Policy of deliberate ambiguity
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A policy of deliberate ambiguity (also known as a policy of strategic ambiguity, strategic uncertainty) 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 People's Republic of China and Foreign relations of the 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.
- In early April 2015, an editorial in the British newspaper The Times, with a reference to semi-official sources within the Russian military and intelligence establishment, opined that Russia's warnings of its alleged preparedness for a nuclear response to certain non-nuclear acts on the part of NATO, were to be construed as "an attempt to create strategic uncertainty" to undermine Western concerted security policy.
- 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 ("Taiwan") in the event of an attack by the People's Republic of China ("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 seemingly abandoned strategic ambiguity in 2001 after then president George W. Bush stated that he would "do whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan. He later used more ambiguous language, stating in 2003 that "The United States policy is one China".
- 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.)
East and West Germany
After West Germany gave up its "Hallstein Doctrine" of ending diplomatic relations with any country recognizing East Germany (thus implicitly following a "one Germany policy"), West Germany turned to a policy of de facto recognizing East Germany in the 1970s, despite still maintaining several policies in accordance with the legal fiction of there being only one Germany.
East German citizens were for instance treated as (West) German citizens upon arrival in West Germany, and exports to East Germany were treated as if they were domestic trade. That created a deliberately ambiguous policy that reconciled the demand by the rest of the world for West Germany to acknowledge the existence of East Germany and the desire by the vast majority of West German politicians to avoid recognising German partition as permanent.
- "From Russia with Menace". The Times. 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
- "Bush vows 'whatever it takes' to defend Taiwan". CNN TV. 2001-04-25. Retrieved 2007-02-05.
- "Bush Opposes Taiwan Independence". Fox News. 2003-12-09. Retrieved 2016-02-18.
Eisenberg, Eric M (2007), Strategic ambiguities: Essays on communication, organization, and identity, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.