Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Deterrence and Conflict: Deterrence: what it can (and cannot) do

Deterrence and Conflict: Deterrence: what it can (and cannot) do

Curriculum Standards

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.

NCSS Standard VI. Power, Authority, and Governance.

Understanding the historical development of structures of power, authority, and governance and their evolving functions in contemporary U.S. society and other parts of the world is essential for developing civic competence.

Essential Question: Assess the validity of the statement

Deterrence is still fundamentally about influencing an actor’s decisions. It is about a solid policy foundation. It is about credible capabilities. It is about what the U.S. and our allies as a whole can bring to bear in both a military and a nonmilitary sense. Robert Kehler

Instructional Focus:

After this lesson, students will be able to:
• define the acronym NATO and other key terms related to the lesson’s content
• explain NATO’s purpose
• identify member countries of NATO
• discuss employed defense strategies

This lesson plan was conceived and adapted from the lecture:

“Deterrence and Forward Presence in Europe: From Cold War to Present”
Sarah Kreps Associate Professor of Government, Cornell University March 24, 2018

The emergence of the Cold War following WWII did not allow for all U.S. troops to return home. The First Division, among other units, remained for a long time to help provide conventional deterrence and to reassure allies. The aftermath of the Cold War allowed for a reduction in the number of forces deployed, but new geopolitical realities may affect this moving forward.

1. Hook: Whole Class Viewing

NATO: What is it, why does it still exist, and how does it work?

2. Whole class direct instruction:
Discuss the fundamental concepts from the short clip:

3. Class discussion of political objectives and military aims.
• Do you think NATO is still a valid organization? Why or why not?
• Do you think the U.S. still needs to be a part of a broader political, military, or economic organization such as NATO or the United Nations? Why or why not?
• What purposes have these organizations served the U.S. in the past?
• What purposes do they currently serve?
• Should there be a new alliance system in place of the current system? Why or why not?
• If so, what would it look like? What would be its goals? Who would belong? What methods would it use to further U.S. goals?

3.Whole Class Viewing
Current Conflicts:

2017 has seen the arrival of more than 4,000 troops in countries along NATO’s eastern flank. Split into four multinational battle groups, each consisting of approximately 1,000 soldiers, the troop deployment is known as NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence.
The battle groups are stationed in the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and also Poland and are an important part of NATO’s defense and deterrence posture in the eastern and south-eastern part of the Alliance.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explain why the troop deployment is necessary.

What are today’s security challenges?

4. Whole Class Viewing:
Stratcom Commander Outlines Strategic Deterrence in 21st Century
DoD News Aug. 4, 2017 | 7:20
Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, says his command must focus on many domains, including space and cyber, to deter America’s adversaries.

5. Group Assignment:

Have small groups of students research the role of NATO in current conflicts. Assign each group one of the following topics to research:

Use this link to begin research:!/global-conflict-tracker

Research both secondary and primary sources. Discuss the following questions and take notes on the answers. All group members should have notes.
1. Using the table, gather and analyze statistics for your Hotspot.
2. What were the problems facing your country at the time of the crisis?
3. Summarize what happened in this crisis.
4. What was the NATO response?

To assist LS and ELL students, teachers can create research packets that modify language and readability. Academic language can be highlighted and defined.

Extension: Have the students further debate the conflicts in a Socratic seminar fashion.


NATO. “Deterrence: What It Can (and Cannot) Do.” NATO Review,

NATO. “On Deterrence.” NATO Review,

“The Value of Preserving NATO: Priceless.” Political Violence at a Glance, 3 Mar. 2017,

  • Ellen Resnek
  • Downingtown East High School
Grade Level
  • High School: 10, 11, 12
Time Frame
  • 2-3 45 Minute class periods

If you have any questions about this lesson plan, or if you wish to contact the author, please email us at