Richard K. Betts

Adjunct Senior Fellow for National Security Studies


Intelligence and U.S. defense policy; military strategy; political and military intelligence; international conflict; terrorism.


John J. McCloy Roundtable Series on Setting the National Security Agenda


Richard K. Betts is adjunct senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). At Columbia University, Betts is the Arnold A. Saltzman professor of war and peace studies in the political science department, director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, and director of the international security policy program in the School of International and Public Affairs. His areas of expertise include international conflict, U.S. defense policy, military strategy, political and military intelligence, and terrorism.

Previously, Betts was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution until 1990 and adjunct lecturer at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He has also served at different times on the Harvard faculty as lecturer in government and as visiting professor of government. A former staff member of the original Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Church Committee), the National Security Council, and the Mondale Presidential Campaign, Betts has been an occasional consultant to the National Intelligence Council and Central Intelligence Agency, served for six years on the National Security Advisory Panel for the director of central intelligence, and was a member of the National Commission on Terrorism (the Bremer Commission). He lectures frequently at schools such as the National War College, Foreign Service Institute, and U.S. Military Academy. He was honorably discharged as a second lieutenant from the U.S. Army in 1971.

Betts's writings have earned five prizes, including the Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association for the best book in political science. His first book, Soldiers, Statesmen, and Cold War Crises, published by Harvard University Press in 1977, was issued in a second edition by Columbia University Press in 1991. He is the author of three books published by the Brookings Institution: Surprise AttackNuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance, and Military Readiness; coauthor and editor of three other Brookings books: The Irony of VietnamNonproliferation and U.S. Foreign Policy, and Cruise Missiles: Technology, Strategy, Politics; editor of Conflict After the Cold War, second edition; and coeditor of Paradoxes of Strategic Intelligence. Betts has published numerous articles on foreign policy, military strategy, intelligence, conventional forces, nuclear weapons, arms trade, collective security, and other subjects in journals such as Foreign Affairs, International Security, World Politics, Political Science Quarterly, Survival, and International Studies Quarterly, among others.

Born in 1947, he received his BA, MA, and PhD in government from Harvard University. Betts is married to Adela M. Bolet, has three children, and lives in Teaneck, New Jersey.

All Publications

Foreign Affairs Article

Pick Your Battles

Author: Richard K. Betts

For more than a decade now, U.S. soldiers have been laboring under a sad paradox: even though the United States enjoys unprecedented global military dominance that should cow enemies mightily, it has found itself in constant combat for longer than ever before in its history, and without much to show for it.

See more in United States; Wars and Warfare

Ask CFR Experts

What is Obama’s “grand” foreign policy strategy?

Asked by Zahra Fatima, from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad

"Grand strategy" is defined as a coherent plan to use diplomatic, military, and economic instruments in certain ways to achieve national, overarching objectives. Grand strategies are usually identified by simple labels such as "containment," "détente," or "engagement and enlargement." In reality, international politics is complicated, and a democratic political system at home imposes constraints from public opinion, mobilized interest groups, and Congress.

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See more in Grand Strategy; United States

Foreign Affairs Article

The Lost Logic of Deterrence

Author: Richard K. Betts

For half a century, deterrence was the backbone of U.S. national security strategy. But now, Washington doesn't seem to know how and when to use it properly. The United States has needlessly applied deterrence to Russia, failed to apply it when it should have against Iraq and Iran, and been dangerously confused about whether to apply it to China. U.S. policymakers need to relearn the basics of deterrence in order to apply it successfully in the appropriate circumstances.

See more in Defense Strategy; United States

Transition 2012

Transition 2012

Video Brief: Defense

Speaker: Richard K. Betts

The winner of the 2012 U.S. presidential election will have to determine the scope of defense policy ambitions under strong pressure to restore domestic economic solvency, which will "overshadow" policy questions, says CFR's Richard K. Betts.

See more in Defense Budget; United States

Foreign Affairs Article

A Disciplined Defense

Author: Richard K. Betts

The United States now spends almost as much on defense in real dollars as it ever has before -- even though it has no plausible rationale for using most of its impressive military forces. Why? Because without political incentives for restraint, policymakers have lost the ability to think clearly about defense policy. Washington's new mantra should be "Half a trillion dollars is more than enough."

See more in Defense Strategy


Betts: Hayden Likely to Be Pressed in Confirmation Hearing on Wiretapping Issue

Richard K. Betts interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman

Richard K. Betts, a CFR expert on the intelligence community, says that he sees no reason that the nomination of General Michael V. Hayden to head the Central Intelligence Agency should be blocked by Congress because of his military background. But he says that "there's a powerful reason to consider opposing the nomination," citing Hayden's role in domestic wiretapping without proper warrants by his National Security Agency.

See more in United States; Intelligence


CFR Events

Meeting ⁄ New York

The Lessons and Legacy of the Iraq War

Panelists Richard K. BettsArnold A. Saltzman Professor and Director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University; Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, American Force, Enemies of Intelligence, and Military Readiness, Michael MandelbaumChristian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy and Director of the American Foreign Policy Program, The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Dennis RossCounselor, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Former Special Assistant to President Obama and Former Senior Director for the Central Region, National Security Council
Presider Susan ChiraAssistant Managing Editor for News, New York Times
April 12, 2013 12:30–1:00 p.m. - Lunch
1:00–2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ New York

Iraq's Impact on the Future of U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy: Coping with Rogue States, Failing States, and Proliferators (Session 4)

Speakers Lawrence D. FreedmanProfessor of War Studies, King's College, London, Steven E. MillerDirector, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
Presider Richard K. BettsAdjunct Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
October 6, 2006

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ New York

Making New York Safer Symposium - Session 1: The Terrorist Threat in New York

Speakers Steven SimonHasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, R.P. EddyManaging Director, Gerson Lehrman Group; and Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism, Executive Director, Center for Policing Terrorism, The Manhattan Institute, Richard K. BettsAdjunct Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider Brian RossChief Investigative Correspondent, ABC News
September 8, 2006

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ New York

A Conversation with Gary Hart

Speaker Gary HartFormer Member, U.S. Senate (D-CO) and author, “The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons”
Presider Richard K. BettsAdjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations and Professor of Political Science, Institute of War & Peace Studies, Columbia University
March 28, 2006

This meeting is on the record.