Nuclear Rivals: Anglo-American Atomic Relations, 1941-1952

By Greenberg, Myron A. | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Rivals: Anglo-American Atomic Relations, 1941-1952


Greenberg, Myron A., Naval War College Review


Paul, Septimus H. Nuclear Rivals: Anglo-American Atomic Relations, 1941-1952. Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 2000. 266pp. $42.50

With the collapse of Soviet power and the end of the Cold War, the paradigm that helped to explain that era shifted. Scholars seeking to understand better the period are now free to reassess that era, taking into account other variables in the power calculus with the same degree of attention previously concentrated upon the Soviet Union. To cite just one example of this paradigm shift, since the opening of recent British archives scholars have concluded that British foreign and defense policy had a much more decisive impact on the early Cold War than was apparent in earlier considerations. The new study by Septimus H. Paul is one such reassessment.

Paul is a professor of history at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois. His Nuclear Rivals is a meticulous examination of Anglo-American wartime collaboration in the development of the atomic bomb, followed by the decision of the United States after the war to deny Great Britain the fruits of that collaboration-the requisite technologies to build a British atomic bomb. To British eyes, this was a betrayal of solemn (if secret) promises made by President Franklin Roosevelt to Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the war and of understandings between President Harry Truman and Prime Minister Clement Attlee afterward.

Part of the complexity of Anglo-American relations is to be explained by their multileveled nature. The alliance against Hitler during World War II forged a common front, which coexisted with substantive differences over grand strategy and the postwar political-economic settlement, particularly on questions relating to open markets and decolonization. The desire of the British to exercise joint partnership with the United States in the monopoly of the atomic bomb, and the American reluctance to do so, proved to be particularly divisive. These profound differences continued into the postwar world but were overshadowed by the American and British governments' perceived fear of the common threat from Soviet Russia. One of the truly valuable contributions of Nuclear Rivals is Paul's fidelity to this complexity and to the sources in relating the story of American collaboration and noncollaboration with Britain in atomic weapons development. Paul makes no attempt to sweeten or marginalize the differences between the two nations in this area; his approach is explicit, without attention to peripheral issues.

The major contribution of this book is its attention to what used to be called in the literature "the raw materials question." This relates to the American attempt during World War 11 to secure a monopoly of the world's uranium supply. One complication for the Americans was that the source of the highest-quality uranium, absolutely indispensable for building an atomic bomb, was the then Belgian Congo. Paul presents a compelling picture of Anglo-American maneuvering-on the American side, for an indefinite monopoly over the uranium output of the Shinkolobwe Mine; and on the British side, to secure first an allocation of uranium on a fifty-fifty basis with the United States, and then to trade off the British allocation in return for the technical details of the American atomic bomb. In this relationship, the British had rather decisive advantages, which they did not fail to exploit fully-a particularly close relationship with the Belgian government, and the fact that British investors owned 30 percent of the shares of Union Menere du Haut Katanga, which owned the Shinkolobwe Mine. Paul's appreciation of this intimate relationship and its consequences for the United States is worth noting. Should Great Britain be so disposed, "it could and would secure a monopoly over the Belgian Congo raw materials. The United States would then be in a most disadvantageous position. …

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