Policy of deliberate ambiguity
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A policy of deliberate ambiguity (also known as a policy of strategic ambiguity) is the practice by a country of being intentionally ambiguous on certain aspects of its foreign policy or whether it possesses certain weapons of mass destruction. It may be useful if the country has contrary foreign and domestic policy goals or if it wants to take advantage of risk aversion to abet a deterrence strategy. Such a policy can be very risky as it may cause misinterpretation of a nation's intentions, leading to actions that contradict that nation's wishes.
Beijing and Taipei
- Due to the controversial political status of Taiwan, foreign governments have long felt a need to be ambiguous regarding Taiwan. In practice, they maintain different levels of ambiguity on their attitudes to the Taiwan issue: see Foreign relations of the Republic of China and Foreign relations of the People's Republic of China.
- Saddam Hussein employed a policy of intentional ambiguity about whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction prior to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Not believing that U.S. forces would ultimately invade Iraq, Saddam Hussein persisted in a “cat and mouse” game with U.N. inspectors to ensure the Iraqi population and its neighbors would believe it had weapons of mass destruction. If it became clear that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, it would lose the fear and control it held over its population and the appearance of dominance over its neighboring adversaries—specifically Iran. If it became clear that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction, it would have violated United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 and risk invasion by the U.S. and its allies. The “cat and mouse” game that Iraq played with U.N. inspectors was designed to allow it to avoid violation of U.N. Resolution 687, while at the same time ensuring its population and its neighbors still believed it may have weapons of mass destruction.
- Whether or not it possesses nuclear weapons.
- Israel practices deliberate ambiguity over the issue of targeted killings, never confirming or denying whether Israel is involved in the deaths of suspected terrorists on foreign soil.
- The United Kingdom is deliberately ambiguous about whether its ballistic missile submarines would carry out a nuclear counter-attack in the event that the government were destroyed by a nuclear first strike. Upon taking office, the incoming Prime Minister issues sealed letters of last resort to the commanders of the submarines on what action to take in such circumstances.
- Whether it would retaliate to a chemical or biological attack with nuclear weapons; specifically, during the Persian Gulf War.
- Whether it would defend the Republic of China in the event of an attack by the People's Republic of China. This policy was intended to discourage both a unilateral declaration of independence by ROC leaders and an invasion of Taiwan by the PRC. The United States has since been much less ambiguous after George W. Bush stated he would "do whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan, but has continued to express dissatisfaction over moves towards a unilateral declaration of independence.
- Whether certain United States Navy surface ships, such as destroyers, carry nuclear weapons. This led to a New Zealand ban of US Navy ships from its ports. (Besides that, the US has many ballistic missile submarines which are acknowledged to be equipped with nuclear warheads.)
- "Bush vows 'whatever it takes' to defend Taiwan". CNN TV. 2001-04-25. Retrieved 2007-02-05.
Eisenberg, Eric M (2007), Strategic ambiguities: Essays on communication, organization, and identity, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.