The Emerging Fourth Wave of Deterrence Theory—Toward a New Research Agenda


  • Amir Lupovici

    1. Tel-Aviv University
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      Author’s note. For all their help and comments, I am grateful to Emanuel Adler, Janice Gross Stein, Gallia Lindenstrauss, Vincent Pouliot, Galia Press-Barnathan, Colette Stoeber, two anonymous reviewers, and the journal’s editors. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting of American Political Science Association in Boston, and I would like to thank participants for their comments. I would also like to thank the Halbert fellowship program at the Munk Centre for International Studies at The University of Toronto and the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for their generous support.


In this paper, I aim to review recent empirical and theoretical developments in the study of deterrence. I suggest that an emerging wave of literature currently represents a revival in this field. However, unlike the previous waves, in which theoretical and empirical questions were studied together (realism and nuclear deterrence), in the emerging deterrence literature these two are isolated from each other. The theoretical trend of this wave is evident in new constructivist and interpretative scholarship that explores the practices of deterrence and has provided significant insights, chiefly with regard to classical empirical questions of state versus state and nuclear deterrence. The empirical trend of this wave can be seen through the work of scholars who are considering how to deter “new” threats—such as terrorism, rogue states, and ethnic conflicts—mainly by incorporating the traditional realist approach to deterrence. By reviewing these two trends in the current wave of deterrence writing, I demonstrate the advantages of each and suggest that the study of deterrence may benefit from their integration.