The Role of Clandestine Capabilities in Deterrence: Theory and Practice

Institute member Austin Long and University of Cincinnati Professor Brendan Green are conducting research to access the Role of Clandestine Capabilities in Deterrence. The goal of their project is to develop theoretical frameworks that can be used to analyze the impact of clandestine military capabilities on international politics. “Clandestine capabilities” are those military assets that depend on secrecy in order to be effective.

Clandestine capabilities pose a difficult problem of information management. How can secret military capabilities be exploited for political benefit without permitting countermeasures that neutralize them? Unfortunately, the security studies literature has only superficially treated the problems of clandestine capabilities. The theoretical tools needed to understand the impact of clandestine capabilities are underdeveloped.

The project includes a two-part theory building exercise using qualitative methods as a foundation for further research. First, they aim to develop a “propositional inventory” of hypotheses related to clandestine capabilities, based upon a casebook of past examples. Second, they will explore several specific hypotheses about long-term great power nuclear competitions, using a case study with special relevance to future nuclear politics: the Late Cold War nuclear arms race between the superpowers.

Understanding the dynamics of clandestine capabilities for deterrence and other strategies will provide important public benefits. The findings, which will be publically released, will spur public debate about how to best prevent nuclear use arising from these dynamics. In particular, the community of security studies scholars will benefit from our introduction of new concepts into several classic areas of inquiry.