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A nation must think before it acts.
The assumption that the United States operates from a position of strength relative to its potential enemy underpins U.S. deterrence theory. This perceived strength has emboldened American administrations to take serious tactical risks, such as the positioning of aircraft carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean during the 1973 Yom Kippur War in order to dissuade Soviet intervention in that conflict. This tacit assumption, facilitated and entrenched by overwhelming U.S.conventional military superiority in the post-Cold War era, forms the foundation both for the relatively recent developmentof tailored deterrence and for the “Flexible Deterrence Options” (FDO) that now constitute a routine aspectof the joint military planning process. This article argues that the tacit assumption of strength is too narrow and can promote the implementation of deterrent policies and actions that have the opposite effects of those intended. Deterrence, rightly understood, is a component of a conflict management strategy which implies a degree of weakness on the part of the statethat employs it. This condition must be recognized and then incorporated into policies and plans for deterrence.