The balance of terror is the idea born with the nuclear bomb that, if two superpowers have nuclear power, they will refrain from going to war against each other (or the other's allies) in fear that things will escalate to a world-destroying war. It applied mainly to the USA and USSR during the Cold War, but also to other countries that developed the bomb (e.g. France) to protect themselves of their independence, or are seeking nowadays to develop it (e.g North Korea).
However, we already know the limitations of this Cold War era doctrine:
- It is based on the assumption that we can trust our political leader and that they are grounded enough to want the civilisation to be preserved. Since the knowledge of the bomb proliferated to so-called 'rogue nations' with insane leaders, this guaranteed is gone nowadays.
- The balance of terror prevents direct wars between superpowers. The Cold War already showed it doesn't stop 'satellite conflicts' between allies of superpowers.
- It leads to the notion of 'small', 'acceptable' conflicts. By this, I mean conflicts that are poised international relationships but that we have to learn to live with. For example, the war in Ukraine. This is not totally due to 'the fear of the bomb', more the fear of escalation of conflicts, and this was already observed before the Second World War for example.
- In addition, it does not prevent modern form of warfare like terrorism. Basically, you cannot nuke ISIS out of the map. A large part of North Africa suffers from conflicts related to terrorism.
To sum up, the balance of terror prevents the start of a new World War that could potentially lead to immeasurable and irreparable damages. But not local conflicts like terrorism or local territory disputes.
Are strategy experts developing new doctrines to replace the balance of terror as a way to prevent war?
The ideas that came to my mind are
- global economical integration: the main example is the EU. You don't make war to your economical partner.
- What I would call the 'drone police': drones are (or are thought to become) more flexible than conventional armies. They can be deployed, observe and strike targets more easily than other forces. There are been more authorised assassinations during Obama's presidency than ever.