be influenced by a myriad of other factors. The intricacies involved in assessing the credibility of deterrence underscore the inherent complexity of studying this phenomenon, both as a theory and as a strategy/policy.


Nevertheless, the concept of deterrence was at the core of Western strategic thought for approximately five decades throughout the Cold War, and led to development of a vast body of scholarship formulating theoretical foundations and postulates for threatening use of force or applying limited force against an opponent as means of conflict management, thus becoming deeply ingrained into modern international security practice.


When the Cold War ended, academia and professional military education reduced the emphasis on the study of deterrence, shifting attention to other, more friendly practices of international relations. But with the geopolitical upheavals of the 2010s, deterrence is back with a vengeance. Today’s strategists are working in a complex environment where the actors to be deterred may not be states exclusively, and activities occur in multiple – and not essentially physical – domains. The invasion of Ukraine in 2022 definitively marked the endured relevance of inter-state conflict and put pressure on state actors in Europe and elsewhere to re-access the enduring importance – and complexity – of deterrence in the contemporary security environment.


The first module will introduce the genealogy of deterrence, its historical origins as theory and practice, and the basic concepts and schools. Building upon this, students will learn about various critics of deterrence theory and strategy that emerged towards the end of the Cold War. The second module will explore 21st

century deterrence theory as well as the threats and challenges contemporary security deterrence policies seek to address. In the second module, students will be introduced to several topical case studies and engage in a critical analysis of recent instances of deterrence and coercion in international relations. These not only include state versus state confrontations but also the challenge of deterring non-state actors such as terrorist groups and pirates, or at least containing the risk they may pose.


Ultimately, the course offers students the opportunity to engage with the most pertinent strategic issues in international relations in the twenty-first century and acquire an in-depth understanding of military strategy and  coercive politics in contemporary international security environment.


Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political Science, UCPH

  • MSc in Political Science
  • MSc in Social Science
  • MSc in Security Risk Management
  • Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH 

  • MSc in Psychology
  • MSc in Social Data Science


The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad
  • Credit students from Danish Universities
  • Open University students
Learning outcome


• Develop a comprehensive understanding of the genealogy, fundamental concepts, and ongoing debates within the realm of deterrence and coercive diplomacy.

• Navigate through contemporary security threats and strategic issues and understand the applications, forms and repertoire of deterrence practices across various actors and domains, encompassing state and non-state entities, as well as land, sea, air/space, cyber and “hybrid” environments.

• Study topical cases and understand how the practice of deterrence influences lager developments in global security environment: USA vs. China, Russian war against Ukraine, NATO deterrence and assurance, South vs. North Korea, global piracy, deterring cyber threats (the indicated case-studies are tentative ideas and may change).



Throughout the course, you will learn and practice core analytical skills, including:

  • Conducting a critical evaluation of deterrence theories and strategies, transcending their 20th-century nuclear origins to tackle contemporary security challenges.
  • Critically assess the relationship between military strategy, coercive diplomacy and politics.
  • Performing strategic analysis involving the identification of threats, profiling adversarial actors, evaluating the existing security environment, and understanding one’s own interests, capabilities and resources.
  • Advancing analytical writing competencies by effectively managing a large number of textual and visual sources, summarizing information, interpreting findings, and presenting insights in a coherent manner.



By the end of the course, you will advance your competences to:

  • Ability to connect the historical, theoretical, and policy-relevant dimensions of today’s deterrence strategies and practices.
  • Identify threats and opportunities to apply coercive approaches within contemporary strategic environments, including cyberspace, counter-terrorist and counter-piracy measures.
  • Analyze present-day interstate conflicts and apply deterrence theory framework(s) to design strategies for conflict management and mitigate security threats.
  • Articulate complex issues related to deterrence and emerging security threats with clarity and depth.

The course aims to advance students’ theoretical understanding and to encourage practical exploration of deterrence concepts and discussions surrounding them.

In our lectures, I begin by introducing the theme for the week, emphasizing crucial topics within the assigned course literature. In class, participation thus requires active independent learning and preparation.

To enrich your understanding, introductory lectures are complemented by guest speakers who delve into regional case studies, providing valuable real-world insights.

Throughout the course, the dynamic learning environment is further nurtured through group discussions and exercises. These activities encourage collaborative exploration and critical analysis. The overall educational experience is further enhanced through integration of visual materials to better understand practices of deterrence.

Towards the end of the course, students are required to prepare presentations on various issues discussed during the course. Presentations aim at the development of analytical and public speaking competences.

Culminating in a simulation game (if course agenda allows), the course uniquely blends theory and practice, allowing students to apply their knowledge in a simulated real-world context, fostering experiential learning and strategic decision-making skills.

The examination takes place in a form of portfolio exam which allows me to gradually access the successful development of students’ skills and competences during the course: the first assignment is a piece of academic writing (essay or literature review) by completion of the first course module on deterrence theory, and the second assignment is a policy brief by completion of the second course module on deterrence strategy and practice.

This list is subject to change. A detailed list of required readings ~ 2000 pages will be provided well ahead of the start of the course.

Theory, discourse, critique:

Brodie, Bernard (Ed.). (1946). The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Brodie, Bernard (1959) ‘The Anatomy of Deterrence’, World Politics, 11/2: 173-191.

Chernus, I. (1982). Mythologies of Nuclear War. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 50(2), 255–273.

Freedman, Lawrence., & Michaels, J. H. (2019). The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jervis, Robert (1989). Rational Deterrence: Theory and Evidence. World Politics, 41(2), 183–207.

Jervis, Robert, & Snyder, Jack (1991). Dominoes and Bandwagons: Strategic Beliefs and Great Power Competition in the Eurasian Rimland (p. viii+299-viii+299). Oxford University Press, Incorporated.

Jervis, Robert (1984) The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy. Cornell University Press.

Kaplan, Fred (2020) The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Knopf, Jeffrey W. (2010) ‘The Fourth Wave in Deterrence Research’, Contemporary Security Policy, 31/1: 1-33.

Lantis, Jeffrey S. (2009) ‘Strategic Culture and Tailored Deterrence: Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice’, Contemporary Security Policy, 30/3: 467-485.

Lebow, Richard Ned, & Stein, J. G. (1989). Rational Deterrence Theory: I Think, Therefore I Deter. World Politics, 41(2), 208–224.

Lebow, Richard Ned (2001) ‘Deterrence and Reassurance: Lessons from the Cold War’, Global Dialogue, 3/4: 119-132.

Lupovici, Amir (2010). The Emerging Fourth Wave of Deterrence Theory—Toward a New Research Agenda. International Studies Quarterly, 54(3), 705–732.

Lupovici, Amir (2019). Toward a Securitization Theory of Deterrence. International Studies Quarterly, 63(1), 177–186.

Mälksoo, Maria (2021). A ritual approach to deterrence: I am, therefore I deter. European Journal of International Relations, 27(1), 53–78.

Morgan, P. M. (2003). Deterrence Now (1st ed., Vol. 89). Cambridge University Press.

Payne, K. B. (2001). The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New Direction. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Quackenbush, S. L. (2004). The Rationality of Rational Choice Theory. International Interactions, 30(2), 87–107.

Sartori, Anne E. (2005). Deterrence by Diplomacy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Schelling, Thomas C. (1967). Arms & Influence. Yale University Press.

Schelling, Thomas C. (1966) The Diplomacy of Violence. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Snyder, Jack L. (1977). The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations. Santa Monica, CA: RAND

Zagare, Frank C. (2006). "Deterrence Is Dead. Long Live Deterrence." Conflict Management and Peace Science, 23(2), 115–120.

Strategy and practice:

Adamsky, Dmitri (2022). Russian nuclear orthodoxy: religion, politics, and strategy. Stanford University Press.

Adamsky, Dmitri (2024). The Russian way of deterrence : strategic culture, coercion, and war (1st ed.). Stanford University Press.

Adamsky, Dmitri (2018) ‘From Moscow with Coercion: Russian Deterrence Theory and Strategic Culture’, Contemporary Security Policy, 41/1: 33-60.

Anderson, Justin V., Larsen, Jeffrey A. and Holdorf, Polly M. (2013) Extended Deterrence and Allied Assurance: Key Concepts and Current Challenges for U.S. Policy. Colorado Springs: USAF Institute for National Security Studies.

Bahar, M. (2021). "Attaining Optimal Deterrence at Sea: A Legal and Strategic Theory for Naval Anti-Piracy Operations." Vanderbilt Law Review, 40(1), 1.

Cho, Huyun-Binn., & Petrovics, Ariel (2022). "North Korea’s Strategically Ambiguous Nuclear Posture." The Washington Quarterly, 45(2), 39-58.

Christensen, Thomas (2012). "The Meaning of the Nuclear Evolution: China's Strategic Modernization and US-China Security Relations." Journal of Strategic Studies, 35(4), 447-487.

Colby, Elbridge and Solomon, Jonathan (2015) ‘Facing Russia: Conventional Defence and Deterrence in Europe’, Survival, 57/6: 21-50.

Collins, Alan R. (1998), ‘GRIT, Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War’, Review of International Studies, 24/2: 201–19.

Cunningham, Fiona S., & Fravel, Taylor M. (2015). "Assuring Assured Retaliation: China's Nuclear Posture and U.S.-China Strategic Stability." International Security, 40(2), 7-50.

DiFilippo, Anthony (2006) Japan’s Nuclear Disarmament Policy and the US Security Umbrella. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Driedger, Jonas J. (2022). Did Germany Contribute to Deterrence Failure against Russia in Early 2022? Central European Journal of International and Security Studies, 16(3), 152–171.

Freedman, Guy (2017) ‘Iranian Approach to Deterrence: Theory and Practice’, Comparative Strategy, 36/5: 400-412.

Freedman, Lawrence (2023, December 11). The Russo-Ukrainian War and the Durability of Deterrence. Survival Online. [Include the full URL if available]

Gavin, Francis J. (2020). Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Green, Brendan R., & Long, Austin (2017). "The MAD Who Wasn't There: Soviet Reactions to the Late Cold War Nuclear Balance." Security Studies, 26(6), 606-641.

Hong, Yong-Pyo (2011) ‘North Korea’s Strategic Culture and Threat Perception: Implications for Regional Security Cooperation’, Korea Observer, 42/1: 95-115.

Howard, Michael (1982/3) ‘Reassurance and Deterrence: Western Defense in the 1980s’, Foreign Affairs, 61/2: 309–24.

Huth, Paul and Russett, Bruce (1984) ‘What Makes Deterrence Work? Cases from 1900 to 1980’, World Politics, 36/4: 496-526.

Kennedy, Andrew B. (2011) ‘India’s Nuclear Odyssey: Implicit Umbrellas, Diplomatic Disappointments, and the Bomb’, International Security, 36/2: 120–53.

Knopf, Jeffrey W. (ed.) (2012), Security Assurances and Nuclear Nonproliferation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Kokoshin, Andrei (2011). Ensuring Strategic Stability in the Past and Present: Theoretical and Applied Questions. Boston, MA: Harvard Kennedy School, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, June 2011.

Lanoszka, Alexander (2016). "Russian hybrid warfare and extended deterrence in eastern Europe." International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), 92(1), 175–195.

Lee, Dong S., & Alexandrova, Iordanka (2021). "North Korean nuclear strategy: envisioning assured retaliation." International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 21(3), 371-400.

Lewis, Dennis. (2019, April). "Russia’s 'Strategic Deterrence' in Ukraine." Marshall Center Security Insights, Number 029.

Libicki, M. C. (2018). Expectations of Cyber Deterrence. Strategic Studies

Lupovici, Amir (2016). The power of deterrence : emotions, identity, and American and Israeli wars of resolve. Cambridge University Press.

Lupovici, Amir (2021). The Dog That Did Not Bark, the Dog That Did Bark, and the Dog That Should Have Barked: A Methodology for Cyber Deterrence Research. International Studies Review, 23(4), 1672–1698.

Lupovici, Amir (2023). Deterrence by delivery of arms: NATO and the war in Ukraine. Contemporary Security Policy, 44(4), 624–641.

Maurer, J. H. (1995). The Outbreak of the First World War: Strategic Planning, Crisis Decision Making, and Deterrence Failure. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Mearsheimer, John J. (1993). The Case for a Ukrainian Nuclear Deterrent. Foreign Affairs, 72(3), 50–66.

Sweijs, Tim and Osinga, Frans (2020) NL Arms Netherlands Annual Review of Military Studies. T.M.C. Asser Press The Hague.

Takacs, David (2017) ‘Ukraine’s Deterrence Failure: Lessons for the Baltic States’, Journal on Baltic Security, 3/1: 1-10.

Ven Bruusgaard, Kristin (2016) ‘Russian Strategic Deterrence’, Survival, 58/4: 7-26.

Waltz, Kenth N. (2012). Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability. Foreign Affairs, 91(4), 2–5.

Wenger, Andreas, & Wilner, Alex (2012). Deterring Terrorism. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Wilner, Alex S. (2011) ‘Deterring the Undeterrable: Coercion, Denial, and Delegitimization in Counterterrorism’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 34/1: 3-37.

Zhang, Shu Guang (1992) Deterrence and Strategic Culture: Chinese-American Confrontations, 1949-1958. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Prospective students interested in enrolling in this course should possess a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as international relations, international public law or political science. The teaching is conducted in English. Demonstrated broader interest and knowledge in strategic studies, military and security affairs is an asset.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

I intend to combine peer and individual feedback. The main feedback provided after the final examination, on demand, in oral form.

Type of assessment
Type of assessment details
Portfolio exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • English
  • 56


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester


Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Department of Psychology
  • Social Data Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Mariia Vladymyrova   (3-857b704f7875823d7a843d737a)
Saved on the 13-05-2024

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