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Suchak Patel asked: What is the meaning of ‘Deterrence by Denial’ especially in the context of India and China?

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  • S. Kalyanaraman replies: Deterrence by Denial refers to State A building up requisite military capabilities and devising an appropriate strategy to deny the territorial objectives that State B might seek to achieve through military means and thereby deter B from initiating war for that purpose. In the India-China context, it would mean India maintaining the military capability necessary to deny China the territorial objectives it is likely to seek through war such as the capture of Tawang, the conquest of the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, imposition of its preferred border alignment on India in Ladakh, etc.

    Deterrence by Denial is normally distinguished from Deterrence by Punishment. The chief difference between the two lies in the manner in which deterrence of the adversary is achieved. In Deterrence by Denial, the adversary is denied the ability to achieve its objectives and thus deterred from initiating a war that it cannot win. However, in Deterrence by Punishment, the adversary is deterred from initiating war because of the high costs and punishment it would have to bear in the process.

    The contrast between Deterrence by Denial and Deterrence by Punishment is not, however, an absolute one. Deterrence by Denial does include an element of punishment in the very process of denial. For instance, ‘denial’ necessarily involves punishing enemy forces in the process of preventing them from capturing a military objective. Punishment is also involved when air power is applied to disrupt the enemy’s logistics and ability to reinforce the front.

    Deterrence by Denial and Deterrence by Punishment may be distinguished from each other by asking two questions: 1) whether the dominant method of deterrence is through denial of objectives to the adversary or inflicting costs and punishment upon it, and 2) whether the war would be waged purely defensively in own territory or a counter-offensive would be undertaken to take the war into enemy territory.

    Posted on April 13, 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.