Deterrence as a security concept against non-traditional threats: In-depth study


This study focuses on the international dimension of five threats that could affect the Netherland: terrorism; threats in the cyber domain; organised crime; threats in the economic domain; and ambiguous warfare. It also analyses the applicability of deterrence as an instrument in the context of each area.

These main areas of threat are discussed in terms of the following three sub-questions: what is the current situation of the threat under consideration?; to what extent is the threat relevant to Dutch national security for the coming five to ten years?; and in what way is deterrence (of the threat) as a security concept relevant to the protection of national security?

Key findings:

  • Deterrence can be achieved by influencing the costs versus gains assessment of potential perpetrators or their facilitators such that it is less attractive or unattractive to perform or support harmful acts. Deterrence as a security concept is relevant to all of the five main areas of threat discussed. The most effective kind of deterrence depends on the main area of threat in question and the specific actors in that context. An effective deterrence policy should therefore be tailored to a specific area of threat and, where possible, specific groups and actors.
  • The costs assessment of potential perpetrators can be directly influenced by means of the threat of retaliation. This method seems to be most suitable as deterrence against criminal activity and economic threats posed by state actors. The more difficult it is to identify the perpetrators, the less effective the threat of retaliation. The effectiveness of this method against cyber threats and ambiguous warfare is therefore limited. Moreover, it is difficult in both cases to determine the proportionality of retaliatory measures. The effectiveness of this method is also limited with respect to terrorist threats, particularly in the case of terrorists who do not fear retaliation. The assessment of potential gains can be directly influenced by reducing opportunities to carry out harmful acts or the probability of success of such acts, or at any rate by generating the impression that success is less likely.
  • With respect to all measures discussed, international cooperation considerably strengthens the deterrence capability of the Netherlands. In many cases, effective deterrence is probably not even possible without international cooperation. When taking diplomatic and economic retaliatory measures, the Netherlands is far more effective when acting in concert with international partners. International cooperation is also important in terms of acquiring the intelligence required to identify an actual or potential perpetrator. The ability to identify and expose a perpetrator is a key part of an effective deterrence policy.
  • It is also important to note that deterrence aimed at preventing Dutch interests from being compromised is less far-reaching and therefore possibly easier to achieve than forms of deterrence that reduce the level of threat posed by any country whatsoever. The need for joint action in an international context as a condition for an effective deterrence policy implies, however, that deterrence aimed solely at protecting Dutch national security is inadequate.
  • To achieve effective deterrence, in addition to international cooperation, there are a few more conditions. The measures taken must be credible, the deterrence message must be clearly communicated to the potential perpetrator (communication), the threat and the actors from which it emanates must be known (intelligence), and the deterrence must be based on actual capabilities and an integrated approach (it must deal with both the costs and gains side through several policy domains and types of capabilities).



Van der Putten, F., Meijnders, M. & Rood, J. (2015). Deterrence as a security conceptagainst non-traditional threats: In-depth study. The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael.