Some Constraints on Defence Policy Makers

  • John C. Garnett


Sir David Kelly once made the dry observation that decision making — or is it decision taking? — in the Civil Service is a ‘casual unreasoning action by ordinary men in positions of extraordinary power’.1 Now although government decisions do sometimes seem to have the quality of inexplicable arbitrariness to which Sir David referred, the assumption underlying this paper is that, for the most part at least, they reflect a deliberate and calculated response by officials to the situation in which they find themselves. In other words, it is assumed that defence decisions involve a reasoned choice from a number of perceived alternatives of that course of action deemed most likely to promote the state of affairs desired by the decision maker. As such, defence policy is susceptible to rational analysis, and although we may never quite get to the bottom of any particular decision,2 we can penetrate some of the mystery by identifying the constraints which pushed decision makers towards some choices and away from others. Much of the paper will deal with the human, organisational and political pressures which combine to force policy makers to take actions which, however curious to the outside observer, make sense when located in their proper context. Regrettably, other constraints of an economic and technological kind cannot be dealt with in a short paper.


Decision Maker National Interest Defence Policy International Life International Situation 
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© National Defence College 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • John C. Garnett

There are no affiliations available

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