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Britain, NATO’s Evolving Military Doctrine, and Its Nuclear Planning Group: The Balance between the Sword and the Shield, 1970–1974

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The Sword and the Shield

Part of the book series: Nuclear Weapons and International Security since 1945 ((NWIS))

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Abstract

Bundy’s reminiscences of his engagement with NATO during the 1960s were still applicable a decade later. Many of the fundamental problems of the NATO alliance remained unresolved, but by the time the Heath government came to power some changes had been made to its war fighting doctrines. Britain recognised the need to provide the Central Front with additional conventional forces to reduce the existing overreliance upon tactical nuclear weapons, but fulfilling this requirement was a different matter. Nuclear weapons continued to be relied upon as an effective force multiplier, and there had been little change in the doctrine for their potential use, despite the adoption of the new NATO doctrine of Flexible Response in December 1967 and agreement on the Provisional Political Guidelines for the Initial Tactical Use of Nuclear Weapons by NATO (PPGs) in 1969.

NATO is never what its planners want but never an insufficient shield in crisis. Different nations try different gambits, and some relations are seen to be more special than others … The men of this decade learned many different lessons, and they do not all talk in one tongue.

McGeorge Bundy, The Ditchley Foundation Annual Lecture VIII, The Americans and Europe: Rhetoric and Reality, 18 July 1969.

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Notes

  1. William Burr, ‘The Nixon Administration, the “Horror Strategy” and the Search for Limited Nuclear Options, 1969–1972’, Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer 2005), p. 39. This view of mutual deterrence also supposes political stability within nuclear weapons states; i.e. strict command and control systems

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  2. On fire damage and its implications for nuclear use and nuclear war, see Lynn Eden’s excellent study, Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge and Nuclear Weapons Devastation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003). Burr, ‘The Nixon Administration, the “Horror Strategy”’, p. 63.

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  3. Desmond Ball, ‘The Development of the SIOP, 1960–1983’, in Desmond Ball and Jeffrey Richelson (eds), Strategic Nuclear Targeting (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), p. 73; Burr, ‘The Nixon Administration, the “Horror Strategy”’, p. 39.

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  4. David Alan Rosenberg, ‘The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945–1960’, International Security, Vol. 7 (Spring 1983), pp. 3–71.

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  5. An indication of the make-up of Warsaw Pact forces and structure can be found in Gordon L. Rottman, Warsaw Pact Ground Forces (London: Osprey Publishing, 1987).

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  6. Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (London: Penguin, 2002), pp. 171–193.

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  7. See also Stephen Twigge and Len Scott, Planning Armageddon: Britain, the United States and the Command of Western Nuclear Forces, 1945–1964 (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 12, 83–85, 88, 202, 210–212 and 321.

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  8. Robin Woolven, Civil Defence and Nuclear Weapons 1960–1974, UK Nuclear History Working Paper No. 3, available on the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies Webpage, http://www.mcis.soton.ac.uk/programmes/bnhistory.php, accessed 10 December 2007. Peter Hennessy, The Secret State Preparing for the Worst 1945–2010 (London: Penguin, 2010), pp. 308–309.

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  9. Lawrence Freedman, Official History of the Falklands Campaign: Vols I and II (London: Routledge, 2005).

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  10. The Mottershead Report echoed a changing emphasis not just within military circles but also in the political circles of Europe and America. It laid the foundations of Flexible Response not just in the way it sought to generate war fighting options, as well as retarding the process of escalation, but also holding out the prospect of halting any escalation — a process Beatrice Heuser terms a ‘Copernican Revolution’. As Heuser attests, though, MC 14/3, like its predecessor MC 48, was a compromise strategy that ‘sought to marry American preferences for symmetrical defence (“direct defence”) to the European insistence that the threat of nuclear escalation, and even nuclear use, had to be retained’. Beatrice Heuser, NATO, Britain, France and the FRG: Nuclear Strategies and Forces for Europe, 1949–2000 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 48–53.

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  11. Many of these issues are discussed in William Burr’s excellent study, ‘The Nixon Administration, the “Horror Strategy” and the Search for Limited Nuclear Options, 1969–1972’, Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer 2005), pp. 34–78.

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  12. FAS.org, SS-9 page, http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/icbm/r-36.htm, accessed 15 January 2007 and Pavel Podvig (ed.), Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001), pp. 196–199.

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  13. Dale Van Atta, With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace and Politics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), pp. 285–290.

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  14. This phrase belongs to Sir Michael Quinlan and highlights the links in the chain of deterrence between conventional forces, tactical nuclear weapons,and strategic nuclear weapons. Tanya Ogilvie-White, On Nuclear Deterrence: The Correspondence of Sir Michael Quinlan (Oxford: Routledge/International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2011).

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  15. TNA, DEFE 11/471, J.M. Legge DS 12 to PS/S of S 14th Meeting of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group — The Hague 5/6th November 1973, 31 December 1973. On the Yom Kippur War, see Abraham Rabinovich, The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East (New York: Schocken Books, 2004).

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© 2014 Kristan Stoddart

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Stoddart, K. (2014). Britain, NATO’s Evolving Military Doctrine, and Its Nuclear Planning Group: The Balance between the Sword and the Shield, 1970–1974. In: The Sword and the Shield. Nuclear Weapons and International Security since 1945. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137313508_4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137313508_4

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-33658-6

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-137-31350-8

  • eBook Packages: Palgrave History CollectionHistory (R0)

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