. 12
( 14)


required for Cold War and limited war roles. The navy™s contribution to
a major war should be restricted to what could be done with these ships
and the reserve ¬‚eet should be drastically reduced. It should be accepted
that at present the navy could not make a contribution to the nuclear
deterrent, although he did not rule out a contribution at a later stage.113
The Admiralty had no intention of accepting Lloyd™s strategic vision
and pointed out that his proposed ¬nancial and manpower ceilings
could be met only by abandoning Britain™s role as a world-wide naval
power, with all that that would entail in loss of in¬‚uence. A compromise
was reached on a ¬gure that Lloyd thought was the minimum necessary
for a navy that could ful¬l Cold War and limited war roles in the 1960s,
˜though not necessarily global war ones™.114
Notwithstanding the government™s commitment to give priority to the
nuclear deterrent, Lloyd™s long-term defence review led in November
1955 to a reduction in the target strength of the V-bomber force for 1959
from 240 to 200. The Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Defence,
Brundrett, who some believed was in¬‚uenced by his earlier service at the
Admiralty, argued that a force of 180 would be a suf¬ciently impressive
deterrent to in¬‚uence the Americans, and that a bigger British con-
tribution to the West™s deterrent was unnecessary. On the other hand, he
said, the navy and the army had to be able to meet Britain™s Cold War
and limited war commitments independently of the Americans. The
CAS warned that a reduction even to 200 V-bombers would signi¬cantly
reduce the RAF™s ability to destroy targets that threatened Britain™s
survival in a nuclear war, an ability that the Swinton Committee had
considered to be a crucial justi¬cation for the force™s existence. Once the
CAS™s ˜absolute minimum™ ¬gure of 240 had been given up, it was harder
for the RAF to resist calls from the Minister of Defence or the Treasury

Long Term Defence Programme, minutes of meeting on 12 July 1955, MISC/M (55)
69, DEFE 7/963, TNA.
˜The long term defence programme™, memorandum by the Minister of Defence, 17
Aug. 1955, DEFE 7/964.
Navias, Nuclear Weapons, pp. 75“7.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 321

for further reductions. The purpose of the V-bombers had become
essentially political, since the force was not big enough to prevent the
United Kingdom from being devastated by a Soviet thermonuclear
attack. When there was a need for further economies, the V-bomber
force could be subjected to cuts like any other part of the defence pro-
grammes: in August 1956 the decision was taken to reduce its target
strength to 184, and a year later the target was reduced to 144.115
Given that the services were ¬ghting a major bureaucratic battle
during the long-term defence review, it is not surprising that the Chiefs
of Staff had dif¬culty in reaching agreement on what kind of war Britain
was supposed to be planning for. In June 1955 they set out three dif-
ferent scenarios, the only common feature of which was a continued
need to have all three services prepared for global war. The ¬rst scenario
envisaged three phases: ¬rst, a thermonuclear exchange lasting for three
or four days would lead to massive destruction and a breakdown of
central command; second, surviving forces across the world would ¬ght
with whatever weapons that they had available; third, central control
would be re-established over a period of months or even years, with the
navy playing a central role. The second scenario began with a local
con¬‚ict leading to limited war, which escalated via tactical atomic
weapons to a full-scale world war in which thermonuclear weapons were
used. The third scenario was a variant on the ¬rst, with the Soviet navy
trying to cut Western Europe off from North America after an initial
thermonuclear exchange.116 Clearly the concept of broken-backed
warfare had survived the impact of the hydrogen-bomb tests over a year
Nevertheless, the implications of the use of thermonuclear weapons
against the United Kingdom in a future global war did lead to the
abandonment of any idea of a long-war strategy such as had informed
earlier defence planning. The services™ Joint War Production Commit-
tee recommended in September 1955 that all planning of expansion of
defence production, including conversion of civil industry, for a global
war should be abandoned. Industrial capacity devoted to defence pro-
duction should be limited to what was required for the maintenance and
re-equipment of the forces in peace and to enable them to ¬ght a limited
war, and ˜to provide some insurance against the initial stages of global
war™.117 The last requirement gave some protection to the defence

Ball, Bomber in British Strategy, pp. 126“8, 132, 146“7; Baylis Ambiguity and Deterrence,
pp. 224“6, 248.
Con¬dential annex to COS (55) 51st meeting, 29 June 1955, DEFE 7/963, TNA.
˜Future war production planning™, memorandum by the Ministry of Defence, DC (55)
38, 16 Sep. 1955, CAB 131/16, TNA.
322 Arms, economics and British strategy

industries, but fell far short of Britain™s traditional role as an arsenal for
its allies. It was also clear that the ¬ghting of a global war would be done
by the forces available at the outset of the war, and not by forces raised
by mass mobilisation, as in the First and Second World Wars.
In June 1956 Eden set up a policy review in which ministers would
examine the future of the United Kingdom in world affairs. He believed
that the government™s political and military objectives should be, ¬rst, to
avoid global war; and, second, to protect vital overseas interests, parti-
cularly access to oil. These objectives in turn depended, he said, upon
keeping the United States and Canada involved in Europe; developing
closer co-operation with these two countries; and maintaining the
cohesion of the Commonwealth.118 As Baylis points out, the Chiefs of
Staff ™s in¬‚uence on the review was minimised by their inability to agree
on a joint report on global strategy. Instead, ministers received two
papers in July, one by the CAS, emphasising the nuclear deterrent; the
other by the First Sea Lord and the CIGS, emphasising the continuing
need for conventional forces. The CAS claimed that war would be
avoided, even after the Soviet Union achieved nuclear parity with the
West, so long as each side was capable of in¬‚icting an unacceptable
degree of damage on the other. The navy and army paper argued that,
once there was nuclear parity, it could no longer be assumed that the
Americans would use nuclear weapons unless their own immediate
safety was threatened. In such a situation conventional forces would be
required to ensure that the Soviet Union could not achieve its objectives
in Europe.119 The case for more expenditure on conventional forces was
reinforced by the experience of the Suez operation, when it was dis-
covered that the RAF™s bomber force “ predominantly Canberras, but
including four squadrons of Valiant V-bombers “ was not prepared for
overseas service. In particular, Bomber Command™s navigation and
targeting equipment was de¬cient once it was out of range of radar
beacons in Western Europe, and the need for air-transportable equip-
ment for future limited wars was identi¬ed.120 The operation could not
have gone ahead at all without the support of the navy™s carrier-borne
aircraft and helicopters, as well as its specialised ships for amphibious
The ¬nal paper for the policy review, by the Minister of Defence,
Head, in December 1956 frankly admitted that it had not been possible

Policy Review minutes, 9 June 1956, and PR (56) 11, 15 June 1956, CAB 134/1315,
Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence, pp. 214“15.
Wynn, RAF Nuclear Deterrent, pp. 129“34.
Grove, Vanguard to Trident, pp. 183“97.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 323

to agree on a long-term defence programme that would enable Britain to
ful¬l its political commitments and yet be within its economic means.
He suggested that the way ahead was to make a ¬rm plan for reducing
the size of the forces to what could be afforded and to reduce com-
mitments to what these smaller forces could cope with. The size of the
nuclear deterrent, he thought, was arguable, but it must be seen to be ˜a
signi¬cant contribution™. The army and the tactical air force in Germany
should be reduced by as much as would not jeopardise the continued
existence of NATO. The forces in the Middle and Far East should be
reviewed in the light of the assumptions that they would be deployed
within the Baghdad Pact and SEATO, and that Britain was unlikely to
engage in a limited war on her own. Increased mobility of air power and
air transport would enable lightly armed and equipped mobile forces to
intervene speedily for internal security and Commonwealth policing.
The navy must be smaller, but more modern, with two ¬‚eet carriers and
one light ¬‚eet carrier, and other ships, such as guided missile destroyers,
to make ˜a tolerably balanced ¬‚eet™. Head had hopes that co-operation
with the Americans could reduce the cost of a research and development
programme. One of Eden™s last acts as prime minister was to authorise
him to work out, in conjunction with the service ministers, a long-term
defence policy based on a reduction in uniformed manpower from the
current strength of 720,000 to 450,000.122
The immediate outcome of the policy review was the Sandys White
Paper of April 1957.123 There was, of course, no time to have an
extended review of defence policy in about three months, and the Chiefs
of Staff were unable to agree on a united front comparable to the Global
Strategy paper of 1952. While it is possible to see strategic policy
evolving towards greater dependence on the deterrent, following the
American hydrogen bomb tests in 1954, Martin Navias is right to
emphasise the discontinuity between pre-1957 and post-1957 develop-
ments. The 1957 White Paper was a response to a perceived need to
preserve the economic stability required to sustain Britain™s in¬‚uence in
world affairs, and nuclear weaponry offered the means to have inter-
national political in¬‚uence despite a radical reduction in expensive
conventional forces. On the other hand, it is more debatable whether
Navias is right in stating that the Suez failure was a necessary condition
for change, if by change he means the shift in balance between con-
ventional and nuclear forces.124 The Suez operation pointed to a need
PR (56) 45, ˜Long term defence programme™, memorandum by the Minister of
Defence, 14 Dec. 1956, and PR (56) 50, note by the Prime Minister, 24 Dec. 1956,
CAB 134/1315, TNA.
Cmnd 124. 124 Navias, Nuclear Weapons, pp. 243“4.
324 Arms, economics and British strategy

for better, more mobile, conventional forces, for operations outside
Western Europe, and to that extent acted as a brake on increasing
dependence on nuclear forces.
In the defence review that preceded the White Paper the chairman of
the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Dickson, directed the Joint Planning
Staff to take account of the need for a deterrent; the limitations imposed
by obligations to NATO, the Baghdad Pact and SEATO; internal
security commitments in the Middle and Far East; and, in the light of
recent events in Egypt, ˜the problems imposed by the very real barrier
between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean™. On the last point,
Mountbatten, as ¬rst sea lord, thought that the problem of probable
closure of the Suez Canal in times of crisis should be met by organising
three carrier groups that would rotate between the Mediterranean and
the Indian Ocean, with relief of ships in the Indian Ocean always taking
place there. Discussion of the Joint Planning Staff™s subsequent paper
followed the usual departmental lines, with the CIGS, Sir Gerald
Templer, pointing out that the need for a British contribution to the
nuclear deterrent should not be tied to any particular ¬gure for aircraft;
Mountbatten and Templer arguing for more emphasis on support for
NATO, the Baghdad Pact and SEATO; and the CAS, Boyle, describing
the proposed reduction in Fighter Command in advance of the
deployment of SAMs as ˜a serious, calculated risk™.125
Ministers™ discussions on defence policy early in 1957 took place
during a sterling crisis. In the Defence Committee Macmillan made
plain the extent to which the exercise was driven by economics rather
than by strategy. The ˜main objective™ was to bring the armed forces
below a ceiling of about 380,000 (a 15 per cent reduction from Eden™s
¬gure) as soon as possible, and not later than the end of 1962. The
¬gure of 380,000 was ¬xed in terms of what the services could rea-
sonably expect to recruit as regulars, and was not related to commit-
ments. The number of kiloton and megaton bombs that could be
produced would depend upon costs, and not upon the number of
bombers. The size of the V-bomber force would be related to the need
not to incur cancellation charges for Mark I aircraft for which contracts
had already been signed, plus the additional numbers of Mark II ver-
sions required for the Blue Steel powered bomb, once it became avail-
able. Macmillan said that it could be assumed that ˜we should not use
strategic nuclear weapons except in alliance with the USA™, and the aim,

Con¬dential annexes to COS (57) 6th meeting, 15 Jan., and 8th meeting, 29 Jan.,
1957, ˜Long term defence policy™, report by Joint Planning Staff, JP (57) 8 (Final), 24
Jan. 1957, DEFE 4/94, TNA.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 325

therefore, was to have suf¬cient nuclear weapons under British control
˜to provide a deterrent in¬‚uence independent of the USA™.126 The
White Paper claimed that scienti¬c advances had become suf¬ciently
clear to enable a comprehensive reshaping of policy, but in view of
uncertainty about the prospects of Anglo-American collaboration on
thermonuclear weapons, the future of Blue Streak, and Air Staff doubts
about the ability of SAMs to replace ¬ghters, it is hard to believe that
new developments in weapons technology were the proximate cause of
policy changes.127
It is also possible to exaggerate the clarity with which the White Paper
outlined future defence policy. It was revolutionary in con¬ning air
defence to the protection of bomber bases, but it was vague about the
˜modest contribution™ that the V-bombers and Thor missiles would
make to the Western deterrent. The army™s position that nuclear-armed
air power was not a complete deterrent, because the frontiers of the free
world had to be defended on the ground, was retained. The big change
in policy in this respect was not based on a strategic assessment of the
Soviet threat but rather a determination that Britain™s disproportionately
large contribution of conventional forces should be reduced. The BAOR
would be cut from 72,000 to 64,000 men during the next twelve
months, with further reductions thereafter; and the tactical air force and
light bomber force assigned to NATO would be halved. The two Ter-
ritorial Army divisions hitherto earmarked as reinforcements for NATO
were to be trained and equipped only for home defence duties, like the
rest of the Territorial Army, as the time taken to make Territorial ¬eld
units ready for action, three months, meant that they would be of little
value in a nuclear war.128 The ghost of broken-backed warfare con-
tinued to haunt decisions on the navy, whose role in a major war was
described as ˜somewhat uncertain™ (re¬‚ecting Sandys™ doubts about
aircraft carriers), but, in line with Admiralty arguments, it was stated
that there was the ˜possibility that the nuclear battle might not be
decisive™, and that in that event the protection of Atlantic communica-
tions against submarine attack would be of ˜great importance™.129 Com-
mitments to the Baghdad Pact and SEATO, and the Commonwealth,

Defence Committee minutes, 27 Feb. 1957, CAB 131/18, TNA.
Cmnd 124, para. 5. See also para. 9, where it is stated that rapid progress in scienti¬c
development made it dif¬cult to foresee the future.
Ibid., paras. 12, 15“17, 20“3, 56.
Ibid., para 24. Sir Richard Powell thought that the statement that the role of the navy
in global war was uncertain caused more trouble than any other part of the White
Paper “ ˜The move to the Sandys White Paper of 1957™ witness seminar held July 1988
(Institute of Contemporary British History, 2002, http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/
sandys/), pp. 28, 32.
326 Arms, economics and British strategy

remained, but the greater mobility made possible by air transport would
allow overseas garrisons to be reduced, and the navy was ˜another
effective means of bringing power to bear™ in limited hostilities, with the
aircraft carrier ˜increasingly signi¬cant™ as a mobile air station. Apart
from reductions in the air defence of the United Kingdom and in con-
ventional forces assigned to NATO, the big switch in resources was to
be in research and development, and here the RAF was to suffer along
with the other services. The development of a supersonic manned
bomber was abandoned as well as that of manned ¬ghters.130 The White
Paper left a good deal of detail to be settled as regards global strategy,
but it did make change inevitable by announcing that conscription
would end, thereby forcing the services to work out what could be done
with reduced manpower.
The rest of 1957 was spent in working out the implications of the
White Paper. Macmillan was closely involved through private discus-
sions with Sandys. There were close contacts between the Prime Min-
ister™s Of¬ce and the Treasury as well as with the Cabinet Of¬ce. It was
Treasury of¬cials who drew attention to the spiralling unit cost of
Vulcans and Victors, with the consequence that the Defence Committee
was persuaded that the V-bomber force™s target strength should be
reduced from 184 to 144.131 The issues that Macmillan was particularly
interested in were: ¬rst, the army™s requirements for tactical atomic
weapons during the next ten years and the extent to which it was
necessary to produce the weapons and warheads in Britain; second, the
threat of air attack on Britain in the next ten years, and the arguments on
which air defence plans were based; and, third, the role of the navy,
including its contribution to the deterrent.132 Regarding Macmillan™s
¬rst question, the army received American tactical nuclear missiles from
the United States in 1960 but development of Britain™s own Blue Water
continued until 1962. Regarding the second question, the CAS was able
to salvage only a residual role for ¬ghter defence of the deterrent (see
pp. 286“7).
During discussions of the third question, the role of the navy, the
carrier force and the FAA were identi¬ed as possible targets for major
economies. However, as ever, the Admiralty put up a powerful defence:
it pointed out that the Australian, Canadian and Indian navies were
designed around the aircraft carrier. To abandon the FAA would be to

Cmnd 124, paras. 25“39, 58“63.
D. R. Serpell to B. D. Fraser (third secretary, Treasury), ˜Strategic bomber force™, 30
July 1957, enclosing memorandum by T. Bligh of same title and date, PREM 11/1773;
Defence Committee minutes, 2 Aug. 1957, CAB 131/18, TNA.
Macmillan to Minister of Defence, 3 Aug. 1957, PREM 11/1773, TNA.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 327

force these countries to adopt American aircraft, ˜and destroy for ever
the position of leadership and in¬‚uence which this country enjoys in
Commonwealth naval affairs™. Britain would also be moving against the
international trend, as France and the Netherlands had carriers, and
even smaller navies such as those of Argentina and Brazil were forming
carrier forces. Prophetically, the Admiralty also pointed out that it was
possible that limited war operations might have to be undertaken in the
Far East outside of SEATO: for example, in Borneo or Indonesia. By
late July, Macmillan™s principal private secretary, Frederick Bishop, was
advising him that abolition of the FAA was ˜a political impossibility for
international and prestige reasons™.133 The Admiralty also argued that
naval forces provided a deterrent, not in the sense of the nuclear option
represented by the V-bombers, but because naval forces assigned to
NATO or showing the ¬‚ag played a large part in preventing war.134
In 1958 the Chiefs of Staff addressed the question of what would
happen after 1960“2, when the Soviet Union was expected to achieve
what was called ˜nuclear suf¬ciency™, that is possession of enough
nuclear warheads and effective delivery systems to enable it to destroy
any targets it wished in a global war. The CIGS, Templer, argued that
the deterrent would cease to be credible outside the NATO area, and
Mountbatten thought that both the British and American governments
would be reluctant to use the deterrent at all. Consequently limited wars
would become more likely and conventional weapons might resume
much of their original importance.135 The 1958 Defence White Paper™s
statement that, if the Soviet Union were to launch a full-scale attack
with conventional forces only, the Western powers would have to
respond with ˜a massive nuclear bombardment of the sources of power
in Russia™ re¬‚ected the CAS™s views.136
The White Paper was able to cite of¬cial NATO strategy in support of
reliance on nuclear deterrence. However, the American administration
was concerned about the extent of proposed British cuts in conventional
forces and, as noted above (see p. 281) seems to have hoped that Anglo-
American nuclear collaboration would make these reductions unne-
cessary, since the British would be saved the expense of research and

Joint Planning Staff, ˜The Fleet Air Arm™, 18 Feb. 1957, DEFE 4/95; F. Bishop to
Prime Minister, 29 July 1957, PREM 11/1773, TNA.
Minutes of meeting held in Ministry of Defence, MISC/M (57) 91, 12 Aug. 1957,
DEFE 7/968, TNA.
˜The effects of nuclear suf¬ciency™, by CIGS, COS (58) 39, 13 Feb. 1958, DEFE 5/
82, and con¬dential annex to COS (58) 77th meeting, 3 Sep. 1958, DEFE 4/111,
TNA; Mountbatten to Templer, 13 June 1958, MB 1/I106, Hartley Library,
Southampton University.
Britain™s Contribution to Peace and Security (Cmnd 363), PP 1957“58, xxi. 465.
328 Arms, economics and British strategy

development. This policy was pursued to its logical conclusion in the
Skybolt and Polaris agreements. The latter in particular had a dramatic
effect on the ¬nancial burden of the deterrent. In 1962 the nuclear
deterrent absorbed about 10 per cent of the defence budget.137 Between
1966/7 and 1969/70 capital expenditure on the Polaris system was at its
peak, with the construction of the ˜Resolution™-class submarines, but
total expenditure on the deterrent (V-bombers; submarines and Polaris
missiles; materials for nuclear bombs, warheads and submarine reactors;
and research and development) fell as a proportion of the total defence
budget, from 8.9 per cent to 5.01 per cent. Much of this reduction was
due to the phasing out of the V-bombers but research and development
costs were cut by 30 per cent. More savings were to follow in the 1970s,
once the construction of the submarines was complete.138 As nuclear
deterrents go, the Polaris agreement was a bargain for Britain.
The alternative would have been to follow the example of France,
which developed an indigenous nuclear deterrent. From 1964 to 1971
the French relied exclusively on the Dassault Mirage IV bomber which,
although supersonic, was limited in range, so that missions of a strategic
rather than tactical nature could only be undertaken with in-¬‚ight
refuelling. The only American input was the sale of Boeing jet tanker
aircraft for this purpose. Later, in the 1970s, the French introduced
submarine-launched and land-based strategic missiles, but found the
expense of building silos for all of the latter too great. The French
deterrent was small, and apart from the submarine element, vulnerable.
Nevertheless, in the 1960s French strategic thinkers were prepared to
argue that the French force de frappe would still deter as it could act as a
detonator of the American nuclear forces. This argument was not one
calculated to appeal to the United States, especially given President de
Gaulle™s concept of French sovereignty, which extended to a refusal to
have American nuclear weapons on French territory or to co-ordinate
targeting policy with allies.139
The British policy of interdependence with the United States was not
without its disadvantages. As Baylis has pointed out, collaboration with
the Americans in targeting made it dif¬cult to pursue an independent
strategy of how to employ nuclear forces. The original targeting strategy
for the V-bomber force, as presented to the Swinton Committee in
1954, had been to strike at Soviet bomber bases, so as to reduce the
scale of the nuclear attack on the United Kingdom (see pp. 319, 320).
Statement on Defence 1962: The Next Five Years (Cmnd 1639), PP 1961“62, xxvii. 459,
para. 13.
Figures calculated from appendix 3 to Freedman, Britain and Nuclear Weapons, p. 144.
Paterson, Britain™s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent, pp. 138“45.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 329

However, in April 1955 the head of Bomber Command, Sir George
Mills, argued that deterrence would be better achieved by threatening
centres of population and administration rather than military targets. As
a result of his initiative, Bomber Command was directed to plan on the
basis of destroying the enemy™s will to ¬ght in the shortest possible time.
Combined planning with the US Strategic Air Command from 1957“8
led to a shift back to military targets, including bomber bases and IRBM
sites, although the British Global War Studies Committee reported in
March 1959 that a purely counter-force strategy was no longer credible,
as it was unlikely that either side could knock out all of the other™s
nuclear forces. From 1958 British strategic plans had two separate lists
of targets, one for joint action with the United States and one for uni-
lateral action; even so, whereas the 1958 unilateral plan targeted forty
cities, in 1962 there were only ¬fteen on the list. Baylis concludes that
there was a lack of agreement at the highest levels of British government
on the true purpose of Britain™s nuclear deterrent, whether it was for
deterrence or for ¬ghting a war.140
With the advent of the Kennedy administration in 1961 account
had to be taken of American pressure to revise NATO strategy away
from massive retaliation and towards a more ¬‚exible and controlled
response to aggression. The Chiefs of Staff were opposed to American
attempts to plan for a nuclear war con¬ned to Europe, since for a
small country like Britain the distinction between a limited nuclear
war and an unlimited nuclear war was meaningless. British military
planners also doubted whether a nuclear war, once started, could be
con¬ned to tactical weapons. There was also the political objection
that adoption of the doctrine of ¬‚exible response might make a
nuclear option seem less dangerous to Soviet decision-makers. It was
not until 1967 that NATO accepted a ¬‚exible response strategy, and
then with continued British reservations.141 Nevertheless, it says much
for the strength of the Anglo-American nuclear partnership that
Kennedy was willing to entrust the British with the Polaris system.
The Americans would have preferred the British to commit their
Polaris submarines to a NATO multinational nuclear force, and were
aware that support for an independent British deterrent could be
damaging to relations with France. Nevertheless, the Nassau Agree-
ment contained an opt-out clause whereby the British Polaris forces

Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence, pp. 273“4, 288“90, 304“6, 365“6, 367“9.
˜Decisions taken at the meeting of the [NATO] Defence Planning Committee in
ministerial session, held on 9 May 1967™, Annex I to DPC/D (67) 23, reproduced in
NATO Strategy Documents, pp. 335“44.
330 Arms, economics and British strategy

assigned to NATO could revert to national control when Britain™s vital
interests were at stake.142
The American doctrine of ¬‚exible response also had implications for
the extent to which reliance should be placed on conventional weapons.
Despite the long-standing division between the RAF on the one hand,
and the army and the navy on the other, on this issue, the Chiefs of Staff
Committee agreed in January 1963 that an increase in NATO con-
ventional forces on the scale contemplated by the American Secretary of
Defense, McNamara, was economically impracticable, and would
weaken the credibility of the nuclear deterrent. Moreover, even if
NATO succeeded in creating a force of thirty combat-ready divisions in
Western Europe, compared with the existing twenty-¬ve under-strength
divisions, the Warsaw Pact would be able to mobilise ninety-one divi-
sions against them within ten days. British military planners went along
with the doctrine of ¬‚exible response to the extent of agreeing that there
had to be a shield of conventional forces suf¬ciently strong to resist
in¬ltration and small-scale aggression, and to be able to delay larger-
scale aggression long enough for a political solution to be attempted
before resort to tactical or strategic nuclear weapons. Doubts persisted
about the consequences of the early employment of tactical nuclear
weapons. Ministers were warned that, although the use of a very small
number of low-yield nuclear weapons would convey a powerful warning
of Allied determination and might cause the Soviets to halt their
aggression, ˜alternatively it might cause them to proceed at once to a
pre-emptive strategic strike™.143
The likelihood that British strategy would place less emphasis on the
deterrent was increased by the appointment in 1959 of Mountbatten as
CDS, given the doubts he had expressed the previous year about whe-
ther the West would ever use nuclear weapons.144 The 1961 Defence
White Paper pointed out that many of Britain™s most important
responsibilities were not concerned with direct deterrence of nuclear war
but rather with the checking of small con¬‚icts that might develop into
one. There was a need for rapid-reaction forces capable of dealing with a
whole spectrum of possible aggression and military threats.145 The 1962
Defence White Paper stressed the need for NATO forces and strategy to
be balanced and ¬‚exible, and noted the re-equipment of the army with

Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 409“20; Constantine A. Pagedas, Anglo-American
Relations and the French Problem 1960“1963 (London: Frank Cass, 2000), pp. 238“56.
˜A British view of strategy for the defence of Central Europe™, COS 34/63, 23 Jan.
1963, DEFE 5/134, TNA.
See p. 327.
Report on Defence (Cmnd 1288), PP 1960“61, xxiv. 463, paras. 6“9, 11.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 331

new anti-tank weapons and the orders placed for a new heavy tank (the
Chieftain), with the clear intention of strengthening BAOR™s ability to
resist Soviet conventional forces. As for the navy, the mobility and
versatility of seaborne power was praised, and the intention to replace
the existing carriers announced.146 Flexible response had replaced
˜broken-backed™ warfare as the rationale for conventional forces pre-
pared for global warfare. Mountbatten accepted that the rising cost of
weapons systems meant that plans for the next ten years must be based
on the steady reduction of manpower and commitments. His own belief
was that Britain™s special relationship with the United States was best
maintained through her world role “ ˜the heritage of the Empire™, as he
called it “ and that her contribution to NATO could best be made with
amphibious forces operating on the ¬‚anks of NATO in Scandinavia and
the Mediterranean rather than with the BAOR in Germany.147

Global strategy: retreat from East of Suez
Harold Wilson told the House of Commons on 16 December 1964 that,
while the government was reviewing defence expenditure with a view to
increasing cost-effectiveness, Britain could not afford to relinquish its
world role, ˜which for shorthand purposes is sometimes called our East
of Suez role™.148 Nevertheless, his government decided in November
1965 to withdraw from the Persian Gulf as well as Aden, and in 1967“8
to withdraw from Singapore and Malaysia. Jeffrey Pickering has sug-
gested that, given American support for Britain™s presence in the Far
East, Britain™s East of Suez role might well have survived had Wilson not
appointed Roy Jenkins as James Callaghan™s successor when the latter
resigned as chancellor of the exchequer after the devaluation of sterling
in 1967.149 Jenkins certainly proved to be a powerful opponent of the
East of Suez role in his search for economies. Saki Dockrill, however,
has shown that there is plenty of evidence to support the traditional view
that Britain™s withdrawal was part of a lengthy process involving
retrenchment in defence since the 1950s and growing links with con-
tinental Europe.150 Placed in the context of the evolution of British

Cmnd 1639, paras. 14, 26“7, 29.
Drafts dated 4 and 19 Nov. 1962 for Minister of Defence™s longer term strategy paper,
and CDS to Minister, 9 Nov. 1962, MB 1/J58, Hartley Library, Southampton
704 HC Deb., 5s, 1964“65, cc. 423“4.
Jeffrey Pickering, Britain™s Withdrawal from East of Suez: The Politics of Retrenchment
(London: Macmillan, 1998), esp. pp. 180“1.
Saki Dockrill, Britain™s Retreat from East of Suez: The Choice between Europe and the
World (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002).
332 Arms, economics and British strategy

global strategy, the decision can be seen to be the outcome of exhaustive
reviews of strategic options over a number of years. There were, in
theory, other options: the nuclear deterrent might have been abandoned
or NATO commitments might have been cut further. Some major
adjustment was inevitable as ministers became increasingly aware of the
problem of overstretch “ too many commitments for the reduced size of
the armed forces.
The Treasury had set its sights on the East of Suez role as a suitable
target for economy as early as July 1960. Sir Richard Clarke, a leading
of¬cial on the public expenditure side of the department, noted in a brief
for the Chancellor before a meeting of the Defence Committee that
costing the defence budget for the ¬ve years 1961/2 to 1965/6 showed
that the defence departments would be very hard pressed to keep within
the growth of GNP. He added that the key to the defence budget was
the Far East: ˜If we could only abandon this role, the whole of our
defence effort could be tremendously reduced (and consequently made
much more effective).™ Clarke dismissed the case for maintaining forces
at the Singapore base to defend Britain™s economic and commercial
interests. ˜Can we nowadays defend such interests by force?™ he asked
rhetorically. In any case, British investments in South and South-East
Asia, including India, yielded only £60 million to £65 million a year,
whereas annual defence expenditure in the region was not far short of
£60 million. ˜Imagine a ¬re insurance premium of 100 per cent!™ he
commented. Very similar arguments applied to the Middle East. In
1960 Clarke thought that the costs of defence there were not quite as
high in relation to earnings as in the Far East, although too high by the
¬re insurance test. By March 1963, however, he calculated that the cost,
£120 million to £125 million a year, had risen above the pro¬ts of
British oil companies, £100 million a year. At that date he estimated
that the total cost of defence commitments throughout the entire East of
Suez region took about one-third of the defence budget, excluding
research and development, or about 2 per cent of GNP. About three-
quarters of this expenditure was incurred in the Far East.151 Decision-
making in Whitehall was not driven solely by Treasury cost-bene¬t
analysis “ the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Of¬ce thought in
terms of containing Soviet expansion or Communist subversion, and of
maintaining British prestige “ but the projected rising curve in defence
budgets concentrated the collective mind of Whitehall.

R. W. B. Clarke, ˜Defence Committee: Wednesday 27th July™, 25 July 1960, CLRK 1/
3/1/2, and Clarke to Sir William Armstrong, ˜Defence East of Suez™, 1 Mar. 1963,
CLRK 1/3/2/4, Churchill College, Cambridge.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 333

A major reappraisal of defence policy was undertaken in 1963 after the
Minister of Defence, Thorneycroft, warned in February that defence
expenditure could not be held at 7 per cent of GNP in the latter half of
the 1960s with the existing range of commitments. He told his Cabinet
colleagues that the increasing cost of modern weapons meant that
defence expenditure would rise as a proportion of GNP unless the size of
the forces was reduced. The Defence Committee supported the Chan-
cellor of the Exchequer, Maudling, in deciding that defence expenditure
should not be allowed to go above 7 per cent of GNP. The question of
the deterrent and its cost had been settled only two months previously,
and therefore the search for economies focused on commitments in
Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. Britain was bound by the
WEU treaty to maintain 55,000 men in Europe, but ministers believed
that an attempt should be made to persuade the Americans and other
allies that a major reduction of Britain™s forces in Europe would be
preferable to a reduction in her commitments East of Suez. Meanwhile,
apparently in¬‚uenced by Clarke™s approach, Macmillan arranged for
studies of the cost of staying in Aden in relation to the value of the
investments it was designed to protect, and the economic and political
consequences of withdrawing or reducing substantially the forces based
in Hong Kong and Singapore. Weapons programmes were not exempt
from scrutiny. Aircraft carriers had been targets for economising minis-
ters since the Swinton Committee in 1954, and the Admiralty was asked
to report on the carrier replacement programme and what alternative
arrangements would be necessary for re-equipping the navy if it were
decided not to build new ones. The Ministry of Aviation was asked to
study the aircraft replacement programme, and in particular the pro-
jected P.1154 VTOL strike ¬ghter for the air force and navy, and the
Ministry of Defence initiated a study of the possibility of dropping the
TSR-2 in favour of a cheaper alternative.152
In the light of the various studies, the Cabinet Secretary, Trend,
advised Macmillan in June that it should be con¬rmed that there could
be no change in plans for the Polaris submarine ¬‚eet or, in the fore-
seeable future, any substantial change in Europe. There was, he noted,
room for argument on the Middle East, with the Foreign Secretary,
Lord Home, advocating the retention of forces to defend Britain™s
oil interests, and the Treasury claiming that oil was protected by the
Middle Eastern countries™ need to sell it. Trend agreed with the strategic
argument that a Soviet invasion of the Middle East would not be

Defence Committee minutes, 9 Feb. 1963, CAB 131/28; Thorneycroft to Prime
Minister, 24 Apr. 1963, PREM 11/4731, TNA.
334 Arms, economics and British strategy

deterred by the base at Aden, which was too far south, and that the most
effective response to an invasion would be by the RAF™s nuclear bom-
bers based in Cyprus. He foresaw the relegation of Aden to a mere
staging post. As regards the Far East, Trend thought that there was even
more room for argument. The Foreign Secretary was once more
opposed to running down British forces, but Trend pointed to the
possibilities of economies once the confrontation between Malaysia and
Indonesia had been resolved, and if Australia and New Zealand could be
persuaded to play a larger part in the defence of South-East Asia. As
regards the future of the navy™s aircraft carriers, Home had said that he
could conceive of no circumstances in the 1970s in which British forces
would be required to make opposed landings in the Middle East or the
Far East, and Trend thought that the main justi¬cation for the very
expensive carrier replacement programme was thereby removed.153 In
the event, the Foreign Of¬ce blocked withdrawal from Aden and a
decision on Singapore was deferred pending a solution to the con-
frontation with Indonesia.
Ministers had avoided taking any hard decision on the deterrent,
Europe, Aden, Singapore or the carrier programme in the summer of
1963, but Trend pointed out in July of that year that a policy of mis-
cellaneous cuts and making weapons last longer could not be a long-
term solution. The Chiefs of Staff also warned that the process of
scraping the barrel could not continue without the forces being spread
so thin as to risk a disaster. Trend suggested that the way forward was to
lay down broad political assumptions, together with a ¬rm ¬nancial
ceiling, and to consider what forces could be provided for that money
and how far they could carry out the commitments implied by the
political assumptions. For example, if it were assumed that by 1970
Britain would not maintain bases at Aden or Singapore, or mount
opposed landings East of Suez, it might still be possible, within a budget
not exceeding 7 per cent of GNP, to maintain ˜some™ deterrent cap-
ability; a ˜reasonable™ contribution to the defence of Europe; no standing
garrisons overseas, but a ˜really ef¬cient™ mobile reserve able to respond
to calls for help from any friendly power. There might be no need for
aircraft carriers for any of these purposes.154 The shape of Healey™s

Trend to Prime Minister, 18 June 1963, PREM 11/4731. Trend was drawing upon a
study prepared for senior of¬cials by Michael Carey, deputy secretary to the Cabinet,
˜Future policy in the Middle East and Far East™, May 1963, CAB 21/5902, TNA. For
Cary™s review of Britain™s role East of Suez, see Ross Christie, ˜˜˜Britain™s crisis of
con¬dence™™: how Whitehall planned Britain™s retreat from the extra-European world,
1959“1968™, Ph.D. (University of Stirling, 2004), pp. 221“5, 281, 286.
Trend to Prime Minister, ˜Future defence policy™, 9 July 1963, PREM 11/4731, TNA.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 335

defence policy was being foreshadowed in the Cabinet Of¬ce even while
Macmillan was still at 10 Downing Street.
Trend noted that controversy over the carrier replacement programme
had raged in Whitehall since 1960, with the Air Ministry and Treasury
opposed to new ships and the Admiralty, supported by the CDS,
Mountbatten, claiming that carriers were an essential part of the ¬‚eet.
The Air Ministry argued that combat and transport aircraft operating
from bases on islands such as Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and Diego
Garcia would be more cost-effective than carriers. A panel of scientists
under the chairmanship of the Chief Scienti¬c Adviser, Zuckerman, had
concluded in April 1963 that the carrier was technically superior for air
defence and air support in the case of a landing against low or moderate
opposition. For example, tanks that would be effective in combat could
not be transported by air, and seaborne transport was better for supplies
generally. Zuckerman doubted the political possibility of retaining island
bases in the 1970s or whether Britain would intervene against strong
opposition without American support.155 By July Trend felt that a
decision in favour of one replacement carrier was politically inevitable.
Failure to place an order, he advised Macmillan, would be taken by
public and overseas opinion to be a decision to abandon Britain™s world-
wide role, although ministers had decided, if only implicitly, that Britain
could not do that. However, Trend clearly foresaw the dif¬culty of
keeping defence expenditure within the 7 per cent of GNP limit, as he
added: ˜we must accept the probability that, when the time comes, we
shall decide not to replace the last two carriers; and that we must also
accept the risk that even the single replacement now in question may be
obsolescent by the time that it is completed (or may have to be trans-
formed, during its construction, into some sort of missile carrier)™.156
The new carrier, CVA 01, was approved but was still a design project
when the Conservatives lost the general election of 1964.
On taking of¬ce in October the Labour government undertook a
review of defence policy for the next ten years, with the objective of
relieving the strain on the economy. Plans centred on the target of
bringing defence expenditure down to a stable level of 6 per cent
of GNP: £2,000 million at 1964 prices or 16 per cent below what the
Conservatives had contemplated for 1969/70.157 Healey, as secretary of

˜Report of enquiry into carrier task forces™, 22 Apr. 1963, MB 1/J61, Hartley Library,
Southampton University.
Trend to Prime Minister, ˜Defence programme: aircraft carrier replacement™, 29 July
1963, PREM 11/4731, TNA.
Statement on the Defence Estimates, 1966. Part 1, the Defence Review (Cmnd 2901), PP
1965“66, ix. 1.
336 Arms, economics and British strategy

state for defence, was also much concerned with service manpower
being dangerously overstretched in relation to commitments. ˜We are, in
fact, gambling on not having to ¬ght more than one major campaign at a
time™, he commented.158 In 1964 Britain had more service manpower
East of Suez than in Germany, with major bases at Singapore and Aden,
and smaller bases at Labuan, in Borneo, and Bahrain; an air staging post
at Gan in the Indian Ocean; and a garrison at Hong Kong. There were
active operations in Borneo against the Indonesians, and in the newly
established Federation of South Arabia against Arab nationalists.
It seems to have been Trend who steered the defence review in the
direction of reducing commitments East of Suez. From previous
experience he knew that the Foreign Of¬ce would always argue for
protecting British interests and maintaining obligations, and would
therefore attempt to block changes in the overseas deployment of British
forces. Consequently, in advance of ministers™ discussions on defence
policy at Chequers in November 1964, he arranged for of¬cials to
prepare a memorandum that studied the problem from the opposite
angle. Starting from the assumption that, for economic or political
reasons, Britain would be unable in ¬ve or ten years™ time to maintain a
military presence on the present scale at Singapore, Aden and in Ger-
many, the paper studied the probable effects on British interests of
withdrawing wholly or in part from each of the three areas, and their
relative importance. The memorandum identi¬ed the BAOR as the
most important commitment, on the grounds that its presence was
necessary for the political cohesion of NATO. Aden was rated second in
importance, on account of Middle Eastern oil, although there were
doubts about whether a military presence in Aden could protect com-
mercial interests in the Gulf. Singapore came third, because the eco-
nomic interests that it protected, although not small, were less
important than those in the Middle East, and because the political
signi¬cance of Singapore would decline once the confrontation with
Indonesia was over. Ministers agreed that a choice would have to be
made between the three roles but thought that Britain™s allies must be
consulted ¬rst.159
Discussions between the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Callaghan,
and McNamara in June 1965 revealed that the latter was concerned
about a collapse of NATO, brought about not only by a reduction of
British forces in Germany but also by de Gaulle™s attempts to change the
Healey, ˜The defence review: a personal note™, 11 June 1965, PREM 13/215, TNA.
Trend to Prime Minister, ˜Defence policy “ Chequers discussions™, 19 Nov. 1964,
PREM 13/18; Defence Policy, MISC17/1st meeting, 21 Nov. 1964, CAB 130/213,
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 337

structure of the organisation (nine months later France withdrew its
military forces from the alliance).160 There was a strong ¬nancial
incentive to reduce the size of the BAOR, on account of the cost in
foreign exchange of maintaining forces in Germany, a cost that the
Germans were unwilling to offset to the extent that the British felt would
be adequate. Both Roy Jenkins, who went as minister of aviation to
Washington in June 1965 to discuss British purchases of American
aircraft to replace cancelled British projects, and Callaghan found that
McNamara was helpful in negotiating ¬nancial terms and offsetting
purchases, so as to ease foreign exchange problems. The Americans
were also willing to provide support to the Bank of England in its
defence of sterling. McNamara made plain that in his judgement Britain
had to maintain its commitments in the Indian Ocean for at least the
next ten years. He warned that neither Congress nor the American
people would tolerate a situation in which the United States was the sole
world policeman.161
Given American commitments in South-East Asia, especially the war
in Vietnam, it was understandable that McNamara told Wilson in
December 1965 that he rated maintenance of British strength in Asia
and the Far East even more highly than her presence in Europe. When
Wilson, who was clearly trying out ideas on the Americans, suggested
that, in response to China becoming a nuclear power, Britain™s Polaris
submarines could be deployed as part of some collective defence
arrangement in the Far East, McNamara expressed great interest, and
asked what the submarines™ strategic role would be, and whether they
might be linked to a commitment to India.162 The possibility of
deploying Polaris submarines in an East of Suez role was still being
considered by the Cabinet™s Defence and Overseas Policy Committee in
June 1967, when a decision was deferred until October.163 In the event,
the Committee did not return to the question, perhaps because by the
autumn the pressure on sterling that was to lead to devaluation in
November precluded any discussion of additional commitments.
For Healey, one of the key issues in the defence review was the future
of Britain™s aircraft carriers, both from the point of view of possible

Note of meeting in State Department, 30 June 1965, PREM 13/216, TNA.
Sir Patrick Dean (British Embassy, Washington) to Sir Paul Gore-Booth (British High
Commission, New Delhi), 10 June 1965 (two letters), PREM 13/215; note of meeting
in State Department, 30 June 1965, PREM 13/216, TNA.
Note of meeting at the British Embassy, Washington, 17 Dec. 1965, PREM 13/799,
Defence and Overseas Policy Committee minutes, 26 June 1967, CAB 148/30, and
˜Defence expenditure studies™, memorandum by the of¬cial committee, OPD (67) 46,
21 June 1967, CAB 148/32, TNA.
338 Arms, economics and British strategy

budgetary savings and for the implications for how East of Suez
commitments could be met. He told Wilson in October 1965 that it had
become clear from recruitment ¬gures that the navy would not have the
manpower for more than three strike carriers in the 1970s (compared
with ¬ve in 1965). Healey thought that a force of this size would not be
cost-effective; especially as FAA aircraft were three times as expensive as
RAF aircraft (on account of shorter production runs). On the other
hand, without carriers, Britain would be unable to land troops on the
coast of a well-armed enemy, and her role would be limited to peace-
keeping and a ˜quality contribution™ to an Allied force. Britain™s long-
range strike aircraft “ the TSR-2 and the P.1154 “ had been cancelled
but Healey asked for the cost of providing long-range strike and defence
capability by the American F-111 aircraft to be investigated as an
alternative to carriers.164 Zuckerman still thought that a strike carrier
was the better alternative. To Healey™s annoyance, he advised Wilson
that the size of F-111 force that the Ministry of Defence was con-
templating was less than half of the number of aircraft that the Amer-
icans had lost in Vietnam in 1965, and would not be able to blunt the
offensive power of an enemy like Indonesia. On the other hand, a car-
rier-supported task force could ensure command of the seas, which
would be essential for transporting heavy equipment, whatever might be
done by air with troops. The carrier could provide anti-submarine and
strike capability in a ¬‚exible way that aircraft, dependent on land bases,
could not.165
By January 1966, ministers dealing with the defence review were
offered three choices: ¬rst, phase out carriers in 1969/70; second, allow
existing carriers to remain in service and lay down a new one to come
into service in 1972; and, third (Healey™s suggested compromise), allow
existing carriers to continue in service for the full length of their useful
life, until about the mid-1970s, but not lay down a new one. As Trend
pointed out to Wilson, the future of the carriers was crucial to the shape
of Britain™s forces in the Far East, and there were two reasons why it
might be better to delay a ¬nal decision. First, as the Ministry of
Defence admitted, the system for the operation of land-based aircraft in
place of carriers was unproven; second, the need for an independent
strike force in the Far East could only be determined after discussions

Note of meeting between Wilson and Healey, 8 Oct. 1965, PREM 13/216, TNA.
Zuckerman to Prime Minister (personal), 14 Nov. 1965, PREM 13/216, and 7 Jan.
1966, PREM 13/799, TNA. Healey complained in his memoirs that Zuckerman
would go behind his back to other ministers for help when Healey disagreed with him,
and Healey eventually persuaded Wilson to transfer the Chief Scienti¬c Adviser from
the Ministry of Defence to the Prime Minister™s Of¬ce (Time of My Life, p. 260).
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 339

with the Americans, Australians and New Zealanders about what
contribution each would make to a quadripartite arrangement for the
defence of South-East Asia.166 The Navy Minister, Christopher May-
hew, took the view that, if carriers could not be afforded, then the
government should announce a withdrawal from East of Suez. When
Healey announced in Australia in February 1966 that Britain would
maintain its commitments in the Far East, the Middle East and Africa,
Mayhew resigned.167
The outcome of this ¬rst Labour defence review was the 1966
Defence White Paper, which stated that the security of the United
Kingdom rested mainly on preventing war in Europe and that therefore
NATO (to which Britain™s nuclear deterrent was committed) was vital
to Britain™s survival. While Britain would retain a ˜major military cap-
ability™ outside Europe, she would no longer undertake large-scale
operations except in co-operation with allies. Despite Zuckerman™s and
Trend™s advice, Healey™s compromise with regard to the carriers pre-
vailed: no new carriers were to be built, and the existing force of ¬ve
carriers would be allowed to decline in numbers to three ˜in a few years™
time™, but these would continue to be able to operate the Buccaneer
strike aircraft until 1974“5. The carrier role would gradually be taken
over by land-based aircraft for strike, reconnaissance and air defence
purposes, with helicopters operating from ships other than aircraft
carriers being responsible for the anti-submarine role.168
A further deterioration in the economic position in 1966 led the
Treasury to demand a review of public expenditure, including defence.
The problem was that the aggregate of public expenditure was rising
faster than GNP, and the armed forces and the East of Suez role were in
competition with Labour party commitments in respect of education,
health and housing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested in
August that the ceiling for the defence budget for 1969/70 should be
lowered to £1,850 million, at 1964 prices, instead of the £2,000 million
target on which the 1964“6 defence review had been based. Given the
government™s economic policy of encouraging the movement of labour
into industry, Callaghan was also concerned at the way in which public
services were absorbing manpower, and in August 1966 he suggested
Trend to Prime Minister, ˜Defence review™, 18 Jan. 1966, PREM 13/800; ˜The future
of the carrier force™, memorandum by Secretary of State for Defence, OPD (66) 11,
and ˜Personal note by Secretary of State for Defence™, both 14 Jan. 1966, CAB 148/26,
Defence and Overseas Policy Committee minutes, 1 Feb. 1966, CAB 148/25, TNA;
Christopher Mayhew, Britain™s Role Tomorrow (London: Hutchinson, 1967), pp. 143“
Cmnd 2901, PP 1965“66, ix. 1, chap. II, paras. 8“9, 19; chap. III, paras. 3“7.
340 Arms, economics and British strategy

that the army, which was already being reduced from 181,000 men to
176,000 as a result of the defence review, should be further reduced to
the 165,000 to 170,000 bracket ˜at a time when our commitments are
likely to be decreasing™. Healey responded that economies on this scale
could only be achieved by a completely new defence review, and put the
necessary work in hand. His lack of resistance can be explained partly by
the end of the confrontation with Indonesia in August, but the in¬‚uence
of economic factors is indicated by Trend™s comment in October that
˜short of a major change in economic policy™ (code for devaluation) the
position with regard to public expenditure by 1970/1 would be unman-
ageable.169 The Treasury was not alone in pressing for a change in
policy. In October 1966 a resolution demanding a reduction in military
commitments East of Suez, to make possible a defence budget well
below £1,750 million, was passed against the government at the Labour
party conference.
Since major economies had already been made in defence procure-
ment, with the cancellation of TSR-2 and other projects, the only area of
defence policy that offered scope for budgetary savings of the order
required by the Treasury was the East of Suez role. By March 1967
interdepartmental studies were working on the assumption that there
would be no major change in commitments in the Far East, but that
Britain™s forces there would be halved by 1971. There was debate on
whether there should be further savings through a major reduction in
commitments after 1971, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Rela-
tions Of¬ces arguing for a delay in a decision to make it possible to
adjust policy in the light of events. It was Healey who provided fresh
impetus to the review by suggesting that greater savings could be
achieved if all British land forces were removed by 1970/1, limiting the
commitment to Malaysia and Singapore to naval and air support.170
The Cabinet decided that consultations with allies should go ahead on
the basis of British force levels in South-East Asia being halved by 1970/
1, and with the date for eventual withdrawal from Malaysia and Sing-
apore being linked to the possibility of establishing a small air and naval
presence in Australia.171 It was at the request of the United States,
Australia and New Zealand that the government did not announce its

Callaghan to Healey, 11 Aug., Healey to Chancellor of the Exchequer, 16 Aug., Trend
to Prime Minister, ˜Defence review: Chequers meeting™, 21 Oct. (all 1966), PREM 13/
802, TNA.
Trend to Prime Minister, ˜Defence expenditure studies™, 21 Mar. 1967, PREM 13/
1384, TNA.
Cabinet conclusions, 11 Apr. 1967, CAB 128/42; Trend to Prime Minister, 3 and 13
Apr. 1967, PREM 13/1384, TNA.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 341

intention to withdraw from Singapore and Malaysia by 1975. British
withdrawal at a time when American forces were suffering heavy
casualties in Vietnam was a sensitive issue in the United States.172
The outcome in July 1967 was a supplementary statement on defence
policy, which announced the forthcoming withdrawal from the Aden
base in January 1968; a reduction in British forces in Singapore and
Malaysia by the early 1970s to naval, amphibious and air units, with
some Gurkhas; and a complete withdrawal from the Singapore base in
the mid-1970s, the precise time depending upon the creation of a new
basis for stability in South-East Asia. The emphasis was on modi¬ca-
tions in the composition and location of forces for East of Suez con-
tingencies rather than a revision of commitments. In particular, there
was an undertaking ˜to maintain a military capability for use, if required,
in the area™ even when Britain no longer had forces permanently based
there, and a statement that Britain would ˜probably keep in the Far East
some naval and amphibious forces™.173
However, there was a further deterioration in the balance of payments
in the autumn of 1967. It had been decided two years earlier, for
¬nancial reasons, not to retain the right to use defence facilities in the
colony of Aden when the projected South Arabian Federation, which
was to link the colony and the Aden Protectorate, became independent.
The decision to abandon Aden in the face of growing disorder in the
colony and the protectorate was taken in October 1967 during the last
stages of the attempt to avoid the devaluation of sterling that was forced
on the Wilson government on 18 November. Devaluation, it will be
recalled, did not ease the pressure on public expenditure, at least in the
short term, since resources had to be released from an over-heated
domestic economy for the production of exports. Healey warned
McNamara on 27 November that, as devaluation began to reduce living
standards in Britain, the foreign exchange costs of defence would come
under increasing criticism, and highlighted the F-111 order and com-
mitments in Germany and East of Suez.174 Jenkins, who had replaced
Callaghan as chancellor of the exchequer, committed himself to
announcing a large package of cuts in civil and defence expenditure by
17 January 1968. At a meeting on 20 December 1967 with ministers and
of¬cials from the Foreign Of¬ce, the Commonwealth Relations Of¬ce,

Record of meeting between the Foreign Secretary (George Brown), the Australian
Minister for External Affairs, the New Zealand Prime Minister and the United States
Secretary of State, 20 Apr. 1967, PREM 13/1384, TNA.
Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy, 1967 (Cmnd 3357), PP 1966“67, liii. 359.,
chap. III, paras 5“6, 8“10.
Healey to McNamara, 27 Nov. 1967, PREM 13/1999, TNA.
342 Arms, economics and British strategy

the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury, Jenkins stated bluntly that
the government had come to the point of defeat on the economic road
and that there was no prospect for success without further material
savings in defence expenditure. The government had never wholly given
up a commitment yet, and he believed that it was only the shock of
devaluation that would make it possible to secure decisions to do so.
Healey said that he believed that the only way to make substantial
savings was to eliminate altogether particular theatres; cuts spread over
all theatres would produce a deployment of forces wholly lacking in
credibility. The Foreign Secretary, George Brown, while not excluding
the possibility of further economies in Europe, said that, as between
Europe and East of Suez, he would prefer economies to be at the
expense of the latter.175 It fell to Wilson to make a statement on 16
January 1968 in which he announced an acceleration of the withdrawal
from Singapore and Malaysia, so as to complete the process by the end
of 1971, and a decision to withdraw from the Persian Gulf by the same
date. Reversing the supplementary statement on defence policy six
months earlier, he added that the government did not plan to maintain a
special military capability for use East of Suez after the end of 1971.176
The F-111 order was cancelled, since there was no longer an operational
requirement for long-range strike aircraft.

Britain™s scienti¬c-military-industrial complex was able to rise to the
challenge of making the hydrogen bomb in the 1950s but the V-bombers
were becoming obsolescent by the 1960s. Development of new British
delivery systems was likely to be very expensive and Polaris offered an
affordable, stable, second-strike capability. Both the 1957 Defence
White Paper and Labour™s National Plan identi¬ed the high costs of
defence and defence-related industries in terms of labour, especially
scienti¬c and technical manpower, as burdens that were holding back
exports and economic growth, and thereby weakening British power and
in¬‚uence. The problem of keeping up with military technology was
particularly dif¬cult for Britain since the cost of research and develop-
ment could not be spread across production runs on the same scale as in
the United States or the Soviet Union. The rational response was to
produce a limited range of weapons, and to export these to spread costs
Minutes of meeting in the Foreign Secretary™s room, House of Commons, 20 Dec.
1967, PREM 13/1999, TNA.
Public Expenditure 1968/69 and 1969/70 (Cmnd 3515), PP 1967“68, xxxix. 791, paras.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 343

and earn foreign exchange, and to obtain others through imports or by
acquiring technology from the United States, or through collaborative
projects with other European powers. Britain still had a large scienti¬c-
military-industrial complex by Western European standards at the end
of the 1960s, and its best products were internationally competitive.
The hydrogen bomb enabled Britain to maintain its position as the
United States™ major ally. From 1957“8 American resources were har-
nessed for British ends through the supply of technical know-how and
through combined planning by the US Strategic Air Command and
Bomber Command. Reliance on the deterrent also held out the prospect
in 1957 of smaller defence budgets and of a stable economy. In the
event, the balance of payments continued to be weak and sterling vul-
nerable. Moreover, reductions in the size of conventional forces made
the full range of British defence commitments unsustainable. With-
drawal from East of Suez was a rational response to long-term trends
and was for the most part conducted in an orderly way that secured
Britain™s interests. The confrontation with Indonesia had a successful
outcome in terms of creating a stable political situation in Malaysia. The
same could not be said of South Arabia, where withdrawal in November
1967 involved transfer to a single-party People™s Republic of South
Yemen that had no interest in continuing Commonwealth links, but
Britain did retain good relations with oil-rich states in the Persian Gulf.
The priority given to the nuclear deterrent and NATO made sense in
terms of Churchill™s American and European circles, and the decision to
relinquish overseas commitments came at a time when Commonwealth
links were weakening for economic and political reasons.
Paul Kennedy is correct in identifying relative economic decline as one
important reason for loss of military power, but no conceivable rate of
economic growth could have matched the 180 per cent rise in the
estimated cost of developing TSR-2 between 1960 and 1964. While the
TSR-2 was an exceptional example of the escalating costs of weapons
systems, it was only one of a number of major projects that had to be
cancelled to keep the proportion of national income devoted to defence
from rising. Greenwood is correct to argue that British defence budgets
were characterised by stability rather than decline, but stability was not
enough to maintain the existing pattern of armed forces with the latest
equipment. Consequently, as he pointed out, there was a need to
reshape strategy.

This book has taken a broader approach to the study of war than
conventional military histories, both in studying the interaction of
technology, economics and strategy, and in emphasising that war is a
single process. Arms cannot be used effectively unless backed by ade-
quate economic resources. Air, land, sea and economic warfare are
mutually reinforcing. Seen in this broader perspective, British grand
strategy was extraordinarily ambitious and adaptable, involving defence
of world-wide interests. When British economic resources were inade-
quate to sustain its armed forces, the resources of the United States were
harnessed for the purpose.

Edgerton has suggested that the British elite believed that relative
strength in science and technology could compensate for lack of eco-
nomic resources. From his perspective, the chain of causality ran from
strategy to technology, with Britain being the ¬rst naval power, the ¬rst
aeronautical power and one of the ¬rst nuclear powers.1 It is possible to
argue that the march of science left British policymakers with little
choice but to be technically up to date. For example, even naval of¬cers
who did not share Fisher™s enthusiasm for submarines agreed that the
Royal Navy could not neglect them once they had been developed
abroad. The Wright brothers hawked their aircraft round the great
powers as soon as it had been invented. Nuclear physics was not
con¬ned to one nation. From this perspective, expenditure on increas-
ingly expensive research and development, and weapons systems, was
The evidence in support of Kaldor™s thesis that the services were
conservative in their requirements and preferred increasingly complex
and expensive versions of existing weapons systems to completely new

Edgerton, ˜Liberal militarism™, pp. 147“53.

Conclusion 345

ones is far from overwhelming. It is true that ministers could be more
enthusiastic than their service advisers about new technology, as with
Churchill™s advocacy of tanks in the First World War, or Sandys™ policy
of replacing manned ¬ghters with guided missiles, but reluctance on the
part of soldiers or airmen to get ahead of what technology could deliver
can be interpreted as common sense as much as conservatism. There
were, of course, conservative minds to be found in the services, but that
is true in all professions, and there is plenty of evidence that the British
armed forces were at least as willing to innovate as their counterparts in
other countries.
In the case of air warfare, Britain had more than matched Germany in
strategic bombing by 1918. However, Air Staff enthusiasm ran ahead of
technology and Bomber Command had a long learning curve in the
Second World War. A little more scepticism might have avoided mis-
allocation of resources, bearing in mind that the opportunity cost of
labour and materials embodied in bombers included aircraft for other
purposes, such as anti-submarine warfare or tactical air power, or in
making equipment for the navy or army. On the other hand, the Air
Staff™s preference for an offensive strategy did not prevent Britain
leading the world in air defence, including command and control sys-
tems as well as radar and ¬ghters. The Germans were about two years
ahead of the British in the development of jet engines, but the RAF
introduced jet ¬ghters in the same year as the Luftwaffe (1944) and a
year ahead of the Americans. In the post-war period the Air Staff
embraced nuclear weapons but the effort to provide delivery systems “
the V-bombers and the Blue Streak IRBM “ placed a strain on Britain™s
resources for research and development. The outcome was greater
reliance upon American technology, which was seen as a better alter-
native to obsolescence.
Likewise there is more evidence of technological innovation than of
conservatism in the Admiralty. Down to 1914 the Royal Navy led the
way in building larger battleships and battle-cruisers, and ordered
submarines earlier and in greater numbers than the German navy.
Backwardness in mine warfare was the exception, not the rule. Britain
pioneered aircraft carriers and was still capable of innovation in the
1950s, as shown by the introduction of the angled deck. Battleships did
not remain in service in the Royal Navy any longer than in other navies.
In the 1960s the navy was keen to adopt nuclear propulsion for sub-
marines, importing American technology for the purpose, and compe-
tently took on the role of the nuclear deterrent.
The British army may not have made as much use of tanks in the First
World War as critics like Fuller, Liddell Hart or Travers have claimed
346 Arms, economics and British strategy

that it should have done, but it was ahead of the French and German
armies in introducing tanks to the battle¬eld. The Royal Artillery
adopted scienti¬c techniques that enabled it to outgun the Germans by
1918. The army found it harder than the air force or navy to keep up
with its European counterparts because it had to ¬nd a balance between
technology and tactics appropriate for major wars, on the one hand, and
for limited wars, on the other. Consequently there was a good deal of
catching up to be done during the Second World War. Nevertheless, the
army dealt with its different roles with professionalism. Success in low-
level con¬‚icts, particularly the Malayan emergency of 1948“57 and the
confrontation with Indonesia in the 1960s, both very different from the
European role for which the army also had to train, does not suggest an
undue attachment to a ˜baroque arsenal™.

British grand strategy incorporated economic as well as military strength
as a factor in warfare and deterrence. The question of how much of the
national income should be spent on defence depended upon interna-
tional relations as well as economics, and clearly the answer was dif-
ferent in war than in peace. Before 1914 Britain had a stronger balance
of payments on current account and larger holdings of overseas assets
than any other country. A substantial part of this advantage was used up
in the First World War, and Churchill™s policy of victory at any cost in
the Second World War turned Britain into the greatest debtor in the
world. From an economic point of view, Britain™s decline as a great
power can be seen to have been accelerated by Pyrrhic victories. It was
only from the late 1930s that the balance of payments and con¬dence in
sterling were signi¬cantly affected by the level of defence expenditure in
peace-time. Frequent sterling crises, and devaluations in 1949 and
1967, showed that the proportion of national income being spent on
defence in the post-war period was clearly at the upper limit of what the
balance of payments would bear. Of course, the external balance could
have been strengthened if higher taxes had been used to reduce civil
consumption and therefore imports, but tax rates at the levels reached in
the 1940s and 1950s could hardly have been increased signi¬cantly
without adverse effects on enterprise and productivity. Alternatively,
government might have spent less of its revenue on welfare and more on
defence, but it is worth noting that whereas over the 1950s and 1960s
Britain spent a higher proportion of national income on defence than
any other European NATO power, her expenditure on social security
Conclusion 347

was a lower proportion of national income than the average for Western
European countries.2
Another way to look at whether the level of expenditure on defence
was too high is to consider the effects on industry. While mass pro-
duction of munitions in war-time could be expected to encourage
industry to modernise, the effects of peace-time orders for small batches
of weapons designed to higher speci¬cations than required for civilian
use were probably quite otherwise, especially when there was limited
competition between ¬rms and contracts were on a cost-plus basis. Air
Ministry research contracts kept aircraft and aero-engine ¬rms at the
forefront of technology in the inter-war period, but the attempt in the
1950s to match the United States and the Soviet Union in research and
development overstrained the British aircraft industry. Further research
is required into the micro-economic effects of defence expenditure.
There is no doubt, however, that the intention of the Conservative and
Labour governments in reducing the size of the armed forces and the
aircraft industry after 1957 was to strengthen the national economy and
therefore Britain™s position as a great power.
British output of munitions in both world wars was prodigious and
some retrenchment after each was inevitable. Nevertheless British arms
industries bene¬ted from orders that were as large as could be expected.
The output of warships from Britain™s shipyards was greater than that
from those of the United States until the Second World War or the
Soviet Union until the late 1940s, and was still the third largest in
the world thereafter. The British aircraft industry was always one of the
largest in the world, being only temporarily overtaken by Germany in
the 1930s, and was still the largest in Western Europe in the 1960s.
Army contracts were not large by international standards, except in war-
time, and it is not surprising that the supply of munitions for sudden
expansions of the army in 1914 and 1939 was problematic. Even so, the
army was not neglected in the scienti¬c-industrial-military complex, as
witness Britain™s capacity to compete internationally in the manufacture
of tanks in the 1950s and 1960s.
Given the tendency of the cost of weapons systems to rise faster than
national income, defence policy could not be left to the defence
departments alone. The Treasury™s attempts to curb the demands of the
armed forces, notably during the conscription debate in 1915“16 and in
the setting of ¬nancial limits that led to the Inskip Report in 1937, the

See tables 5.6 and 6.5 above and Roger Middleton, Government versus the Market: The
Growth of the Public Sector, Economic Management and British Economic Performance,
c.1890“1979 (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1996), p. 98.
348 Arms, economics and British strategy

Global Strategy paper in 1952 and the Defence White Paper in 1957,
were motivated by an understanding that too much defence expenditure
would undermine Britain™s economic strength. There was a need to
match strategic ends and economic means.

Grand strategy
In the long run British strategy had to be adapted to enable smaller, if
more powerful, armed forces to protect the United Kingdom, its mar-
itime communications, and overseas territories and interests, and to
support allies. However, two world wars, each preceded by an arms
race, and rearmament at the time of the Korean War disturbed the long-
term trend. Strategists had to deal with short-term dangers that changed
over time according to developments in international relations and
military technology. Any attempt to impose a rigid model of a British
way in warfare on the past is liable to distort understanding. The stra-
tegic choices facing an island nation were different from those of con-
tinental European powers, but British strategy was in¬‚uenced more
strongly by technical change and economics than by traditional modes
of thought. At the same time Edgerton™s division of the British way of
warfare into naval, air and nuclear phases oversimpli¬es the interaction
between technology and strategy, as he himself points out.3
Sea power was fundamental to British strategy for defensive and
offensive reasons. Protection of trade routes enabled Britain to import
essential food and raw materials and also to supplement her own output
of munitions. In more general economic terms, she could exploit an
international division of labour by concentrating her productive
resources on making goods in which she had a comparative advantage.
Command of the sea also enabled Britain to deny an enemy access to
extra-European sources of supply, and to despatch land forces overseas,
including Western Europe. Air power added to the hazards facing
warships, as was demonstrated repeatedly in the Second World War, but
aircraft could be used to add to the striking power of the ¬‚eet and to help
to protect the merchant navy from submarines. The navy continued to
be essential to British strategy in Edgerton™s air phase and became the
means of delivering the deterrent in the nuclear age.
Although amphibious operations had long been a feature of British
warfare, lack of co-operation between the army and navy in the
Edwardian period meant that Britain was not well prepared to exploit
sea power in this way in the First World War, as was demonstrated at

Edgerton, ˜Liberal militarism™, p. 141.
Conclusion 349

Gallipoli. Matters were no more advanced by the Norwegian campaign
in 1940. However, amphibious operations became a major feature of the
Second World War and investment in commando carriers and specialist
landing craft after 1957 for the East of Suez role raised British capability
for combined operations to new levels of ef¬ciency. Once more there is
no clear trend here from a naval to an air or nuclear phase in the British
way of warfare.
Britain was a pioneer of air power but the absence of any plausible
enemy within range of the United Kingdom from 1919 to 1933 meant the
RAF™s expenditure did not exceed the army™s until 1937/8 or the navy™s
until 1938/9. Had the allocation of ¬nance recommended by the DRC in
1934 not been changed radically by Neville Chamberlain, Edgerton™s air
phase would have begun later than it did. Even in the Second World War,
strategic bombing was part of a wider strategy of economic warfare,
encompassing naval blockade. The impact of bombing on Germany™s oil
output in 1944 was all the more damaging because the increased scale of
land operations after D-Day forced the Wehrmacht to use up fuel reserves,
while air operations were greatly aided by the overrunning of German
radar early warning systems. The RAF was at its most effective when it
acted in combination with the other services.
The biggest break in the British way of warfare in the ¬rst half of the
twentieth century related to the balance between loans or subsidies, and
supplies, for allies on the one hand, and the size of the army on the
other. In the First World War Britain not only adopted her traditional
role of paymaster of the Allied coalition but she also put an army of
unprecedented size into the ¬eld. The attempt to do both was beyond
her economic power, and the role of paymaster had to be ceded to the
United States in 1917. The loss of wealth left Britain in no position to be
a major source of subsidies if she was also to maintain substantial armed
forces of her own again.
Howard, Barnett and Bond have focused criticism on the decision
taken at the end of 1937 to give imperial defence priority over the
continental commitment. However, despite this priority, no additional
RAF squadrons were allocated to imperial defence, and the army™s
rearmament programme was already subject to delay for industrial
reasons. There was a danger that the Chiefs of Staff™s long-war strategy
would be undermined by rearmament before an outbreak of hostilities,
and overriding priority was given to the defence of the United Kingdom
and its maritime communications, in line with the strategic principle of
securing one™s main base. Evidence of neglect of imperial defence,
particularly in the Far East, helps to place decision-making in the 1930s
in perspective: Britain had too many commitments and policymakers
350 Arms, economics and British strategy

had to juggle them as best they could. In the event, the fall of France in
1940 forced the British into a maritime strategy for most of the Second
World War and even without a continental commitment the British
armed forces could be sustained after 1941 only through Lend-Lease.
The nature of all-out war changed with the use of the atomic bomb in
1945 and more particularly with the testing of hydrogen bombs in 1954.
Nevertheless there was a case for maintaining balanced conventional
forces to prevent limited wars developing into major wars, especially as
long as Britain had a greater responsibility than other European coun-
tries for commitments outside the NATO area. By the mid-1950s
ministers accepted that defence forces had to be reduced to a sustainable
level for the long term and believed that the economy should be
strengthened to meet the new challenge from the Soviet Union in the
form of competitive co-existence. Eden and Macmillan deserve credit
for undertaking policy reviews of how Britain should strike a balance
between armed preparedness and economic strength. The 1957
Defence White Paper was not a retreat from power but a redeployment
of resources for a long-term strategy appropriate to the Cold War. Along


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