By James Cable (auth.)

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Both sides thus have cause to be quick on the trigger, as was shown in August 1981, when two Libyan aircraft were shot down by patrols from the USS NIMITZ. Whatever the method adopted, therefore, the risk always exists that raising the level of conflict will also mean raising the level of violence. Escalation is thus an option of which the availability is not necessarily proportionate to aggregate resources. Admittedly the country with the most numerous and sophisticated weapons is physically capable of raising the conflict to a level at which the opponent can no longer compete.

Motivation is more important. Even at quite high levels of conflict it is both politically and militarily advantageous to be single-minded, particularly if this concentration on a single objective extends from the leadership to the people. Finland survived the Winter War, Britain escaped invasion in 1940, Vietnam defeated the United States because their enemies were less single-minded: they had conflicting priorities. Politically the case is obvious: the single-minded are ready to make more sacrifices, run greater risks, endure longer.

On the other hand, would Confrontation have been so violent and so persistent without this initial and misleading indication of British docility? There is no certain answer, but one function of the expressive use of coercive diplomacy is undoubtedly to signal resolve. Indonesia did this more convincingly than Britain. Curiously enough, the expressive use of coercive diplomacy is sometimes better attempted by actions than by words, by warships rather than by politicians or diplomats. Verbal threats, for instance, must often be pitched rather high, must even be inconveniently explicit, to carry much conviction.

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