Ambiguity and Deterrence: British Nuclear Strategy, 1945-1964

By John Baylis | Go to book overview
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Eden and the Policy of Strategic
Expediency 1955-1956

It is on the thermonuclear bomb and the atomic weapons
that we now rely, not only to deter aggression, but to deal
with aggression if it should be launched . . . we are spend-
ing too much on forces of types which are no longer of
primary importance.
( Anthony Eden, July 1956)

WHEN he became Prime Minister in April 1955 Anthony Eden was determined to try and end the drift which had characterized British strategic policy over the past few years. He was not a grand strategist in the mould of Winston Churchill but he had become convinced as Foreign Secretary during the Geneva Conference in 1954 that hydrogen bombs were a powerful deterrent to war and he accepted the views of those who argued that Britain was 'doing too much to guard against the least likely risk . . . of major war'. The main threats 'were no longer military, but political and economic', and he believed that it was vital to restore the vitality of the economy rather than fritter resources away on obsolete military capabilities.1 His aim, therefore, was to continue the trend towards greater reliance on nuclear weapons. Several attempts were made during his short period as Prime Minister to shift the emphasis further in a nuclear direction and to scale down expenditure on preparations for a major conventional war. As with his precedessor, however, the complex interplay of bureaucratic, organizational, and alliance constraints combined to frustrate his attempt to implement a 'New Look' policy for Britain.

Eden, Full Circle, 370-1.


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