From the Second World War to continuous at-sea deterrence
in Supreme emergency
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This chapter identifies the closely symbiotic relationship between strategy and technology, and the imperatives that each placed upon the other; critical factors for a state developing a nuclear capability on a shoestring (and little understood – then or now). Attlee’s near-obsessive secrecy impacted on both development and general understanding, and left a persistent legacy for the handling of nuclear deterrent policy within government, Parliament and in public. Both Attlee and Churchill were concerned about the moral implications of atomic weapons, but completely convinced they were necessary for Britain to retain her position and influence after the war. Neither chose to share this logic widely within Cabinet, let alone in public. Successive governments convened small, secret Cabinet committees to oversee major policy decisions, and completely ignored nascent anti-nuclear groups. Between 1964 and 1979 two Labour governments abrogated manifesto commitments to reduce/cancel nuclear commitments; Wilson’s introduced Polaris into service and Callaghan’s, faced with obsolescence of Polaris, continued updates and studied a replacement, despite having ‘renounced any intention of moving towards … a successor to’ Polaris. Both governments used carefully worded public and Parliamentary statements to convey apparent compliance with manifesto commitments despite doing almost the opposite, so naturally avoided public exploration of policy.

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Supreme emergency

How Britain lives with the Bomb

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