Deterring Non-State Threats in the Strategic Environment of 2035

  • Lieutenant Colonel Thomas C. Hawn

Highly empowered individuals and non-state groups and expanded access to lethal technologies shape the strategic environment of 2035. These trends, combined with a perception that the United States is a less willing and financially capable global security guarantor, may create conditions where non-state actors may choose to use violence to achieve ends counter to U.S. interests. This project identifies and assesses a strategy the United States may use to deter violent non-state actors. This analysis concludes that a cumulative deterrence strategy that combines denial and punitive concepts may deter violent non-state actors within certain limitations. Denial concepts alone are insufficient to deter all violence and requisite punitive measures are only acceptable against groups that pose significant risk to survival or vital U.S. interests. Collective-actor concepts may deter regional threats through the actions of regional partners and enable the United States to influence the behavior of groups that threaten peripheral interests. This strategy may reduce U.S. control over regional issues, but increased reliance on international partners will ultimately increase the ability of the United States to deter threats to vital and survival interests.