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The Role Of Nuclear Weapons
And Its Possible Future Missions

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GoOrigins Of Nuclear Strategies Of The "Nuclear Club" Members - Brief Overview

I.3. The Great Britain

The history of the British nuclear project began in March 1940 when two German scientists, emigrated from Nazi Germany - physicists Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frish - prepared the memorandum which stated possibility to create fission explosive device and described ways and means to achieve that result. (34) Active discussions on prospects of nuclear weapons creation took place in British media since Spring 1939, but key British scientists who served as the Cabinet scientific advisers stood sceptic. (35)

Nevertheless the level of Peierls-Frish memorandum's details in elaboration of the problem of possible approaches to resolution of the Bomb scientific and technological problems was unprecedented. That attracted great attention to the document and it was considered very seriously in the British leadership. In a matter of weeks - in April 1940 - so-called Maud Committee was established to study a) possibility of development and production of nuclear explosive devices in war-time, and, in the case of positive result of the first study, b) whether it was reasonable to aim at this task a share of finance necessary for other defence needs. (36)

Two reports of the Maud Committee appeared in June and July 1940 accordingly and contained positive conclusions with regard to both key questions. That period was the time when Britain's military defeat in war against Nazi Germany seemed highly probable - Dunkerk just happened - and the idea of development of extremely powerful weapon was readily accepted by the political leadership of the United Kingdom. In September 1941 the secret program code-named "Tube Alloys" was started with full support of the Cabinet and the British Chiefs of Staff.

The fact is noteworthy that the Maud Committee recommended that Britain carries out the nuclear program independently. Politicians - Winston Churchill among them - were eager to do in that way as well: they believed even at that preliminary stage of the nuclear program the possession of nuclear weapons would symbolize the Britain's role as the great power. (37)

That aspiration was the reason for British delay - since October 11, 1941 till mid-1942 - with reply to Roosevelt's proposal for British-American cooperation in development of atomic bomb. Indeed, the perspective to develop and produce the Bomb before Americans and independently of them was too attractive for the British leadership because that would immediately shift the balance in British-American relations in favor of the United Kingdom. In that case the British voice in the U.K.-U.S. dialogue would have the weight very different of that in 1941-42 - and that was extremely important in the U.K. politicians' perception.

Further events forced the United Kingdom to join the United States in the nuclear project which became Manhattan Project. Nevertheless the British experience in the U.K.-U.S. cooperation in the nuclear field was extremely unhappy: General Leslie Groves boasted of blocking British access to the Manhattan Project researches. (38) The actions of the U.S. leadership and terms of agreements with the United States reached by the Great Britain were in that sense much more definite, important and convincing than the General's words. (39)

That strengthened the Britain's attitude to get its own nuclear weapons in order to change the less and less acceptable decline in the role the United Kingdom played in the U.K.-U.S. relations and gain in that way influence (in fact return at least essential part of it! - I.S.) in Washington. That task was especially important for the British leadership taking into consideration the trends which proved after the end of the war the reduced role of the U.K. would be "freezed". (40) Knowledgeable observers noticed that no one of British-American agreement reached in the years of the World War II was ever given legitimate power by passing it through the Congress and the Parliament - hence there were not guarantees against refusal to obey theirs terms. That was precisely what happened after the end of the World War II.

With the end of the World War II the U.S. unwillingness to continue the cooperation with the Great Britain in the nuclear field and share the key knowledge about the nuclear weapons design became even more evident. Widely publicized Baruch Plan and especially passage of the McMahon (Atomic Energy) Act of 1946 which prohibited for the U.S. administration to cooperate with foreign countries in the field of nuclear energy (in both its military and peaceful applications) made it clear that Britain should not depend on the United States in that extremely sensitive matter.

At the same time it became the common point for British politicians - after a very brief period (less than a year) during which Britain tried to play the role of a bridge between the Soviet Union and the West - that the Great Britain needed nuclear weapons to fight possible war against the USSR. (41)

Those were the conditions in which the British Cabinet Gen 163 ad hoc committee made in early January 1947 the decision to re-start the independent British program of development and production of nuclear weapons. While the consideration that excluded the possibility of war between the United Kingdom and the United States was the important point of the British policy for several dozens years, the decision to re-start British nuclear program had evident anti-American meaning: it was considered by the U.K. political leadership as the sign of Britain's independence. (42)

Upon obtaining its own nuclear weapons (the first British nuclear test - Hurricane - took place on October 3, 1952, while the first production weapons began entering service with the Royal Air Force in November 1953) Great Britain continued attempts to carry out independent nuclear policy. The independent nuclear deterrence concept became the official British policy in the early 1950s.

It was considered by the United Kingdom leadership that there were the same threats to the U.K. interests and security as to those of the United States and NATO. Nevertheless the general consideration of the White Hall Cabinet was that Britain's ability to reach the purposes of nuclear deterrence independently of any allied powers (i.e. independently of the United States and their support) would strengthen the Great Britain's international status as the great power. (43) While never reached the French touz azimuts strategy's sharpness that early British policy definitely contained strong enough anti-American elements - which was inevitable taking into account the above-mentioned anti-Americanism of the original decision to produce British atomic bomb.

The decision to develop British hydrogen bomb was mainly driven by Winston Churchill's feeling that United Kingdom must possess each sort of the most important weaponry which the United States and the Soviet Union possess to keep its great power status. (44) That was the main reason why the 1956 White Book (Statement on Defence) articulated that "our status as the great power is directly connected with the possession of the H-bomb." (45)

The keeping great power status once again became very important task for the British leadership after the Suez crisis when Great Britain, France and Israel had in fact to capitulate before the Soviet Union ultimatum when the United States refused to support British-French actions against Egypt in view of the Soviet threat to intervene with nuclear weapons. (46) The American refusal to support allies was considered by many people in Britain as the Americans' betrayal (47) (the important point - that was not only politicians' but general public feeling as well) and requested decisive actions to prove Britain has not given her wings and despite all "failures" was able reach its political purposes.

Later on Wilson's Cabinet in early 1960s once again in the history of the British nuclear strategy used the U.K. nuclear weapons to improve the Great Britain's political position. That happened when because of President de Gaulle of France opposition to the British joining the Common Market Franco-British relations sharply deteriorated. To enhance the British position in dispute with France Wilson's Cabinet resorted to the Britain's nuclear weapons. (48)

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