Ambiguity and Deterrence: British Nuclear Strategy, 1945-1964

By John Baylis | Go to book overview

10
The Impact of Nassau on British
Nuclear Strategy 1963-1964

It is really appalling that a couple of ministers and a zoologist can slip off to the Bahamas and, without a single member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee present, commit us to a military monstrosity [i.e. Polaris] on the purely political issue of nuclear independence--which any way is a myth. (Sir John Slessor, Feb. 1963)

THE Nassau Conference of 18-21 December 1962 represented a major milestone in the history of British nuclear strategy. With the cancellation of Skybolt, the future of the British 'independent' deterrent seemed very much in doubt. Within a few weeks, however, agreement had been reached with the United States which was to ensure that Britain retained an effective nuclear capability through to the 1990s. The Nassau Accords also created a powerful precedent for a follow-on agreement, leading to the purchase of Trident in the early 1980s, which is scheduled to provide Britain with the most sophisticated nuclear force available into the twenty-first century. In the shorter term, however, Nassau's impact on British strategy was more ambivalent. The conference was an occasion for a major confrontation in Anglo-American relations and the agreement became the source of further difficulties, particularly over Britain's involvement in a multilateral nuclear force. Nassau also created domestic difficulties for the government with the Chiefs of Staff, Tory backbenchers, and the Labour Opposition. More serious from the point of view of the military planners, the agreement failed to provide an immediate solution to the problems facing the nuclear deterrent force. Polaris was unlikely to be deployed before the late 1960s at the earliest and no arrangements were made for the United States to

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