This universal theory for successful deterrence applies across the spectrum of calculating players. Players can range from individuals to the state or even alliances of states. However, the assumption of this formula is that the players are intellectual decision makers. For example, at the individual level, many violent crimes are committed in throws of unbridled emotion. All too often, petty arguments between friends and family have progressed to the point where emotion and violence over-ruled the intellect. In most cases, had the player invested even minimal time into weighing the penalty for the crime they were about to commit, they would have altered their behavior. Governmental leaders do not commit their states to a road to war unless they’ve carefully weighed the consequences for such action and have made a decision based on a particular value system. Even nongovernmental organizations use a similar logical process before committing resources on a course of action. To simplify the concept of player, this formula separates the players into two camps, the protagonist and the antagonist.
The protagonist is the generation agent who is attempting to motivate the decision maker to alter an expected behavior. As the primary player in the deterrence process, the protagonist is required to put forth a greater effort in analyzing, planning, and execution. Any failure of deterrence can be traced to the inability of the protagonist to motivate the antagonist to alter an expected behavior.
Misidentifying the protagonist will create confusion for theorists and practitioners as they analyze the stability of a particular deterrence equation. For example, while a policeman has an important role in criminal deterrence, he is not the protagonist. He is merely one of the resources available to the protagonist in generating a desired motivation in the potential criminal. The protagonist at this level would the local or higher body of officials who codify the laws, procedures, and policies that the policeman enforces. Likewise at the international level, while the military has an important role in deterrence, it is not the protagonist. The status of the military is just one of the factors involved as to whether deterrence is successful. The protagonist is sometimes a body of government officials but more often than not, it is a single individual that makes the crucial decision establishing a specific policy, course of action, or contingency plan. That same decision maker is responsible for communicating the decision to the antagonist.
The antagonist is the decision maker who decides whether the protagonist has succeeded. Faced with attempting to achieve the expected action’s objective or the certainty of losing a precious possession, the antagonist will make the choice which is perceived to be most profitable. Misidentifying the antagonist will result in a poor decision and possibility failed deterrence.
In an attempt to reduce individual violent crimes, Australia passed severe gun restrictions in 1996, banning most guns and making it a crime to use a gun defensively. In the subsequent four years, armed robberies rose by 51%, unarmed robberies by 37%, assaults by 24%, and kidnappings by 43%.[i] The law-makers decision must have based their decision on the assumption that individuals with guns commit crimes. The law-abiding citizens eventually surrendered their guns, leaving only the criminal elements with the guns. Crimes became even more common because the local government unwittingly removed a deterrent factor from the criminal considerations—the armed citizen.
At the international level, if the United States President had decided that the attackers on 9/11 were representatives of all Muslim people, the course of action would have spread violence and war across dozens of nations and may have produced the death of tens of millions of people. But that didn’t happen, the real decision stated that only the nations that harbored specific terrorist organizations were partially responsible for the actions of the 9/11 terrorists. While other actions may or may not be pending, so far only a focused adjustment to the political world map was made to remove and replace the governments of the states of Afghanistan and then Iraq. Following those successful removals of state governments, only a few isolated states continued to harbor terrorist organizations. On-going deterrence attempts are currently underway against those states.
Time will be the ultimate judge of these attempts. If misidentified, the antagonist will eventually be revealed to the protagonist though a calculated commission of unacceptable behavior, because misguided deterrence usually fails.