The Political Context of Deterrence

  • Thomas Boyd-Carpenter
Part of the RUSI Defence Studies book series (RUSIDS)


The traditional focus of any debate on the scale and nature of a security threat, and over the appropriate level of provision to counter it, lies in the distinction between capabilities and intentions. The military customarily lay particular emphasis on capabilities. They are conscious that in the last resort they may have to put their preparations into practice, and that at that moment it will be the actual numbers of men and equipment and their quality, rather than any prior estimate of intentions, that will determine the outcome. They argue that intentions can change overnight, while the buildup of capabilities may require years of endeavour. Finance Ministries, equally understandably, lay greater emphasis on intentions. They point out the impracticality of insuring against every conceivable threat, and indeed the undesirability of so doing, not merely because of the opportunity cost of such expenditure in terms of wider national interests but also from the danger of fuelling an unproductive arms race. They stress that in selecting the proper level of defence expenditure nations should be guided not by judgements as to what a potential adversary could do, but what, on a rational assessment of his national interests, it is likely that he will do.


Nuclear Weapon Political Context Weapon System Ballistic Missile Defence Budget 
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Copyright information

© Royal United Services Institute 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Boyd-Carpenter
    • 1
  1. 1.Headquarters, British Army of the RhineUK

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