France, the United Kingdom and deterrence in the twenty-first century
Contemporary Security Policy, 25, (1), . (doi:10.1080/1352326042000290560).
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The current strategic era can be regarded as having both continuities and discontinuities with the past. This is particularly the case with regard to the nuclear and other deterrence policies of the two European nuclear-weapon states, France and the United Kingdom. As a consequence, the analysis that follows will use as its starting point the late-twentieth century perspectives of these states on their deterrent forces and concepts.
Before looking at the elements of continuity and discontinuity in the policies of both states, it is necessary to highlight the analytical and policy distinction between the existence of a nuclear capability and the existence of a nuclear deterrent relationship. On the one hand, the existence of a proven or believed capability to make nuclear weapons, most credibly by having conducted a test of a nuclear device, is a necessary element in a nuclear deterrent relationship.1 On the other, a state could credibly claim to have a nuclear-weapon capability, but not have any overt doctrine for its use as a nuclear deterrent, whatever the perspectives of other states on this matter.
As a consequence, this analysis will address two distinct issues. One is the motivations that led both states to acquire and sustain a nuclear-weapon capability. The second is to examine the generic situations that would cause their current nuclear and other capabilities to be used in a deterrent mode, either as a general threat to influence the behaviour of a target state or as an overt or implicit military threat to destroy specific targets.
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