By Parity and Presence: Deterring Russia with Conventional Land Forces

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A British Army soldier directing a vehicle during a training exercise. Courtesy of US Army Europe / flickr.

In a new era of great power competition, the UK must strengthen its ability to take proactive deterrence measures.

The foremost mission of UK Defence is the protection of the UK’s interests, and few interests are as significant as the avoidance of warfighting at scale. This must be ensured through the maintenance of credible deterrence, which aims to convince potential adversaries that they cannot achieve favourable outcomes through recourse to force. The resurgence of great power rivalry, however, ensures that UK interests will be threatened by state actors around the world, below the threshold of war, meaning that deterrence must also be pursued to constrain adversaries in competition. 

Russia represents the most serious threat in both conflict and competition. Not only is it willing to use direct military force to advance its interests when it perceives the conditions to be right, but it is also developing global reach, and acts internationally to build up leverage with great powers through coercive issue linkage. Because deterrence is primarily cognitive – aiming to convince an adversary not to do something – any analysis of effective deterrence must be based on an assessment of the target’s policy and outlook. 

This paper is an analysis of conventional deterrence by UK land forces with regard to Russia. There is a deficiency in nuanced public discussion of the mechanisms of conventional deterrence in the UK, which inhibits the effective use of the military to proactively deter hostile actions. Land forces are particularly important in this discussion because deterrence in warfighting is ultimately about preventing the seizure of land, while deterrence in competition is first and foremost about operating among people. This paper comes to several conclusions about what deters Russia, and the choices facing the UK in offering a credible deterrence posture in competition, and as a contribution to NATO.



Dr Jack Watling

Senior Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Military Sciences

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