Tripped Up About Tripwires


American security policy has made use of tripwire forces for many years.  One of the most prominent examples was the case of Berlin: As Thomas Schelling famously described the logic, the small garrison of U.S. soldiers stationed there during the Cold War weren’t militarily capable of defeating the far-larger East German or Soviet forces nearby but, the East Germans or Soviets would be deterred from attacking because any attack would result in the deaths of that small U.S. force, drawing America into a conflict. Our guests, Professor Dan Reiter of Emory University and Professor Paul Poast of the University of Chicago, argue that Schelling was wrong. Their article, “The Truth About Tripwires: Why Small Force Deployments Do Not Deter Aggression,” in Vol 4, Iss 3 of TNSR, argues that deterrence relies almost exclusively on the military value of force deployment, so small token deployments are unlikely to deter a determined attacker.  They illustrate their argument with two cases from the Korean peninsula, and a counterfactual example from World War I.


Photo: Roger Wollstadt