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Ukraine war

Demise of Extended Deterrence: How Full-Spectrum Strategic Dormancy has Turned Persuasion of Inaction to Incentivization for Action

By Dr. Iffat Naheed


Extended Deterrence, as a comprehensive expanded outreach or an umbrella of protection promised by the great powers to their protégés against the ‘perceived’ potential aggressors has long remained a reliable tool of strategic coercion in global security paradigms. Smaller States have been bandwagoning the global powers in their pursuit to be encompassed by the latter’s shield of deterrence and this appeared to have worked well for decades. Or is it so? Recent political and strategic developments around the world have manifested not only in the failure of the notion of extended deterrence but also put this entire notion along with its accouterments into serious question.

In February 2022, as Russia invaded Ukraine, the entire set of predictions concerning least possible chances of such an occurrence were laid to rest along with the very notion of extended deterrence for Ukraine by the western powers including EU, NATO and the US. The threat of action against Russia could actually not deter that country from taking action against Ukraine and therefore finally resulted in the failure of extended deterrence in that part of the world. The result of this failure is being witnessed in the shape of ongoing protracted military conflict in Ukraine with bleak chances of an immediate halt in hostilities in near future.

It would be useful to critically examine the theoretical underpinnings of the above conflict to examine as to how extended deterrence failed in the case of Ukraine and why this trend could continue in other parts of the world where the so-called extended deterrence is on offer.

As we will examine shortly, it is indeed the phenomenon of “Full Spectrum Strategic Dormancy” that has been at play in the case of Ukraine and serves as the causal factor for the failure of extended deterrence, resulting in the incentivization of military action by Russia, owing to its perception that there was a complete lack of actual will of penalizing action by deterrence offering parties (in this case EU, NATO, US) on behalf of Ukraine.

To begin with, we could conceive the notion of “Full Spectrum Strategic Dormancy” as the state of lackadaisical commitment or slower than usual engagement or involvement, both perceived as well as actual, by the defender state vis-à-vis the protégé state(s) across all domains (entire spectrum) of geo-strategic and geo-economic paradigms. The potential aggressor state’s perception regarding slower than usual engagement or apathetic approach by the defender state in respect of the protégé state on a full-spectrum basis is sufficient for the creation of the aggressor state’s peculiar social construct where it perceives the ‘othering’ of the “other” (i.e. target state) by the so-called defender state. The ‘othering of the other’ implies lack of commitment by the defender state towards the so called protégé state resulting in its practical exclusion from the security umbrella offered by the former. Accordingly, the potential aggressor state may assume that this state of inactivity or apathetic attitude, even though perceived, actually depicts a lack of interest and commitment by the defender state towards the protégé state. Accordingly, based on its peculiar perceptions, the aggressor state may pursue its ideals vis-à-vis the target state without being compelled towards inaction through any threat of punishment by the defender state. Once the aggressor state is incentivized to take action against the target state (protégé of the defender state), extended deterrence comes to a crashing halt.

Prior to the commencement of Russia-Ukraine war, the European Union’s apparent “enlargement fatigue” visible in case of Ukraine coupled with NATO’s failure to incorporate Ukraine into its fold despite claims of support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, would have led Russia to perceive that with the existing strategic calculus, there was practically a state of full-spectrum strategic dormancy on the part of the EU and NATO in respect of Ukraine. Consequently, Russia did not envision any serious threat of punishment from the EU or NATO to deter it from invading Ukraine. At this stage, Russia had also indicated its redline regarding lack of toleration for Ukraine’s entry into NATO essentially to gauge if there existed any such strategic limit at the end of EU or NATO. As NATO did not elaborate such strategic redlines in tangible terms, except for diplomatic support for Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as its aspirations to NATO, Russia perceived this strategic redline by NATO to be either non-committal, fluid or much less concrete and took it for strategic dormancy by them towards Ukraine across the entire geo-strategic landscape. EU’s “enlargement fatigue” manifested in the case of Ukraine, complemented by refusal to provide any fast-track membership to that country, further cemented Russia’s perception that the EU was also in fact in a state of dormancy as regards geo-economic integration of Ukraine with the EU. Accordingly, the Russian perception of there being full-spectrum strategic dormancy of EU and NATO vis-à-vis Ukraine was established across all domains of geo-strategic and geo-economic paradigms.   

As Russia gauged the Full-Spectrum Strategic Dormancy of the EU and NATO towards Ukraine, it built a peculiar social construct where, as per Russian perceptions, the EU and NATO’s extended deterrence manifested through threats of punishment in case of Russian invasion of Ukraine were assessed to be less costly than the strategic advantages that could be accrued to Russia in the long run through attack on Ukraine. This was further strengthened by Russia’s perception of territoriality regarding Ukraine where the latter’s notion of nationality does not exist and the region forms part of Russian space or sphere of influence. All this joined together to incentivize Russia to ultimately attack Ukraine. While the EU and NATO countries belatedly started providing military assistance to Ukraine following commencement of Russian attack, the façade of extended deterrence had already elapsed.

As the above war of attrition in Ukraine continues, the warring sides are also gradually climbing up the escalation ladder and one can only speculate as to when the conflict stage in Ukraine now ridden with such sophisticated weapons ranging from Leopard-2 tanks or HIMARS rocket launcher system to PERESVET laser weapons could escalate to the probable deployment and possible use of tactical or even strategic nuclear weapons. This therefore manifests that we could be just steps away from failure of extended to general deterrence. Russia despite its tactical reversals still appears committed to war in Ukraine and willing to climb up the escalation ladder. This also depicts that Russia’s social construct concerning Ukraine based on its beliefs and ideals of revival of Russian sphere of influence remains in place, with no sense of compromise in sight.

Ukraine crisis serves as a lesson for other regions of the world where extended deterrence is being trumpeted but actual actions in this regard seem less tangible. In general, great power attitudes of perceived complacency or strategic apathy in contested spheres of influence could be taken by the rival forces to be a signal of state of strategic dormancy and accordingly, this perception could lead to actual use of brute force by potential aggressor states to attempt replacing the existing status quo with a new normal.


Dr. Iffat Naheed is a “Visiting Researcher” at the Balkan Studies Center (BSC), International University of Sarajevo (IUS), Bosnia & Herzegovina. She holds a Ph.D. degree in Political Science from the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Balkan Studies Center (BSC).


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