Peripheral Visions

Deterrence Theory and American Foreign Policy in the Third World, 1965-1990
Ted Hopf
Questions the role of military power in deterring would-be aggressor nations


In this challenging new study, Ted Hopf repudiates the core assumptions of deterrence theory, one of the most central aspects of U.S. foreign policy over the past half century. Especially during the Cold War years, a major goal of U.S. foreign policy has been to show enough strength that any adventurism on the part of a would-be aggressor would be deterred. Thus, the United States became involved militarily in various Third World conflicts more to deter the Soviet Union than to protect any specific U.S. interest. Peripheral Visions argues that this policy was unnecessary and counterproductive.

The evidence in this book (looking at crises in Vietnam, Angola, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Iran, Nicaragua, Grenada, the Middle East, and Ghana) implies that military strength is not the only way—not even the most effective way—to deter an opponent. The credibility of the United States in the Middle East, for instance, was not strengthened by U.S. military actions, but rather by the adroit use of military and economic aid and diplomatic leverage. Yet this taught the Soviet Union far more discouraging lessons about the Middle East than the U.S. invasion of Grenada did about Latin America. The deterrence theory that remains after this series of empirical tests recommends that the defender not worry so much about unimportant areas of the globe, that the defender not use military force when non-military instruments will do, and that the defender act as much as possible through indigenous and autonomous forces, rather than directly.

Although framed as a test of deterrence theory, Peripheral Visions also offers important arguments and evidence about how leaders learn. Moreover, since the book tests rational, bounded rational, and belief system models of decision making, it sheds light on the debate between those who assume states are rational and those who find that assumption problematic. Finally, it speaks to an ongoing policy debate about the appropriate instruments of deterrence—a continuing concern even without the Cold War.

Ted Hopf is Assistant Professor of Political Science; Faculty Associate, Center for Russian and East European Studies; and Assistant Research Scientist, Center for Political Studies, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . this is a thoughtful and extensively researched study that will enlighten scholars of foreign policy with a theoretical bent."

Look Inside


Preface - vii

Abbreviations - xi

1. Introduction - 1

Soviet Gains

2. Soviet Lessons from the Vietnam War: A Crucial Case for Deterrence Theory . . . Which It Does Not Pass - 35

3. Soviet Lessons from Angola, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan: The "Arc of Crisis" as a Crucial Case - 61

4. Soviet Lessons from Iran and Nicaragua: Deterrence Theory Fails Another Easy Test - 117

Soviet Losses

5. Grenada 1983: Sufficient, but Unneccessary and Inferior - 153

6. The Middle East, 1967-80: A Boon for Deterrence, but Proof of the Need for an Expansion of the Theory - 163

7. Ghana 1966: The Deterrent Case That Didn't Bark - 209

8. Conclusion: Deterrence Theory Revised - 233

Appendixes - 243

Bibliography - 255

Index - 305

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 320pp.
  • tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1995
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10540-3

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  • $89.95 U.S.