So wars are deterred when all the potential players know the relative strengths of each and the relative willingness to use such power in defense of a nation’s interests. Lack of such knowledge leads to dangerous misjudgments. And war then becomes a grotesque foreordained laboratory experiment to confirm what should have been known in advance.
Wars begin when aggressive powers believe that their targets are weaker, or give the false impression that they are weaker, or at least stay inert in the face of provocation. What were Argentina’s generals or Saddam Hussein thinking when they provoked the United Kingdom or the United States during the Falkland War and First Gulf War? No doubt, they assumed that their more powerful targets were too busy elsewhere, played out, or insufficiently concerned to react. In aggregate, a lot of damage and death followed in those two respective brief wars of 1982 and 1991—and all to prove what should have been obvious.
Perhaps Buenos Aires had one too many times read of British parliamentarians referencing the “Malvinas” rather than the Falkland Islands. Or Saddam remembered too well the United States Ambassador to Iraq naïvely voicing uninterest in 1990 “border” disputes between quarreling Arab neighbors—perhaps in the manner of Dean Acheson’s controversial speech in January 1950 to the effect that South Korea was probably not inside the U.S. defensive orbit abroad and thus made a previously hesitant Stalin, Mao, and Kim Il-sung a little less hesitant.
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