Ambiguity and Deterrence: British Nuclear Strategy, 1945-1964

By John Baylis | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Policy is not something that sort of springs fully-clothed from the brow of a government. Policy is something that people . . . write about afterwards, rationalising a whole series of individual performances.

(Sir Brian Cubbon, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office 1979-88)

THIS study has tried to show that in the period from 1945 to 1964 important 'contradictions and disjunctions' occurred in the British approach to nuclear deterrence between what Rosenberg has described as 'High Policy', 'Strategic Planning', and 'Operational Planning'. From Attlee to Macmillan, 'High Policy', consistently stressed the overriding importance in British strategy of the prevention of war through nuclear deterrence. Priority was given first to the development of atomic, and later thermonuclear, weapons and continuous attempts were made by governments to establish nuclear deterrence at the centre of the strategic stage. This was evident in the numerous 'Directives' issued to defence planners, especially during the 1950s, and the consistent, if not altogether successful, attempts to get NATO to adopt new strategic concepts which put greater emphasis on nuclear weapons. Problems arose, however, in translating this 'policy' of nuclear deterrence into strategic and operational planning. Political leaders lacked the technical expertise to provide clear political guidance to the military planners and there is some evidence that they were overawed at times by the tremendous destructive power of the weapons at their disposal. They were also preoccupied by the vast array of domestic and international problems which jostled for their attention. As a consequence military leaders were left to get on with the task of strategic and operational planning. At the strategic level the period witnessed numerous

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