Critique of the NATO Decision-making Process: Decisions are Neither Democratically Made nor Democratically Accounted For

  • Oliver Ramsbotham


Chapters 7 and 8 have been an attempt to give a reasonably straightforward account of the nuclear weapon decision-making processes in NATO. But there is a problem here. The breakdown of parliamentary consensus about what these decisions should be (described in Part 1), has now spilled over into a parallel controversy about how they should be made. And here, once again, the distinction between fact and evaluation has become blurred, so that the dispute is not only about what the decision-making process should be in future, but also about what it is now. In other words, accounts such as that given in Chapters 7 and 8 are found to be themselves caught up in the disagreement. What is at issue in this debate? How serious is it? And how should we respond? In this chapter and the next we will aim to bring out the force of what is being argued on either side, and then try to reach an overall conclusion about it.


Nuclear Weapon National Parliament High Level Group Member Government Defence Minister 
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  1. 7.
    ‘The response of the American administration to the decisions taken during the recent Labour Party conference showed up what the real situation is. Listening to the American Secretary of Defense gave me a surreal feeling that our apparent ally was all at once a potential enemy, threatening the withdrawal of economic favours and the deliberate destabilisation of this country, if we dare try to escape from its sphere of influence’, Rebecca Johnson, 11 November 1986, in Oliver Ramsbotham (ed.), Choices: Nuclear and Non-nuclear Defence Options, London, Brassey’s, 1987.Google Scholar
  2. 18.
    Paul Bracken, The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1983, p. 135.Google Scholar
  3. 22.
    Solly Zuckerman ‘Scientists, Bureaucrats and Ministers’, Proceedings of the Royal Institution, 56, 1980.Google Scholar
  4. 23.
    Peter Hennessy ‘The Secret World of Cabinet Committees’, Social Studies Review, November 1985. See the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence, Minority Report: ‘From the preceding paragraphs it will be clearly seen that Parliament’s role in the decision to procure a successor system to Polaris has been limited to endorsing a decision already taken. Decisions on defence, and on Britain’s strategic nuclear deterrent have historically been taken by a small elite of very senior Cabinet ministers, civil servants and service chiefs, and this present decision was certainly no exception. The Government came to the House and invited it to endorse the Trident decision when the Committee was still deliberating. We saw no reason for action by the House before the Committee reported, and consider the Government’s actions in this respect to be less than courteous to both the House and its Committee’, House of Commons Fourth Report of the Defence Committee, Session 1980–81, ‘Strategic Nuclear Weapons Policy’, London, HMSO, 1981, p. xxxix.Google Scholar
  5. 24.
    ‘Though I have been the minister responsible for the Atomic Research Centre at Aldermaston, and have served in four Cabinets and on occasions as a member of the key Overseas Policy and Defence Committee, as well as other, smaller committees dealing with nuclear policy, I was never told, and still do not know, the basis upon which US nuclear weapons sited in the UK can be fired’, Anthony Benn, Arguments for Democracy, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1981.Google Scholar
  6. 35.
    Quoted in Hugh Miall, Nuclear Weapons: Who’s in Charge?, London, Macmillan, 1987, pp. 96–7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Oxford Research Group 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oliver Ramsbotham
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Peace StudiesUniversity of BradfordUK

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