The most precarious and quite common form of dispute between major powers arises over third nations. When the Stakes Are High focuses primarily on extended deterrence, in which one side attempts to prevent another side from initiating or escalating conflict with a third nation. Vesna Danilovic addresses three central questions in a critical examination of the scholarly literature in strategic studies: When is extended deterrence likely to be effective? What happens if deterrence fails? In what circumstances is war likely to result from a deterrence failure? The result is a new understanding of the dynamics of deterrence and conflict between major powers.
For deterrence to work, a potential challenger must perceive the deterrer's threats as capable and credible for retaliation. Shaped by the dilemmas of superpower nuclear deterrence, the strategic literature has been largely influenced by commitment theory. This theory prescribes various "manipulation of risk" strategies intended to build a deterrer's reputation for strong resolve regardless of its national interests in the particular issue of dispute. An alternative approach, known as the inherent credibility of deterrent threats, recognizes the importance of "intrinsic interests" in the issues at stake.
This book demonstrates the validity of this alternative approach, emphasizing the importance of inherent credibility for explaining the history of major power clashes in the twentieth century and also suggests its greater suitability for the post-Cold War context. The author expands upon the inherent credibility approach and takes the position, rarely examined elsewhere, that the salience of a protégé's region for the deterrer's national interests is a principal ingredient of the credibility of major power deterrence. A major power's national interests, which shape the inherent credibility of threats and which are shaped by various regional stakes, set the limits to the relevance of other factors.
The author has created a unique, unified approach to the topic by integrating a number of factors previously treated in isolation in different subfields of international studies. When the Stakes Are High, therefore, fits research interests ranging from general international relations theory to the specific fields of international conflict, deterrence, causes of wars, great power behavior, and geopolitics.