World Politics

Research Article

What Makes Deterrence Work? Cases from 1900 to 1980

Paul Hutha1 and Bruce Russetta1*

a1 Yale University


The article develops an expected-utility model of extended deterrence and tests it on 54 historical cases. Successful deterrence is associated with close economic and political ties between the defender and the state it is trying to protect, and with a local military balance in favor of the defender. Deterrence success is not systematically associated with the presence of a military alliance, with the overall strategic military balance, with possession of nuclear weapons, or with the defender's firmness or lack of it in previous crises. If deterrence fails, only alliance and the military value of the state under attack are associated with the defender's willingness to go to war.

Paul Huth is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at Yale University and is conducting research on crisis bargaining and deterrence.

Bruce Russett is Professor of Political Science at Yale University and Editor of the Journal of Conflict Resolution. He is the author, most recently, of The Prisoners of Insecurity: Nuclear Deterrence, the Arms Race, and Arms Control (1983).

* For comments and assistance we want to thank Robert Axelrod, Roy Behr, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Mark Hanson, Robert Jervis, Paul Kennedy, Jeffry Klugman, Ed Lazarus, Richard Ned Lebow, Patrick Morgan, Yoshitaka Nishizawa, Steven Rosenstone, and Yagil Weinberg, without attributing to them any responsibility for our errors.