Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965

By Timothy J. Botti | Go to book overview

20
BEST-LAID PLANS

Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.

-- Dean Acheson, December 5, 19621

The Skybolt ASM did not measure up to the systems analysis criteria McNamara had brought to the Pentagon. By fall 1962 the Secretary of Defense came to the tentative conclusion that the administration should not procure it for the Air Force. That created a serious diplomatic problem with the British, in that Macmillan and Defence Minister Peter Thorneycroft were counting on Skybolt to extend the life of British V-bombers until some other national nuclear weapons system could be developed or purchased. Since Macmillan had cancelled the Blue Streak IRBM two years earlier and the Blue Water missile in August 1962, the only realistic alternative was the Polaris missile system. In fact, the prime minister had long been counting on the availability of Polaris and had linked--unofficially--the basing of American Polaris submarines at Holy Loch, Scotland to continued U.S. assistance in maintaining an independent British deterrent. Politically, too, the hold of Macmillan's Conservative Party on the House of Commons would be compromised if the Americans did not carry through with the agreement in principle Eisenhower had made on March 29, 1960. Immediately following the Soviet capitulation over missiles in Cuba, the Kennedy administration turned to the problem of making a final decision on Skybolt and how to break the bad news to the British.2

Ideally, cancelling Skybolt would dovetail nicely with a final push to implement the NSAM 40 policy of building up NATO's conventional defenses, eliminating national nuclear forces, and selling the MLF as an alternative. It would also assist Britain's entry into the EEC because the special nuclear relationship with London had long been a sore point for the Common Market's most important player--Charles de Gaulle. However, the French president held a grudge from his treatment by American and British leaders during World War II and the rejection of his Directory idea in 1958. He suspended that a British

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Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Military Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • 1 - Sayonara Sanity? 1
  • 2 - War Scare 7
  • 3 - The Soviets Draw an Ace 17
  • 4 - Strategic Error 23
  • 5 - First Forbearance 31
  • 6 - The Cart Before the Horse 44
  • 7 - French Chestnuts in the Fire 55
  • 8 - The President Vacillates 66
  • 9 - Muscling Up 78
  • 10 - Sword of Damocles 95
  • 11 - The Last Sideshow 102
  • 12 - The Autobahn to Armageddon 109
  • 13 - Cocked Gun 121
  • 14 - Amateur Hour 138
  • 15 - Harebrained Schemes 151
  • 16 - Muddling Through 163
  • 17 - Multilateral Folly 171
  • 18 - High Noon 185
  • 19 - Two Bluffs 201
  • 20 - Best-Laid Plans 216
  • 21 - Strategic Incompetence 230
  • 22 - Unplayable Card? 243
  • Notes 253
  • Index 301
  • About the Author 313
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