Ambiguity and Deterrence: British Nuclear Strategy, 1945-1964

By John Baylis | Go to book overview

8
Independence and Interdependence
1957-1958

Even if the number of targets that can be successfully attacked is not directly proportional to the size of the bomber force, is it really clear that a smaller force than 144 [V-bombers] would not suffice to secure us the cooperation of the United States--if indeed that is the true aim of the independent deterrent.

( Peter Thorneycroft, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 17 Nov. 1958)

WHEN Harold Macmillan became Prime Minister in January 1957 he was soon preoccupied by two key issues: the need to deal with Britain's worsening economic situation and the need to restore close relations with the United States after the Suez crisis. Having been both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Minister of Defence, he had come to the conclusion that the problem of resolving Britain's economic difficulties depended on exerting more effective control over defence spending. He set about the task by appointing a forceful Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys, and providing him with new powers to deal with the difficulties caused by inter-service rivalries. In the aftermath of the Suez débâcle, Macmillan also believed that Britain's economic and strategic interests were best served through a close and intimate partnership with the United States. He concentrated, therefore, on restoring the 'special relationship' and extending interdependence between the two countries in the defence field.

Paradoxically, the Prime Minister's commitment to interdependence ran parallel with a rhetorical stress on independence which followed the humiliations of Suez. This has resulted in a debate between historians, not so much over whether Britain was seeking independence or interdependence, but over

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