17 March 2022

Research project about deterrence is rewarded an ERC Grant


What influence does deterrence have on international politics? The topic is highly relevant at the moment and is now being supported by the European Research Council. The author behind the project is Senior Researcher Maria Mälksoo from the Department of Political Science and the Centre for Military Studies.

The red button. Photo: Max Pixel
A new research project examines conventional, nuclear, cyber and hybrid deterrence in contemporary political tensions.

As the ongoing war in Ukraine highlights, deterrence as a political tool is not a relic of the Cold War. But how can deterrence actually shape international politics, and what does deterrence mean politically for the communities that practice it? These are key questions in Maria Mälksoo’s research.

The project is the first to examine deterrence as a ritualized practice. Maria Mälksoo's goal is to promote an understanding of the political and psychological effects of deterrence in international security policy.

“For instance, how do we know whether our attempted dissuasion of an opponent has actually worked, if the proof of deterrence’s success is ‘nothing much happening’ – for the would-be challenger is refraining from the feared action,” Maria Mälksoo says and elaborates:

“And what explains the persisting political appeal of deterrence as an international conflict management strategy despite its indeterminate success rate and exorbitant material and political costs – particularly in case of nuclear deterrence?”

Looking at new and old conflicts

Empirically, the project offers systematic, sociological and comparative research in deterrence as a social practice across different dimensions, including military, political-diplomatic and legislative.

Maria Mälksoo examines conventional, nuclear, cyber and hybrid deterrence in contemporary political tensions between e.g. NATO and Russia as well as the United States and China. The project also dives into historical conflicts, not least between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The deterrence project has impressed the European Research Council, which has just awarded Maria Mälksoo an ERC Consolidator Grant. It is a scholarship awarded to support talented researchers while building or consolidating their own research team.

Terribly relevant research

For Maria Mälksoo, the grant could not have come at a better time.

“I have long wanted to focus on an all-consuming, longer project. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity given by the European Research Council to do just that for the next five years,” she says.

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine – and the consequent dangerous conflict between Russia and NATO – research into deterrence has also become extremely relevant.

"From all sides of the conflict, deterrence has enormous political significance. For me personally, the research will provide much-needed, intellectual comfort from the horrors of war,” says Maria Mälksoo.

Head of Department Nina Græger congratulates Maria Mälksoo with her grant and agrees that today’s situation makes her project even more important:

“The violent attack on Ukraine and its people has not only shocked a whole world. It also shows the need to rethink deterrence as part of our defence strategy as well as the European security architecture as such. I will follow this project with excitement and great interest in the years to come,” she says.

In September 2021, Maria Mälksoo joined the Centre for Military Studies at the Department of Political Science, which will be the base for the future research team she will now put together.

Facts about ERC Consolidator Grants

  • The European Research Council's Consolidator Grant supports talented researchers in consolidating their own research team.
  • You must have a PhD degree that is between 7-12 years old to apply for this scholarship.
  • To be suitable, you must have several important publications as either the main author or without a PhD supervisor.
  • You must also demonstrate in other ways that you have contributed to your field of research, e.g. by having been invited as a speaker at conferences, having received awards, etc.
  • You must be able to dedicate a minimum of 40 percent of your working time to an ERC project, and at least 50 percent of your working time must take place in an EU country or a country associated with Horizon Europe.
  • You can apply for up to 2 million euros for up to five years.

Read more on ERC's web page.


Maria Mälksoo
Senior researcher
Department of Political Science
Mail: maria.malksoo@ifs.ku.dk
Phone: +45 35 33 11 57

Simon Knokgaard Halskov
Communication consultant
Mail: sih@samf.ku.dk
Phone: +45 93 56 53 29


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