GREAT BRITAIN occupies a key position in American defense policies in Western Europe. Her location, military posture, stability and influence on other European nations make her our most valuable and dependable ally. Her traditional policy toward Europe, stemming from her insular position, was to prevent by diplomacy if possible, but by force if necessary, the domination of the power centers of Northwestern Europe by any single nation or coalition. This explains her long wars against Louis XIV and Napoleon, and more recently against Imperial and Nazi Germany. The strategy used to implement British policy was maritime. It utilized economic, political and amphibious power, not to gain territory in Europe but to prevent a dangerous accumulation of hostile naval and military power there.

Since Britain's military aims were limited up to 1914, she could employ limited means. Her influence in the military realm came from her strategic position rather than the weight of her manpower and from her ability (based on her island safety) to deploy her limited ground forces where their location was more important than their size, knowing that they could be extricated by the Royal Navy in case of misfortune. However, the coming of the air age and the emergence of what has been called "total war" threatened to render obsolete the methods by which she had previously exerted her influence in Europe.

It is sometimes said that Britain's decline in status as a Great Power began with her four-and-a-half year war of attrition against Imperial Germany from 1914 to 1918. This is an oversimplified view, since the enormous growth of industrial and military power in Germany, the United States and the Soviet Union would in any case have reduced Britain's relative status. In any event, her position certainly was weakened by her five years of unlimited war against the Axis. At the end of this war she was in acute economic difficulties; she relinquished Empire responsibilities in India, Burma, Palestine and Ceylon; and due to the power vacuum existing in Europe she was unable to effect a balance against the Soviet Union's threatened domination there.

World War II also served to undermine the foundations of Britain's insular security. The successful Allied invasion of Normandy showed that, given sufficient industrial resources, an enemy could cross the Channel in the opposite direction. The appearance of jet-propelled aircraft, V-2 rockets and atomic weapons in the final stages of the conflict threatened Britain's crowded cities and ports with new forms of attack and emphasized the importance of keeping potential enemies as far from the Channel as possible. This occurred at a moment, however, when Britain possessed very little ability to act on the lesson.

The way in which World War II was fought also had an important bearing on subsequent British defense policies. A widespread feeling of revulsion against strategic air operations developed in certain circles in England. Some of the most widely read British military critics, such as Cyril Falls, B. H. Liddell Hart and J. F. C. Fuller, were unsparing in their condemnation of the area attacks carried out by the R.A.F. Bomber Command against German industrial and population centers. Less criticism was heard of the daylight bombing of German military-industrial targets by the U.S. Air Forces; but the good marks we received for our precision bombing in Europe were more than cancelled by our employment of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thus after World War II, when Britain had difficulties in maintaining occupation forces in West Germany, Austria, Trieste and Suez, and when the military weakness of France revealed the impossibility of defending Western Europe with conventional formations and weapons, considerable opposition developed in certain English circles to the thought of employing atomic weapons in area attacks against an adversary's war industries and population centers. Later, when it became clear that in time the Soviet Union would have the capability to employ these same weapons against the cities and ports of England, concern for their own vulnerability became an added reason for many Englishmen to oppose the use of atomic weapons against area targets. These considerations affected the general British attitude toward the concept of defending Western Europe and deterring aggression by means of an air-atomic weapons system.


No sooner were the English people freed from the Nazi menace in 1945 than they voted out of office the war-winning Churchill Government and replaced it with a Labor Government under Clement R. Attlee. The Labor Party promptly gave proof of its confidence in the peaceful intentions of the Soviet Union and its lack of sympathy with colonialism by demobilizing the armed forces and by withdrawing from Palestine, India, Burma and Ceylon. Labor considered a simultaneous withdrawal from Europe desirable in view of what seemed likely to be a prolonged struggle for economic recovery, especially since this was to be sought through the socialization of industry. But the Labor dream that Britain could safely turn its back upon Europe was soon shattered by the flagrantly aggressive actions of the Soviet Union and its satellites. In the period 1946-1951 the Soviet Union provoked a crisis in Iran, consolidated its hold on the satellites, fomented civil war in Greece, helped to strangle the democratic government of Czechoslovakia, blockaded Berlin, shot down unarmed British and American planes in Europe and prepared a North Korean army for the conquest of South Korea. The provocations were great; and considering the unhurried way in which changes usually take place in England the responses of the Labor Government can be said to have been fairly prompt and realistic. The late Ernest Bevin was among the first to recognize and recommend precautions against Soviet expansion.

Before it lost the 1951 elections by a small margin, the Labor Government took a number of important military-political steps. First, and perhaps foremost, it undertook an atomic weapons program, which led in 1952 to the testing of the first British atomic weapon. Secondly, it decided to construct a long-range bomber force capable of delivering atomic weapons on targets inside the Soviet Union. Thirdly, in 1948 it approved the basing of U.S. long-range aircraft on fields in the United Kingdom, an act which Sir Winston Churchill said put Britain "in the front line" in case of war. In the fourth place, it undertook a rearmament program which gradually raised the defense ministry budget from £853,900,000 in the fiscal year 1947-1948 to £1,640,000,000 in 1954-1955. Furthermore, Britain signed the Dunkirk Treaty and the Brussels Pact, gave a firm commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and approved, under certain safeguards, a limited rearmament of West Germany. (Later, at the London Conference in 1954, Britain promised to maintain four divisions and a tactical air force on the Continent as long as a majority of the Brussels Pact Powers felt that this was required.)

What prompted the first of these far-reaching decisions was a realization at the time of the Berlin blockade and the Czech crisis that, if the Soviet Union attempted to overrun Western Europe, Britain would be practically defenseless. Her limited ground forces were scattered in West Germany, Austria, Trieste, Suez, Hong Kong and Africa, leaving no regular formations to defend the United Kingdom. Britain's finest ground units were stationed in West Germany, but these together with other Allied occupation forces could not be expected to prevent the Red Army from sweeping forward to the English Channel in case of war.[i]

Once the Red Army came within fighter plane range of England, paratroop landings would become a serious threat. A modern air force might successfully contest passage through its air space by Soviet fighters and troop-carrying transports; but the British had no such modern air force. The Korean war made clear that the R.A.F. had no fighter of its own design capable of sustaining combat on equal terms with the Soviet MIG-15. And even as late as the spring of 1954, there was not a single regular ground force unit as large as a brigade in the United Kingdom. This might, as Churchill said, redound to Britain's honor, but it was not a reassuring situation. There was the additional hard fact that once the Red Army advanced to within fighter plane range, the whole southern half of the United Kingdom would be within operational range of short or medium range missiles based on the Continent. These threats emphasized the vital need for a modern air force, yet the development of such a force proved to be disappointingly slow.[ii]

Britain's strategic situation in the light of Soviet capabilities in Western Europe thus indicated the necessity of keeping the Red Army as far to the East as possible, in order: 1, to provide maximum radar warning against the threat of Soviet bombers; 2, to prevent Soviet fighters and transport planes carrying paratroops from approaching the United Kingdom; and 3, to prevent the establishment of launching sites for missiles within the operational range of British targets. It also seemed desirable to increase the capabilities of the R.A.F. to strike at Soviet bases and potential missile sites as well as to improve the air defenses of the United Kingdom. In addition, it seemed prudent to concentrate British military forces and thus provide a central reserve which might be used where and when required. Efforts to realize all these objectives within the budget limits imposed by British resources led to the adoption of what has been commonly called "the new philosophy" or, in the United States, "the new look."

Like America, Britain's traditional way of preparing to carry out military operations has been to wait until after war has been declared and then convert her manpower and resources to war purposes. These costly methods were acceptable as long as Britain's naval power and the shield provided by the Channel and by continental allies assured England enough time and security to mobilize her resources after hostilities began. But the advent of the atomic bomb, high speed aircraft and guided missiles together with the lack of a strong ally on the Continent cut down both the security and the time available to Britain. The longterm nature of the Soviet threat made an effort to prepare for a military crisis at a particular period of time unrealistic. It became necessary to frame a military policy and program for the long haul.


The political implications of atomic weapons gave a strong impulse toward the "new philosophy." As early as November 15, 1945, the Truman-Attlee-King Declaration recognized that an adequate defense against atomic weapons would be impossible and that the current American monopoly on these weapons would not last. The concept that peace might be preserved and aggression discouraged by the threat of retaliatory attack by nuclear weapons seems to have appeared at about the same time in England and America.

Speaking before the Congress of the United States on November 13, 1945, Prime Minister Attlee had said he was convinced that the United States would never use its great power for selfish aims or territorial aggrandizement in the future. But he noted that Britain had to look forward to the day when the menace of devastating weapons might develop in every part of the world, and he said that to meet such a situation it was necessary not only to "eliminate the bomb" from the arsenals of the world but also to seek "the kind of world order . . . necessary in an epoch in which science has placed in men's hands such a terrible weapon." This meant removing the causes of war, attacking "hunger, poverty, disease and ignorance" and raising the living standards of the masses of the world.

In the light of these statements, one can appreciate the "agonizing reappraisal" of the international facts of life forced upon Mr. Attlee and his associates by Communist aggressions in the next years. The belief that Communism threatened only areas of "hunger, poverty and disease" was fairly well exploded by the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the nation with the highest standard of living in Central Europe. The military steps taken by the Labor Party from 1948 on undermined its capacity to criticize the military program of the second Churchill Administration effectively; for this was essentially an extension of its own policy. After the 1951 defeat, it took refuge in advocating "defensive measures" and criticizing the air-atomic deterrent concept. When thermonuclear weapons appeared, it did not advocate new military arrangements for dealing with this threat but called for negotiations with the Communists on all issues.

Some Labor Party members criticized the "new philosophy" on the ground that the threat of atomic retaliation would not deter an enemy from launching peripheral wars, while others insisted that modern weapons had reduced the value of conventional forces. One group argued that ground forces were required for peripheral wars and another that ground forces should be reduced in size. Against those who advocated spending money primarily on the defense of the United Kingdom, a noisy minority asserted that defense against atomic weapons was impossible and that civil-defense efforts were a waste of time and money. The Party's official position favoring West German rearmament under adequate safeguards was sustained by the Trades Union Conference at Scarborough in September 1954 by the narrowest of margins. In the Parliamentary division of November 18, 1954, on the ratification of the London and Paris Agreements, the Party abstained from voting. But even in this action it was unable to present a united front; several members defied the Party decision.

The great debate on the hydrogen bomb in the spring of 1955 further weakened the unity of the Labor Party. Mr. Aneurin Bevan took this occasion to challenge Mr. Attlee's position on this subject in an almost insulting manner. Sir Richard Acland, Labor M.P. for Gravesend, who had won 28,000 votes in the election of 1951, resigned from the Party in protest to its weak stand against the development of the H-bomb. In the subsequent election of May 1955, however, standing as an independent candidate in his old constituency, he drew a paltry 6,500 votes. His fate demonstrated the British public's refusal to consider the H-bomb a political issue. The disappointing showing of the leftwing critics of the Government's defense policies in this election indicated that the British public shared the Archbishop of York's opinion, to the effect that, much as he deplored the necessity of building the H-bomb, he was forced to approve, on grounds of common sense, measures to deter war and defend against aggression.


Britain's early interest in strategic air power is reflected in the "new philosophy." The enormous casualties and costs incurred in the vast ground-force effort of 1914-1918 caused British authorities to look for other military ways of attaining their objectives in Europe. Already in 1917-1919 Britain had led in the inter-Allied effort to develop a long-range strategic bomber force. The employment of air forces for police work in the Middle East was approved at the Cairo Conference of 1921. The political and military control which the R.A.F. was able to exercise "humanely and effectively" in Iraq and on the Northwest frontier of India in the years between the war encouraged the idea among air force officers that air power might be a substitute for ground forces. The Baldwin-Chamberlain rearmament program of 1935-1939 had as one of its objectives the creation of an air force which would make it unnecessary to send a mass army to the European continent. The effort in that direction was halting and inadequate; nevertheless, the R.A.F. which grew out of it not only protected Britain from invasion when war came but also offered the only immediate means of striking at the Axis after Dunkirk.

The emphasis which had to be placed on the air arm in World War II was carried over into the postwar period, when isolationist hopes revived in Britain in view of the power vacuum existing on the Continent. The military collapse of Germany, the weakness of France and the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe removed all hope that Soviet aggression against Western Europe could be prevented by any ground and naval forces available or in view. The air arm offered the only immediately available means of striking at the sources of Soviet military strength or at the bases from which Soviet air attacks might be launched against Britain. These considerations pointed toward an increased emphasis on the rôle of the R.A.F. in British strategy and policy-planning even before it was possible to disturb the approximately equal three-way distribution of funds in the Defense Ministry budget. (The main effects of the "new philosophy" on the budget will not be observable until after 1955.)

The introduction of atomic weapons also had the effect of increasing the importance of the R.A.F. in strategic planning. The attitude expressed by the Defense Ministry as late as February 1954 was that "It will be some years yet before we have enough of these new weapons to bring about any radical modification in the pattern of the United Kingdom defense effort." This probably indicated a tendency to regard the limited stockpile of British atomic weapons as being of primary value in strategic air operations. Holding that a strong and efficient force of medium bombers capable of using atomic weapons efficiently is of "greatest importance to us for our own security and for the defense of Western Europe," the 1954 White Paper declared that it was Britain's intention to build up such a force in the R.A.F. as soon as possible. One year later it was announced that Britain had undertaken its own H-bomb program.


A necessary corollary to the development of Britain's strategic bombing capability was the creation of a coalition to maintain a ground front in Western Europe. This led to the Dunkirk Treaty, the Brussels Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is the latter which now provides the command machinery for a unified European defense effort. The advantages which the British saw in the creation of a ground front were three: it promised a certain amount of warning against a surprise Soviet ground advance into Western Europe; in certain circumstances it increased the radar warning time in the event of an attack by Soviet bombers; and it would force an invading Red Army to concentrate and thus provide opportunities for the tactical employment of atomic weapons.

Though the British do not officially put the defense of Western Europe ahead of Commonwealth security objectives, their behavior indicates that they think of the danger of an all-out war as arising principally from the threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. According to a statement by the Minister of Defense in 1952, if a major war came it would be the result either of an "accident" or of enemy initiative, and in either case Britain would not fight alone but alongside her allies. Moreover, she had to have allies on the Continent because, as Lord Fairfax pointed out, she could not again hold out alone in the face of an enemy on the Channel. The destiny of the Empire was now firmly linked with allies on the Continent and elsewhere.

British leaders do not necessarily believe that the ground forces and tactical air forces now allocated to NATO can stop a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, but they think that the presence of these forces will affect any Soviet decision whether or not to attempt such an invasion. It is generally assumed that the 30 Soviet divisions deployed in East Germany and Poland will not be able by themselves to defeat the NATO forces in a surprise attack. The mobilization of additional forces in the Soviet Union would supposedly give the Western Allies a period of warning-- what Churchill called "an alert"--in which to evacuate their cities and issue a final warning to the Soviet Union, perhaps by revealing the full extent of Allied preparation for atomic war.[iii]

Alarmed by the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the Berlin blockade and the Korean war, the British Government sanctioned plans for the adherence of West Germany to a European Defense Community and the creation of a West German force of 12 divisions. The addition of these forces to NATO might increase the probability of an adequate alert period. It might also convince the Scandinavian countries that they could risk extending the protective radar network to cover part of the Atlantic and North Sea route for attacking Soviet bombers. Finally, it was hoped that the existence of 12 fully-equipped and trained West German divisions might permit the withdrawal of British divisions into a central reserve. This reserve would be given unprecedented mobility by the construction of a fleet of long-range jet transports.

It must be noted, however, that in order to bring Germany into the Brussels Pact and NATO under terms acceptable to France, Britain had to promise to maintain four divisions and one tactical air force on the Continent. This promise would seem to reduce the projected central reserve to forces withdrawn from the Suez Canal Zone, and from Malaya and Kenya when these are "pacified." The limited size of the reserve, at best a few divisions, seems to indicate that its primary function will be in limited or peripheral wars; so small a force could hardly play a decisive or even important rôle in an all-out war with Russia.

When at the London Conference in the autumn of 1954 Britain committed four British divisions and a tactical air force to NATO on a long-term basis, she not only reinforced the entente with France, dating back to 1904; she also took an important step to reduce the risk of an American withdrawal from European affairs following the failure of E.D.C. In recommending the ratification of the London Agreements to Parliament on November 18, 1954, Sir Anthony Eden emphasized their effect on the United States as much as on France and Western Europe.


Present British policies and strategies for the defense of Western Europe were framed in an environment of atomic scarcity and reflect the experience of an island nation in wars fought with high explosives and conventional weapons. Like other military programs for an approaching day of atomic abundance they show a certain amount of ambivalence. Thus while the British people naturally hope to avoid all-out nuclear war, some of their military leaders, such as Lord Montgomery, talk as if this would be the only recourse if a Soviet attack were made on Western Europe.[iv] The difficulty lies in determining what represents real British expectations about the defense of Western Europe in contrast to what is being said to deter the Soviet Union.

For various reasons most British leaders do not believe that the Soviet Union will attack Western Europe in the foreseeable future. The Korean war contributed in a dual way to this conviction. It convinced Britishers of the military menace of Communism to the point where a Labor Government sanctioned a commitment to NATO. At the same time it brought assurance that American isolationism of the old sort was dead. The spectacle of the United States entering a war against aggression first and while in a weak military posture presented such a complete departure from the experiences of 1917 and 1941 that many Englishmen now feel that they can count with certainty on an American defense of Western Europe from the outset--and that the Russians must reckon with it also.

The second main reason why the British regard a Soviet invasion of Western Europe as unlikely in the near future stems from their views about the nature of atomic war. Although they have proceeded slowly with the manufacture of atomic weapons and have emphasized the peaceful uses of atomic energy, their leaders seem to have grasped at an early stage the double-edged political and military implication of the development which was taking place. They reason that it would not make sense for Russia to plan to conquer Western Europe at the price of her own destruction. That Britain and the United States would also suffer disastrous losses in such an exchange does not alter the estimate. The Defense Ministry's White Paper of 1954 expressed the belief that the American stockpile of atomic weapons and the United States Strategic Air Command are what, above all, will deter the Soviet Union from starting a war. Other factors in the British estimate are the immense industrial and economic strength of the United States and the probable inner strains and weaknesses in the Communist apparatus of the Soviet Union.

British leaders act and write as if they both expected atomic weapons to be freely used in a war for the defense of Western Europe and realized that an unlimited atomic war would be an "insane war" for them. In such a war they assume that the United Kingdom would be among the first areas to be hit. They do not count on being able to destroy the war-making capacity of the Soviet Union without suffering unacceptable loss and damage at home. With this honest approach goes frankly-acknowledged concern about the reliability of a system of security which spells mutual destruction if it fails. Both in Parliament and in the press questions have been raised as to whether or not a British or any other democratic government could in fact order atomic retaliation for a Soviet breach of the peace knowing that, even if damage to the Soviet Union were maximal, a series of atomic counterblows would be inevitable.

The necessity of convincing Soviet leaders that aggression against Western Europe will certainly bring about atomic retaliation and losses which no sensible nation would willingly accept runs counter to the British desire for limiting atomic war, even though it helps explain the British insistence on negotiating with the Communists on all other matters. It helps to make understandable an apparent British willingness to give way to the Communists in peripheral areas of the world and to write off the satellite countries. Recognition of the primary importance of Western Europe is strengthened by an awareness that defense of "colonial areas" is a poor issue on which to ask sacrifices in the modern world. The British might show a different attitude toward resisting Communist aggression in the Far East and elsewhere if the United States demonstrated its seriousness of purpose by committing ground forces. They feel that the willingness to commit ground forces is the acid test of serious intent.


Americans today regard British coöperation as essential for the success of any program for Western European defense; similarly, the British think their security depends on the existence of a Western European defense bloc and on American support of it. This attitude may change perceptibly in Britain as she creates a significant atomic capability and it may change sharply if she can develop a relatively invulnerable ballistic missile system.

The dependability of the British people as an ally will presumably be affected by the following factors, among others: 1, their view of the vulnerability of their ports and cities to air-atomic attack; 2, their concept of the relationship of United States S.A.C. bases in England to the likelihood of Soviet attack; 3, their reaction to possible Soviet air-atomic blackmail against the populations of their cities; and, finally, 4, the Government's willingness to make the decision to fight even if unlimited nuclear violence is certain to be involved.

To judge by their public statements, political and military leaders in Britain are aware of the vulnerability of their ports and cities to air-atomic attack. The small size of the country and the continuing necessity to import food makes this awareness acute. As R. T. Paget pointed out:

It is in the power of the enemy to obliterate our ports. . . . It would not matter much how many people would be killed because it would only mean that there would be fewer left to starve. Not only would we be unable to carry on a war, but we should be in a geographical situation in which it would be impossible to reactivate. Doubtless the war would be continued from Canada to eventual victory, but it is not a war which would concern us as a political entity.[v]

The number of nuclear or thermonuclear weapons required to knock out England has been variously estimated at from 50 to as few as five. On the basis of their experience with manned aircraft and V-weapons in World War II, Englishmen cannot fail to grasp the difficulty of defending their cities and ports against such a small number of bombs or missiles. Yet the British Government is making what is publicized as a determined effort to increase the air defenses of the United Kingdom. The resources which it has at its disposal for this include: 1, leadership in the field of radar and electronics dating back to the thirties; 2, the best system of air-defense control in the world; 3, the densest pattern of fully-developed military air bases in the world; 4, a functioning system of ground observers; 5, a small, highly-developed air force with unsurpassed morale; 6, a technically-advanced aircraft industry; and 7, a remarkable record of achievement in defending military objectives in the past. The attitude of the Air Minister in February 1955 was that Britain "has an effective air defense against what any potential enemy is at present able to bring against us." And he added: "By night, the most likely time for attacks, we have a better defense than anyone else in the world."[vi] Against these perhaps oversanguine estimates of British assets must be placed the slowness with which Britain has put advanced types of military aircraft into service; the increasing inferiority of the defensive under present conditions; and the inherent weakness of the British island radar warning network.

Despite the fact that a few left-wing Labor leaders have exploited it for political purposes, the presence of United States S.A.C. bases in Britain has caused less public anxiety than might be expected. The fact that the Labor Party sanctioned these bases is important. If the decision to give the U.S. Air Force bases in England was justified in 1948, it is hard to argue that these air bases have now become a dangerous and unnecessary threat against the Soviet Union. From 1948 to 1953, no protest was made against them on that ground. The motives in establishing them were primarily defensive. To the legal-minded Englishman, they are a matter of exclusively British-American concern, and the predominant anxiety has been for the social problems they involve rather than for their political or strategic effects. Nearly all Englishmen take at face value Churchill's statement that American bombers will not mount atomic sorties from British bases without the consent of the British Government; but they also recall his realistic observation that under certain circumstances, such as might prevail if Britain herself were under nuclear attack, this consent might be impractical to seek or impossible to give.

The writer recently discussed some aspects of the air-atomic blackmail problem with a number of well-informed Britishers. Their attitude was that any Soviet attempt to force the removal of United States S.A.C. bases from the United Kingdom by threatening British cities with atomic attack would fail completely. It is out of character, they said, for the British to give way to threats, and unthinkable that they should make crucial policy changes in direct response to the threat of force. As Churchill has said:

It is a curious fact about the British Islanders, who hate drill and have not been invaded for nearly a thousand years, that as danger comes nearer and grows, they become progressively less nervous; when it is imminent, they are fierce; when it is mortal, they are fearless. These habits have led them into some very narrow escapes.[vii]

It is sometimes suggested that the "continuous discipline" of the British people rules out a panic reaction in the urban areas in the face of air-atomic threats. This public grimly nerved itself to face the threat of gas attack at the time of Munich and in September 1939--an attack which did not come. It nerved itself to endure the attack by high-explosive bombs which did not come until 1940-1941; and when it did come it was less terrifying in reality than in anticipation. This may cause the British people to underestimate the ordeal of an air-atomic attack until they have experienced one.

There remains the final question, whether or not a British government, in the face of a clear act of aggression by the Soviet Union or its satellites, and in full knowledge of the damage and loss to be expected, will sanction the unlimited use of atomic weapons. The Defense Ministry's White Paper of 1955 dealt with the problem as follows:

In the last resort, most of us must feel that determination to face the threat of physical devastation--even on the immense scale which must now be foreseen--is manifestly preferable to an attitude of subservience to militant communism, with the national and individual humiliation that this would invariably bring.

Moreover, such a show of weakness or hesitation to use all the means of defense at our disposal would not reduce the risk. All history proves the contrary.

No other Western country has faced the grim alternatives of the atomic era with equal candor.


British attitudes toward Western European defense problems and toward the Anglo-American alliance are certain to change as present and new weapons are developed. The British have accepted long-term commitments on the Continent reluctantly, and they naturally find their present degree of reliance on American military and economic support distasteful. One can be sure that the best minds in England are searching for ways in which to regain as much influence and independence as possible in world affairs.

Even with Britain's limited atomic stockpile and despite her lack of an immediately available modern air force, her leaders have shown at the Geneva, London and Paris conferences that she still exercises a great influence over Asian as well as Western European nations. This influence may be expected to grow as her atomic and carrier capabilities increase. If there is no general war for several years, her atomic stockpile will doubtless become significant, and if at about the same time she should develop a relatively invulnerable ballistic missile system her share of influence in world affairs will be enhanced. Indeed, she could exert a considerable deterrent force independently of the United States and NATO. By that time the nuclear stockpiles in the United States and in the Soviet Union will be so large, and the threat of destruction which they hold will be so universal, that some form of limitation and control may receive serious consideration. Then "old-fashioned" political and military arrangements may again acquire some of their former importance. Britain may enter that new period with many of the requirements for exerting a crucial influence as a "third force" in the decisions of a bipolar world.

[i] At the time of the Berlin blockade there were approximately two American, two British and three French divisions in Western Europe. In the opinion of one American officer, all the Red Army needed to advance to the Pyrenees at that time was "shoes."

[ii] A good deal of discussion has taken place in England over the failure to provide the R.A.F. with modern swept-wing aircraft. The Government's White Paper on the supply of military aircraft, issued early in 1955, went out of its way to deny that the services were still equipped with aircraft dating back to World War II. It admitted that a calculated risk had been made prior to the Korean war in a decision not to put a swept-wing fighter into operation before 1957. (The Supply of Military Aircraft, Command Paper No. 9388, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1955.)

[iii]House of Commons, Debates, March 2, 1954, Vol. 524, col. 1140.

[iv] "A Look Through a Window at World War III," a lecture before the Royal United Service Institution, London, October 21, 1954.

[v]House of Commons, Debates, March 11, 1954, Vol. 524, col. 2499.

[vi]op. cit., The Supply of Military Aircraft.

[vii] Winston S. Churchill, "The Second World War." Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948, Vol. 1, P. 397.

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  • H. A. DeWEERD, staff member of the RAND Corporation; formerly Professor of History at the University of Missouri; formerly Historian of the Operations Division of the War Department General Staff
  • More By H. A. DeWeerd