Why “Restoring Deterrence” is Not a Thing
...and why America’s bloody reputation neutered its deterrent threats against the Houthis
The Biden administration, along with the UK, has just launched a series of missile strikes against Houthi Rebels in Yemen. It could be a prelude to a cataclysmic region-wide war.
What precipitated the strikes is also no small thing (Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden using a combination of drones, anti-ship cruise missiles, and anti-ship ballistic missiles).
Something had to be done, of course—did you think the national security state wouldn’t defend capitalism?
It seems to me an Israeli ceasefire would’ve been a far more effective way of halting Houthi attacks. History, after all, didn’t begin suddenly with Houthi drone swarms. But bombing impoverished countries is something we have a habit of doing—Biden is now the fourth consecutive US president to support bombing Yemen. (I’m not just being sanctimonious here—this matters for reasons I explain below)
Anyway, the White House, along with several other governments, issued warnings to the Houthis that, in effect, they would not tolerate attempts to shut down freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. It wasn’t obvious what the punishment would be.
But the threat that leaves something to chance was on the table, and missiles are a go-to in the US repertoire (US missiles also allow the rest of the developed world to talk tough while not having to do much).
But the reasons used to justify force matter. In this case, bombing Yemen was expected to “restore deterrence.” How much you wanna bet it doesn’t?
Many a Pentagon dweller thinks that “restoring deterrence” is something one does. Deterrence fails, so it must be restored.
This was also the explicit logic of the Trump administration’s assassination of Qassem Soleimani too—restoring deterrence (which it demonstrably failed to do).
And now, Republican Senator Roger Wicker said this is why we bombed Yemen:
this strike was two months overdue, but it is a good first step toward restoring deterrence in the Red Sea.
Whatever grounds exist to attack the Houthis, the worst argument to make is that you’re “restoring” deterrence. You’re not. That just isn’t a thing. And by putting state violence to work on behalf of shoddy reasoning, you’re needlessly risking a regional war.
Let me explain.