Published below is the edited transcript of the discussion at a workshop on 'Cabinets and the Bomb', held at the British Academy on Wednesday 27 March 2007, in association with the National Archives and the Mile End Institute of Queen Mary, University of London. The workshop brought together historians working on British nuclear and defence policy, and some of the former officials and ministers involved in the original decision-making processes. The meeting was chaired by Professor Peter Hennessy FBA, and two former Permanent Secretaries at the MOD, Sir Michael Quinlan and Sir Kevin Tebbit, provided some opening and concluding thoughts.
The documents discussed at the workshop – ranging from the first breakthrough made by British scientists in 1940, to the formal December 2006 exchange of letters between Blair and Bush on the upgrade of Trident – were published in November 2007 in a British Academy book, Cabinets and the Bomb.
The transcript of the workshop discussion below has been edited for publication by one of the participants, Catherine Haddon – who also published an article on the workshop in the British Academy Review. The British Academy is grateful to all those quoted below for permission to reproduce their comments.
The introductory 'Overview' by Peter Hennessy has been published as The Nuclear Certificate.
Michael Quinlan's 'Key questions' have been published as the book's Introduction.
The discussion continued:
Frank Panton: An interesting and complete change in the direction of the United Kingdom programme of nuclear weaponry pre-1958 occurs after 1958 and before 1963. Before 1958, Aldermaston had a whole host of requirements for the Army, Navy and the Air Force to which they had given separate cover names, and I assume - or you could assume - meant that AWRE were working on as different warheads.
After 1958 and by 1963 you will find that the UK programme was simply on two nuclear weapons. One was Polaris and the other was the 177 family of free-fall weapons. The Army had no UK nuclear weapons in the programme, the Navy only Polaris, and the Air Force the WE 177 family but no new nuclear weapons. The WE 177 depth bomb seems not to have entered service, and all the tactical weapons that AWRE were apparently working on had disappeared. The Air Force was flying American bombs under Project E as well as 177.
So far, historians working on the UK Nuclear programme do not seem to have uncovered what happened in that period and it mystifies me. A number of fairly obvious reasons would have influenced the changes. An obvious major change was that in 1962 we got Polaris on the demise of Skybolt and the nuclear deterrent was being switched from the Air Force to the Navy. In the meantime, while Polaris was being built, the Navy would still continue to fly 177s along with US Project E bombs as a strategic strike force coordinated with the US. The Army gets absolutely no UK nuclear warhead for use in the land battle, reliance being placed on the Americans' offer of nuclear warheads under Key of the Cupboard arrangements for Lance, Honest John and other tactical systems. The history of how all this was decided has not really been uncovered by the historians yet, or at least I haven't seen anything like that, and I am very interested to know because there are some pretty big decisions to uncover.
Of course, we must remember that in 1958 the Ministry of Defence centrally was almost a holding organisation with the three services more or less distinct, and with their own direct links to Aldermaston. By the early 1960s, however, reorganisation of the MOD brought the three services under strengthened central control, which must have made a change in nuclear policy easier to achieve. Then, too, at that time, Sir Frederick Brundrett retired and Sir Solly Zuckerman took over as CSA MoD. You know that if nothing else Solly was a great sceptic about the usefulness of tactical nuclear weapons, almost as great a sceptic as he was about the UK nuclear deterrent in itself, and he must have influenced if not instituted changes. However there is a whole area of decision-making there which so far has not been exposed.. Perhaps some of the people round the table can give some elements to this?
Chair [Peter Hennessy]: Kristan, have you some thoughts on those questions? Are the documents there, for a start?
Kristan Stoddart: I have thoughts, papers and presentations on tactical nuclear weapons.
Chair: You have?
Kristan Stoddart: I am presenting one at Charterhouse in April, Frank.
Frank Panton: Are you? I shall hear it with interest.
Kristan Stoddart: Good; but as to whether the documents are available - yes, pretty much they are. It is difficult to trace the train of decision and the thought processes that went into, say, the cancellation of Blue Water for example. It is far easier to trace the American involvement in tactical nuclear weapon strategy and how we were not piggy-backing on it, the UK I mean, but is at the centre of trying to re-articulate and to reframe the whole series of arguments and debates into war prevention first and foremost, through conventional strategic deterrents, for want of a better phrase. However, the whole issue gets confused, the whole issue about what is strategic, what is sub-strategic, and what is tactical. Michael will talk about the seamless robe of deterrence; it is a little bit more difficult, and it certainly is a problematic theory when you are looking at ground-based operations, the likelihood being that the Warsaw Pact would simply overrun NATO forces within hours very probably, and they stay current all the way through until at least the 1980s - and there are Warsaw Pact documents which actually bear that out now.
Peter Carrington: Could I just say something about 1962?
Chair: Yes; do you want to go earlier than that?
Peter Carrington: You are absolutely right, the Air Force wanted to keep the delivery systems for them, they didn't want to lose it, but the Navy didn't want it because the Navy thought that they were going to lose out financially on the estimates, having to deal with this, so they didn't want it at all. However, the interesting thing was that it would not have been possible to do Polaris in the Navy but for the fact that Solly Zuckerman and Dickie Mountbatten had got on terms with Admiral Rickover, and Admiral Rickover was the sort of key to nuclear propulsion in the American submarines. Dickie Mountbatten and Solly managed to persuade him to give us the technology to do the nuclear submarine, and but for that it would not have been possible to do Polaris.
Kevin Tebbit: And of course the heirs of Rickover walked in his shadow and continued right until I left at the end of 2005. Virtually every maritime nuclear officer in the United States regarded Rickover as his model all the way through from that period.
Ronald Mason: Rickover of course insisted that every one of the nuclear submariners, the Captains, should be personally seen by him. One of the things that he tried to foist on the UK was that he wanted to do the same for the UK. You can imagine what our Admirals would say to that one! Towards the end of the early Trident negotiations I had an invitation to a meeting on a Saturday morning, during the first half of which I was subjected to a diatribe which, to put it mildly, cast doubts on the UK's capabilities and determination to maintain a credible deterrent force. There was a huge gap between Rickover's engineering and political skills!
Frank Panton: The only point I would make on Suez, and I can't answer your question I am afraid, but it does bring me to say that the main legacy of Suez from the nuclear point of view was that Macmillan became PM, because Macmillan as I have said already was absolutely instrumental in getting alongside Eisenhower and working on Eisenhower so that he got the 1958 Agreement, and at the same time caused a start to be made on nuclear test ban discussions. Absolutely incredibly of course he did the same job on Kennedy, regarding the Polaris Sales Agreement and so the main plus out of Suez, I think, for the United Kingdom in nuclear policy, was that Macmillan emerged as PM at this time.
Chair: We have 10 minutes before supper break, but I think we need to talk a little more about the '58 Agreement, "the Great Prize" as Macmillan called it, and he was striving for it from the moment he became Prime Minister as Frank was saying, from the Bermuda Conference onwards. As Kevin said the lesson of Suez is you never go it alone again anywhere in the world without at least their concurrence, if not active participation, and that certainly I think the documents show tilted across into the nuclear.
Michael Howard: I don't know how relevant it is, but one should mention I think not simply Suez but the Sandys Defence White Paper of 1957, which did make us dependent upon deterrence, and that excused drastic cutting of all the other three services - from which indeed I think many of them have never really recovered. I wonder whether the realisation in the back of people's minds that we have got the deterrent, we are absolutely dependent upon it for our general defence policy, made very much difference to the way in which they handled these matters.
Chair: It is interesting, because I remember talking to Alec Home - and we will come to this after supper - about the Nassau Conference, but according to Alec Home (and Peter will say whether this is wrong or not) regarded the cancellation of Skybolt as potentially a Government-wrecking measure, that if he could not get the substitute quickly the Government might fall, which again looking back from our perspective seems melodramatic but in view of what Michael has just said it becomes much more explicable. I don't know if Peter remembers that, but that is certainly what Alec said and Alec was not a man to dissemble or to deceive, was he?
Kristan Stoddart: One thing we are missing a little is the economic arguments as well. Also in '57 was the founding of the EC. Certainly in regard to at least two approaches that were made, first with De Gaulle and then later Pompidou, all geared it seems towards finding French favour to gain entry into the EC. On the Sandys White Paper there is a linkage between the two. If you look at defence expenditure, certainly up until the Korean War it is astronomically high as a proportion of GDP. It is not only post-Korean War, they started building a series of rationalisation measures and saying 'We must devote more effort in the civilian economy'.
Michael Quinlan: Firstly to pick up what Kristan has just said, about the Sandys review. As I remember, we all hated it at the time - I was Ian Orr-Ewing's Private Secretary in the old Air Ministry. It was not that he suddenly elevated nuclear weapons in the sense of expanding the force or anything like that; he was under great economic pressure, with less money, and he left the nuclear force alone and cut the rest. It was not, as I say, an elevation except in a priority sense of what went out, and much as we hated it, I think he was probably very broadly right.
The other unrelated point I wanted to make is that nuclear collaboration, not on warheads admittedly, with the Americans well pre-dated Suez and all that. We were already at the time of Suez receiving nuclear weapons from the Americans for carriage on Canberras, and - initially, I think - for the Valiants, which was the first of the three V bomber types.
Chair: Yes; any more thoughts on 1958 and thereabouts, Matthew, before we break?
Matthew Grant: On Sandys, it is interesting what has just been said about Sandys that how the drafting of the White Paper was in many ways decided to try and cover up these cuts, and the strategic justification very much dealt with that, for example, there is a very famous phrase in Sandys about "They have no adequate defence against hydrogen bombs". However the first draft stated "British fighters", saying "There is no adequate defence against hydrogen bombs and British fighters, and that is why we are cutting the fighter force", but that was cut because people worried about criticism of the Government in asking "Why are you cutting fighters now we are allowing Soviet bombers through?". By getting rid of that line it made it look as though the Government was admitting that there was absolutely no defence on any scheme from hydrogen bombs, and Britain would be completely destroyed. Sandys is really what gave the impetus to CND being formed the next year, and it is that realisation that all Britain's defence eggs were in the nuclear basket as it were, and historians of CND now say that is what woke people up to the threat and why CND came into being.
Catherine Haddon: I have two particular points. Firstly, going back to Suez, what some people have been suggesting is that these contacts - as with many other aspects of the UK/US relationship - they carried on regardless. Suez did not have that kind of impact upon them. The other thing in terms of looking at the 1958 Agreement, one has to look through the entirety of Eisenhower's approach towards the British, because he does come in in 1953 wanting to improve things to a degree, and there is some discussion in the US about whether or not McMahon had been the right thing to do. Obviously there are disagreements within the American world itself about whether they should approach the British, and all the spy scandals which is another whole story.
Briefly going on to 1958 and the thing that we have not touched upon and which brings us nicely into the second half of all this stuff, is the impact of Sputnik. The '58 Agreement and some of the goings-on had preceded all of this, and you can certainly see from correspondence between Macmillan and Eisenhower that Macmillan takes Sputnik and runs with it, saying to Eisenhower "Look, this proves that we must work together, they can get ahead of us". He almost throws the missile gap theory right down Eisenhower's throat, and I think that is a fascinating aspect.
Chair: Good, thank you Catherine. That brings us neatly to supper time, and after supper we will keep to time in good order, 8.15 reassemble here. We will start with Skybolt, Skybolt cancellation and into the great Polaris story. Thank you.
The discussion resumed:
Chair [Peter Hennessy]: ... quite a lot of history, and the tail-end of what we have to rattle through we have no documents for, but we have living witnesses. We will compensate for the lack of documents with people from the late seventies onwards. We have until 9.15, when Kevin sums up, to get from 1958 to this month really. Can we start with Skybolt and very rapidly go on to the cancellation of Blue Streak Skybolt, and then very rapidly go on to the Nassau Conference and Polaris?
I remember from reading the files a long time ago now that Norman Brook was very keen that any temptation to do a deal for Polaris in 1960 at the Camp David meeting was resisted because of the huge investment in the V bombers. He was determined that with all that public expenditure with those great white ghosts on the Lincolnshire and East Anglian airfields that they be kept going as long as possible, so the impetus to go for Skybolt to keep the V force viable to the end of the seventies was very powerful. That was why it was very difficult, as well as a tremendous political shock as I was alluding to earlier and Peter Carrington was agreeing, when Skybolt was cancelled pretty well out of the blue in December '62.
Would any of the veterans like to talk a little bit about Skybolt and the road to Nassau?
Michael Quinlan: One of the things that drove the preference for Skybolt, as I touched on very briefly earlier, was the passionate desire of the Air Force, with the memory of Trenchard and the Strategic Air Offensive and all that behind them, to hang on to the role. The Navy, as I said, were not all that keen, though the debate about Polaris had begun earlier - I remember being involved in it in 1961 in a meeting at the Treasury - but the Air Force were so keen that they kept the hope alive as long as they could.
I remember them being immensely indignant when there came to notice some indication that Solly Zuckerman had conveyed to the Americans that we wouldn't mind all that much if it was scrubbed. Hugh Fraser, who was then Secretary of State for Air had declined to tell Peter Thorneycroft about this, to our great dissatisfaction, but thereafter the hope of Skybolt was kept alive as long as it possibly could be, very much for Air Force reasons. The Air Force were not present of course at Nassau; the Chief of Air Staff was completely out of the loop by then, but it was a huge blow to the institution of the Air Force when the role passed.
Chair: Peter, could you perhaps talk about the shock of the Skybolt cancellation and the Cabinet meetings that followed?
Peter Carrington: John will agree with me I think that unless you were quite senior in the Government you knew nothing about these things at all. You talk about Parliament being ignorant; I mean we were all ignorant about it! [Laughter] I really first got to know about any of these things when I became First Lord of the Admiralty.
One of the reasons that Michael is right about the Royal Air Force was that we had just had a very bruising quarrel in the Navy with the Royal Air Force about aircraft carriers-v-the Island Strategy; luckily the Navy won that particular battle, because it was not long before there weren't any islands at all that you could possibly use. But the Royal Air Force was very bruised and as a result of that I think the Skybolt thing hurt them even more than otherwise they would have been - but as I say the Navy was not at all keen on it. They didn't really want it at all, but if I may say so they did it extremely well. It was on time and very well done, and it was a very competent affair.
John Nott: Yes, absolutely first class.
Chair: That's all right. Looking back at Nassau it was a most amazing political feat, because a large weight of American opinion advising Kennedy was against it. I remember Philip de Zuleta telling me that Harold did his classic 'Veteran of the Somme' routine, "Friends in peace and war", and when he had finished there wasn't a dry eye in the room. It was the most amazing personal tour de force. Also he had learned from the lesson of Suez in a way, that he kept the Cabinet fully informed as you can see from our documents, with telegrams home with Rab in the Chair while the negotiation was on. He was a classic - not a sofa man as Michael would say.
What I did not know until the files were declassified, and I don't think any of us did that were outsiders, was the degree Uncle Harold Macmillan thought the Nassau deal might actually unravel before it had been knitted together, and in that Boxing Day Minute he writes to Peter Thorneycroft saying "Can you investigate, either for reasons of bluff or for real, whether we can manage anything ourselves substantial if this collapses?" That meeting, which I don't think you were at Peter, in Admiralty House on New Year's Eve when they talk about how it is all bound up with the negotiations for the EEC and De Gaulle and so on, but also the anxieties about Nassau not holding, which he doesn't actually share with the full Cabinet at that very long meeting which was very fully Minuted in the files that we have. So I didn't know about the private anxieties of Macmillan and that inner group until the documents were declassified.
However it was very stark, that assessment prepared by whatever it was called then, the Ministry of Aviation Supply for the end of January about the impossibility of us going to a new generation unaided. When that file was declassified I thought it was immensely revealing of a story which we thought we knew quite a lot about, but it just shows the value of the national archive yield in not just changing the little bits but sometimes the big picture.
Would anybody else like to comment on Nassau and after?
Michael Howard: A purely personal and rather marginal anecdote about this; I at that stage had just, as it were, emerged as a British, in quotes, "defence intellectual", and as such found myself with the entrée to the 'cabinet' of Bob McNamara, all the bright young men who had been at Harvard and in California. Talking to them they made it absolutely clear that with Skybolt there wasn't a hope in hell, that the whole thing was going to be scuppered. Then I came back and there was a dinner, some kind of Royal Air Force do - I think Jack Slessor was there and others - and I said "I am afraid that you are not going to get Skybolt", and they said "Don't believe it for a single moment. The United States Air Force has promised it to us, they will not let us down and that is going to be the decisive matter". So there was this lobby believing that there was a reliable American lobby which was going to support them - and they were wrong.
David Young: I was just going to take it on slightly further. It was interesting to hear what Michael was saying about the Air Force feeling so bitter if you like, or so determined to keep the strategic deterrent, but by 1968 when I was Private Secretary to the Chief of Air Staff, and in 1969 when it passed to Polaris, there was no sense of that at all. In fact there was a feeling almost of relief, but also a determination that the Navy could not get away with their argument that this was, as it were, an extra for which they would be compensated, that the Air Force had not been compensated for doing this for all those years and that was the motivation. However my recollection is that there was no real sort of huge regret that this era had come to an end, provided that could be satisfied. This Chief of Air Staff remember had been in Operation Grapple so he was intimately involved (which was the nuclear test of course on Christmas Island).
Chair: Who was that?
David Young: John Grandy.
Chair: One of the interesting aspects of a Radio 4 documentary I did on the bomb in 1988 for the fortieth anniversary of the Parliamentary Answer was talking to Alec Home about it. He said to me that he was not at all surprised that the Wilson Government carried it on because he had always found Harold very good to deal with on national security questions, but again when the archive was declassified I think I discovered why Alec was so confident. Denis Healey had asked to see Peter Thorneycroft on a Privy Councillor basis in February 1964 to test out with him the idea of putting Polaris into an Atlantic nuclear force so that you could pretend it was internationalised. Of course the full transcript, not that it was recorded but it is a Private Secretary's note, goes to Alec so Alec knew very well that Denis was trying out what we would now call a fudge, which indeed turned out to be the case.
But I don't think, Peter, you thought that Labour would ever give it up did you? Carrington is shaking his head, for the transcript! It sounds like a police interrogation, 'The witness shook his head'. Does anybody want to come in on Harold? Denis Healey sadly could not be with us, but Denis' memoirs again are very candid when he says that he told the Group of Three on MISC 16, the smallest group of Ministers ever to do this, that one submarine was well advanced, the keel was laid for another, but at no cost they could be converted into hunter-killers. Harold Wilson and Gordon Walker said "Please don't say that to the Cabinet", and Denis said "I did not demur", so there were all sorts of sleights of hands of the classic Wilsonian type, but my own instinct is, particularly from the Minutes of MISC 16 when they say that "Three Polaris boats will be the minimum acceptable if NATO unravelled".
They had no real desire to give it up, and that the ambiguous phrasing in the Labour Manifesto of 1964, that they were going to renegotiate Nassau, was pure balls really. But he got it through the Cabinet with hardly a whisper. Anybody who reads those Minutes retrospectively can see Harold in action, but given that CND, as Matt reminds us, had been at its height, they had captured the Labour Party Conference just a few years earlier, it was another classic Wilsonian feat of getting it through, and in the 1966 Manifesto he claimed credit for it: "We have internationalised the British nuclear force" he said, and the Atlantic nuclear force of course was a complete figment of the imagination. In terms of sleight of hand it is world class isn't it - but that is only my view. I don't know if anybody wants to comment on that?
Kristan Stoddart: I think you are absolutely right. Private assurances were given to the US as well before entering office that they would not get rid of the deterrent, which placated the American lobbyists. What I find particularly interesting is how the ANF was used as a stalking horse to facilitate a software solution to the reform of NATO, a dual-track arrangement if you like. I know that is applicable to another era so I probably shouldn't say, but a certain duality going on whereby on the one hand they can pursue ostensibly a pro-American/pro-hardware stance, and at the same time I think they very much believed in it, Healey really did believe that the only way to go was consultation mechanisms, dialogue, involving the West Germans in the nuclear decision-making process. I just thought I would mention that.
Michael Quinlan: I am interested in what Kristan said, and Kristan has obviously seen the papers recently, but that would not have been my recollection. The ANF seemed to me to have a dual purpose. One was to fudge the Labour Party problem, and the other was to kill the NATO Multi-Lateral Force. [General agreement] That undoubtedly cleared the way for what you call a software solution, that is the Nuclear Planning Group, which worked a dream. It was a confidence trick in a genuine sense. [Laughter] However I do not recall that as having been a direct motivation of the ANF.
Frank Panton: I think with the three UK nuclear submarines that were going to be allocated to the ANF it was always thought that there would be three other submarines from the United States working in tandem, which would constitute a perfectly reasonable deterrent. You may then have put two boats on station the whole time. But as I was saying earlier to Michael the main attribute of the ANF was that it sank the MLF without trace, and that I think was its purpose.
Chair: One of the interesting things in the big Cabinet meeting on Polaris on 3 January 1963 is that Macmillan anticipates the development of ballistic missile defences, that you might find it very difficult in the future, and he briefs the Cabinet albeit cryptically on this in a way which was very prophetic. I think, Frank, that very quickly people were aware of this, and Catherine has read the Joint Intelligence Committee estimates of all this, that pretty well from '64/'65 the beginnings of an appreciation of what the Sovs might be doing by way of ABM was there and clear. Do you want to have a quick word about that, Catherine?
Catherine Haddon: One of the things that I discovered most recently that I found quite interesting, and it might have been mentioned earlier, were that the problems in terms of most of these technological issues were theoretical, in the sense that they had not been, and one hoped would not be, tested in practice. The SA2 system, which was a surface-to-air missile system, cruise missiles effectively to stop similar, was in operation in Moscow at this time, but it was also being used in North Vietnam. That was the experience that they had, which enabled them to work out that it was not as effective as they had previously been suggesting to people. But yes, it is 1965/1966 onwards that they really start going with the dangers of an ABM system in Moscow.
Chair: Do you want to add something to that?
Frank Panton: Sandys in his 1957 paper really looked to the future as well, and concluded that the future was with missiles and not with aircraft, and it was perfectly obvious that aircraft would not be able to penetrate to any great depth in Russia and were a thing of the past. However, in my view, a problem with the British going into longer-range missiles is that earlier on, just after the war, either they took a decision or by inanition did not pursue research and development into solid double-based propellants, so we had no capability for years in that and therefore no prospect of doing anything in the long range - no, sorry, that is too positive - very little prospect of doing anything ourselves with long range ballistic missiles.
An attempt was made to remedy that situation in effect by buying the technology from the Americans and by setting up an establishment at Kidderminster entirely supported by the Ministry of Defence, done by IMI, to do the research under development in it. Again they were limited, or limited themselves, not to long-range solid propellant missiles but to medium range liquid propellant missiles, so our hands on expertise in long range solid propellant missiles was never great.
With this background, what else could the Air Force have done when they were faced with the prospect that their aircraft could not get close enough to the Soviet Union because they will lose about an unacceptable percentage of their aircraft, except to penetrate by stand-off missile, and if their own stand-off solution is abandoned, to adopt a US solution, only to find that that too, within nine months of taking it on that is suddenly cancelled. It is cancelled not I think by the President but by the Secretary of State for Defence more or less on his own, or advised obviously. I don't know the ins and outs of this but my reading is that it should not have come as a surprise that that was going to happen. Wishful thinking probably played a part in peoples attitudes, since while Skybolt continued a prime purpose for the RAF still existed.
Chair: Looking at the late sixties, because I am aware that we have a lot of ground to cover, what intrigued me about these documents was the real possibility that we might have had to get out of the business, for two reasons. One is the huge economic crisis after the devaluation when the Ministerial Committee looked at those papers and the Treasury and the DEA tried to kill it off there and then - not just the improvement and the studies on improvement but the whole thing; and secondly the Kings Norton review of Aldermaston. I put Victor Rothschild's dissenting report, which I think reflected Solly Zuckerman's view as well that Aldermaston should be let go which would guarantee that once this generation was through there could be no more, and again historians - but not the ones who read the papers - think that the danger point, if you believe in the deterrent, was 1964 but in fact in the late sixties it was extremely precarious as well. However not only did it carry on, the Polaris improvement (the Super-Antelope studies) continued, and were a bequest from the Wilson Government to Peter who then took it over.
Does anybody want to talk about the early studies for Polaris improvement in the late sixties, or comment on any of the documents that we have before us?
Matthew Grant: As we were saying before once they decided to build Polaris it was only a couple of months before the Americans announced Poseidon, and it is Rob McNamara again and he does it at a Press conference. I think it is in January 1965 when Rob McNamara announces Poseidon isn't it, and Patrick Gordon-Walker from Washington writes to Wilson saying "We have just bought this brand new weapon system and now it has been consigned to the junk yard of Steptoe and Son, so we have just committed to catching up and now we are being left behind". Really the whole thing about Polaris improvements is this feeling that the Americans by moving on to MIRV had shown Polaris to be devalued, and we had to catch up with that. However the big political issue is that at no point can the Labour Party commit to a set of new-generation missiles, so the early studies are almost a fiction to try and bind the Labour Party by also improving Polaris but not improving it enough to mean a new commitment.
Catherine Haddon: Something in which I am most interested in terms of the late 1960s, and I would be keen to hear if anyone had any views on it, is the impact of this whole ABM question, in particular the question of the exo-atmospheric nuclear blast which would in theory blow apart all of the Polaris missiles and therefore one needed first of all it was hardening - I am sure Kate can tell us more of the details and whether I am talking rubbish - and then it was the decoys, and then we moved on to MIRVs.
I am particularly interested in what all this meant in terms of the British deterrent posture and what they felt they had to achieve in terms of damage towards the Soviet Union that would be a deterrent to them, i.e. if there was an anti-ballistic system over Moscow could they ignore Moscow and identify targets that would be equally useful?
Chair: Could I bring in David Young, because you were the Secretary of Hermann Bondi's Long Term Working Party which I think was devoted to those questions wasn't it?
David Young: Just to set the scene, sitting on the Ministry of Defence's nuclear desk in 1971 to 1973 when there was concern about the cost of Super-Antelope, and Hermann Bondi as I recall chaired this group called the Long Term Working Party, where there was as whole clutter of issues which have resonated through some of this discussion. The great fear of people who had been through pre-1958 and were still around was that the Americans could suddenly turn off the tap of information, and that would be devastating. That comes back to relations with the French which one might say something about.
One of Michael's headings, which were openness and secrecy, do not disregard the power of unnecessary secrecy in helping people to drive decisions in the way that they want to. There was immense frustration on the part of a number of civil servants and the Treasury that there was this "You can't go down there" and "Rickover will have a fit if we hear you are asking those kinds of questions". One was troubled by finding it quite hard to believe that if you turned it round and you had an ABM system around London, that the politicians here would be totally reliant on the military telling them that these things would work like a dream and nothing would get through and you could completely rely on that.
That was one of the questions that the Bondi Working Party was looking at, and the other, which comes back to Britain's place in the world and it resonated again for me some little while later with the Think Tank study on the Foreign Office (and we will not get into that), but this sort of punching above our weight and all the rest of it, and the argument "Why do we have to take out Moscow?", that on any conceivable scenario what the Soviets would be getting out of an attack as it were on the UK alone and not the Americans and not the rest of Europe, that they could be persuaded that if we could obliterate Minsk that was enough.
You could obliterate Minsk without needing to harden Polaris, and therefore as Michael has already said previously there was certainly a view that much of this was about finding gainful employment for the scientists at Aldermaston, partly for straightforward short-term considerations, they had mortgages to pay and children to educate and all that kind of thing, but also with a view to the long term that who knows what the next bend in this will reveal?
As Frank has already said once you give this up you are done, you will never go back, you can never afford to start again, so it was not made explicit but it was certainly around that "If we do this we stay in the game and it may well be important that we do". And in the end, over and above the financial and military arguments, there is a powerful political argument.
Chair: But when Peter Carrington wrote the paper for Ted Heath's very small group on nuclear weapons on Super-Antelope, the stuff that we have in the pack here, none of the Bondi Working Party's questions seem to have come through. It was a recommendation - and Ted Heath was very strong on this; the language he uses in there, as indeed you did Peter, is "We have to keep going, we have to keep it to the point where it can threaten Moscow and upgrade", so the Bondi debate doesn't seem to have fed through to the Ministerial group at all. Peter, do you want to talk about your paper that is in here on Super-Antelope?
Peter Carrington: Of course Ted Heath was very much a pro-defence man. He believed very much in defence, and in that period when there was a period of economic distress ... [Break in recording] ... a bit more for defence needed for other things. Of course Tony Barber didn't, no Chancellor does, and he was very much against it. We had a terrible row I remember about what was going to happen to the rest of the defence budget because of the Chevaline thing, but I don't remember there being very much dissent except on the grounds of expense. It was really Tony Barber, it was like all Chancellors.
Chair: Kevin, can I bring you in because I think you are responsible for the code name changing from Super-Antelope to Chevaline aren't you, if you want to tell us about that?
Kevin Tebbit: Well no, a tiny marginal footnote in history. I was the Assistant Private Secretary to Lord Carrington at that stage, not dealing with important things like nuclear issues at all, I was left to deal with things like arms sales to Saudi Arabia I seem to remember. However there was a day when Lord Carrington came into the office and said "We have decided we are going to do Super-Antelope alone - i.e. without the Americans - and so we had better rename it", and we were tossed the question "What should the name be?" and none of us really had the faintest idea. But I rang up the London Zoo and I said "I can't tell you why I want to ask you this question but this is the Ministry of Defence" - and in those days you could say something like that and people took it seriously, they didn't assume that it was some sort of BBC jibe or jape. I said "Can you imagine an animal that is like a large antelope? Do you have any on your list?" And they said "There is a South African creature called a Chevaline". I thought that sounded rather good, a bit like eating horse, perhaps, but I wrote a little Minute saying "This seems to be London Zoo's view on a suitable name" and it was adopted immediately. That is the genuine story. [Laughter]
Michael Quinlan: Just on the Moscow question and all that, perhaps I am just producing the ex post facto rationale, but as I recall it we had in mind that certainly for some years the ABM Treaty was not in place - that did not come in until '72 - so there was a possibility of a much wider deployment of ABM defences than the Treaty eventually allowed. Even then there was always the possibility of break-out from the Treaty; that is Point One. Point Two is the characteristic of the Soviet system being exo-atmospheric meant that it didn't just defend Moscow, it stood to defend a very much larger area, certainly measured in tens of thousands of square miles, the precise size dependent upon the trajectory of the incoming missile. Therefore it was not just a question of Moscow, there was a great deal else which, if we believed in its efficacy, it would give sanctuary to, and we thought that to allow that sanctuary would diminish the credibility of our capability.
Richard Mottram: I was going to make a similar point but I will leave it there on that. However, what I thought was very interesting reading the papers again was the flavour which I only dimly recalled of the problems around the Americans saying we could only have a 50/50 chance or a 70/30 chance, I can't remember what the ratios were, that we could give you with a MIRV capability, and then the sense with Nixon that this was vanishing.
I also felt, and I don't know whether Lord Carrington could comment on this, this period was one of the few moments - and perhaps this is obvious to everyone else - where we were sitting down and contemplating a future which was going to be much more European. My own view was that the Prime Minister was cautious about getting himself even more locked in to a US-unique solution to our deterrent when there might be a more UK-based opportunity which would potentially open up possibilities later for working with the French, and so I felt this was the one moment in all of this post-war period when a European solution as a gleam in people's eyes was around, and this was impacting upon how the Prime Minister thought about those choices - but I may be completely wrong about that.
Chair: Peter, do you want to say something about that?
Peter Carrington: I don't think Ted would have given up our nuclear deterrent because he wanted to tuck up with the French.
Richard Mottram: No, no, I didn't mean that.
Peter Carrington: I don't think there is any question of that, but I think he would have liked to have done some deal with the French. [General agreement]
Richard Mottram: Exactly, that is what I meant exactly.
Chair: David, you were on the edge of the French chat; do you want to tell us something about that? There was a special Cabinet Committee on that.
David Young: I am not sure about that, but certainly my recollection is of what Richard has said, and from the Prime Minister if there were ways of co-operating with the French then he was interested in exploring that and the problem was the Americans. The starting point, as I recall, was could we co-operate in areas which were just to do with keeping submarines under water for a length of time, and it was the first time that I came across carbon dioxide scrubbers and "Could we talk to the French about scrubbers?" - [Laughter] - and eventually the answer was "No". There was the suspicion that surfaced earlier, and mind you the Americans were talking to the French about scrubbers, so they were telling them "There is no need for you to get there" and it just died.
Kate Pyne: In relation to the idea that Chevaline was a job creation scheme, in my Chevaline directory there are 42 different sub-directories and one of these is called 'Job Creation' so I have been looking at this. I don't know, all I can say is that there are two things to mention in this regard which may or may not be connected - and remember I am looking upwards from the shop floor so to speak.
The first is a good anecdote that Peter Jones told me; Peter Jones was the Director - but not at that time, he was the Chief of Warhead Design who later became Director, and he is our basic Mr Chevaline. He was very responsible for driving this thing through ferociously in all its aspects, and he told me that when the first schemes for what became Super-Antelope were first propounded it was in fact taking the basic idea of the American Antelope scheme, which had itself been derived from the Polaris A3 with a similar idea. You take out one of the warheads and you use the mass that you have gained from doing that for a thing called a penetration aid carrier, or PAC. In order to try to pave the way for Treasury spending for approval of this, they decided to call it Super-Antelope although it was not very much like Antelope at all except in principle, on the grounds that at least Antelope had had 14 flight tests and this would reassure the Treasury et al that this thing was grounded in tried technology.
I said one but two things, one is that the idea of problems with our deterrent, or at least a rocket-based deterrent, in relation to the development of the anti-ballistic missile system date back to the late 1950s. (I don't know whether that is known? It is in the public domain if you look for it.) The threat to incoming warheads changed from the kind of thing that you were talking about to the kind of thing that I won't talk about. That is quite a story in itself.
My mind is getting on a bit, I have slipped the third thing I was going to say.
Chair: Thank you; Ron, you became Chief Scientific Advisor -
Kate Pyne: Sorry, I have remembered! The thing it seems to me that we have not considered so far is the parlous state, at least from the Aldermaston perspective, of the 1958 Bi-lateral, and the serious striving to do something to re-energise it. You've got the Director at that time, Ted Newly, saying "Can we think of something to impress the Americans, some new deterrent system?" and this kind of thing, so it is as well to bear in mind that the 1958 Bi-lateral was - 'moribund' would be too strong a word for it, but it was deteriorating fast, lying down and not being energised at all. It is a trade; you have to have something to trade to get the Americans interested, so there was that driver. Whether you could relate that to keeping the chaps occupied with interesting things or not I don't know as yet.
Chair: Thank you Kate; Ron, when you came in as Chief Scientific Advisor I think you read into the Chevaline story and if I remember you concluded that "We must never go down that route again", which is the basis of the Duff-Mason Report. I think I am rather telescoping things, but perhaps you could tell us about that?
Ronald Mason: I might start on a short note: I can always remember just as Chevaline was being deployed there was an ITN report, ITN News, and my eyes came out on stalks because lo and behold Chevaline had been transformed into an 8-10 warhead capability per missile. I thought that was the cheapest force multiplier I have ever come across! So that was the situation.
When I came into the Ministry of Defence, I was immediately following Hermann Bondi into the Chevaline Steering Committee, which was chaired by the Chief of the Naval Staff. It was a time of great difficulty, that 1978/79/80 period. There were very considerable problems in Aldermaston, which you will recall, with matters such as plutonium production and so on. There were very considerable delays to the programme, very considerable over-runs financially, and the Navy - indeed all of us - were deeply, deeply concerned about it.
However, I must say you are absolutely right; as we went through this process I began to be determined that that was the last of a truly national missile programme. The reason I came to that view was not so much concerned with costs and programme over-run on Chevaline, although there were clearly lessons to be learnt. I was also Chairman of the Defence Equipment Policy Committee, and I therefore had an overall view of the conventional defence equipment programme. I could take a view on the enormous demand on technical resources that Chevaline was making, and I felt that was a poor bargain and not an auspicious precedent.
That was at a time, and Peter Carrington and Michael can talk about this too, when NATO was making enormous demands for conventional improvements. We were locked into a 3 per cent equipment budget increase every year you will remember, and I began to take the view that there was in fact no way that we could meet those targets. In the event we did, and I felt as I went into the Trident Working Party that I had that prejudice, if you will, that in that area of technology and technical resources we simply could not afford, beyond the obvious need to develop warheads and so on, another Chevaline programme which would stretch our technological capabilities and systems integration skills.
Chair: Richard Mottram, you were the Secretary of the Duff-Mason Committee. As we cannot reconstruct it from the files do you want to take us through the genesis of it and how politically sensitive it was, and how you did it? Just fill in the gaps, Richard, if you don't mind.
Richard Mottram: What I think is quite instructive to recall is the difficulty in getting the work going. I was signed up to be the Secretary of this work by Michael Quinlan and then week after week went by without agreement within the Government that this work would be done. That was because each of the key players in the then-Labour Government had a different view about how they wanted to handle this problem. The then-Secretary of State for Defence really wanted it to go away, the then-Foreign Secretary had some very clear views himself about what the most appropriate solutions might be, the Chancellor of the Exchequer really wanted it to go away because again it was a period of very difficult economic situation for the country, and the Prime Minister I think wanted to do the "right thing". Back and forth it went, whatever the 'Right Thing' might be, being capital R and capital T, just trying to get the work established, and then eventually the work was established.
There was a piece of work which was really about the case for and against having the deterrent, and the against was an important part of the deal in getting the work done so material was produced which attempted to look at both sides of the issue. I can say all this from memory because I haven't refreshed my memory by reading the documents. All of that was in the hands of a group that was chaired by a very, very distinguished diplomat, a marvellous man, Antony Duff who alas is now dead, and then alongside that there was work in a group that Ron Mason chaired.
The only other point I would make, because again it is quite difficult to see choices, is that at that period there was a real sense of excitement about the capability of cruise missiles, technically and so on. There was therefore a significant view in this process that the answer might lie in a different and non-ballistic solution and a deterrent that was a bit more cheap and cheerful. All of that was worked through but wasn't really decided effectively until the Conservative Government came in.
Chair: Jim Callaghan relived for the broadcast that the BBC did in 1998 going to see Jimmy Carter in his beach hut at Guadeloupe and saying "If my Government is re-elected or the Conservatives want Trident, can we have it?" and Jimmy Carter said "Yes", so Jim had paved the way. He unusually, because it is normally a convention that doesn't go this way, on his last day in Number Ten organised for Duff-Mason to be given to Margaret's group MISC 7, which you were on Peter, intact and then John took it on later. So Jim Callaghan's bequest to the Thatcher Government was Duff-Mason, if I remember rightly. He said that in so many words, and he thought that.
John Nott: I just have a small aside on the economics, because I was Economic Secretary during the latter part of the Heath Government, and the situation with regard to public expenditure was completely desperate. Tony Barber had been trying to get Heath to agree to a substantial reduction in public expenditure for at least 18 months, and Heath believed in expansion and that was the only way to hold our head high when we went into the European Community. Tony used to come back - he was a wonderful man, Tony Barber - from endless meetings at Number Ten, and I remember him saying on many occasions that "Peter Carrington is frustrating my wish to get public expenditure down. Every time I think I have made some progress with the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary whispers in the Prime Minister's ear, and Peter Carrington has far more influence with Ted Heath than I have and I can't really get this public expenditure reduction agreed".
I think Tony Barber would have abandoned the deterrent if he could have done so in order to get the public expenditure down - although Barber was very pro-defence - and Peter Carrington saved the deterrent in many ways - and of course Ted was not pro-America. I think that is an understatement. Sorry, it is just an aside on the economics at the time.
Chair: Peter, do you want to take credit for saving the bomb?
Peter Carrington: I think it was a good thing, don't you?
John Nott: Yes, I do. Yes, you did a good job.
Peter Carrington: That's all right then!
Chair: While you have the microphone on, Mrs Thatcher sets up a very early ad hoc Cabinet, MISC 7, which does it fairly quickly if I remember Michael, I think you were briefing it, and goes for the C4 which was what was on offer then. Do you want between you to recall the atmosphere in which the first decision was taken by Mrs Thatcher's Bomb Cabinet Committee?
Michael Quinlan: I am not sure I have much to say about it, but can I just job back for a moment to the cruise missile question to say that it was certainly the perception in the Ministry of Defence, who were not in favour of the cruise missile solution, that this was being driven by David Owen with Solly Zuckerman behind it, and that part of at least David Owen's motivation (and I am sorry he is not here to confirm or deny) was that this could somehow finesse the Labour Party commitment not to replace Polaris. A few cruise missiles, they could say, were de minimis or "housemaid's baby", and that was at least part of the attraction.
Ronald Mason: Could I add to Michael's points by saying that absolutely was the case. Interestingly the cruise missile solution did not have much airing in the last three or four months of the Labour Administration. It really bubbled up with the change of Government, and the position that David Owen and Solly had worked up had certain economic advantages which stemmed from the fact that they wanted to deploy cruise missiles in attack submarines. That was sheer anathema to the Royal Navy, quite apart from any views one might have had such as the vulnerability of the then-cruise missiles.
When John Nott argued, I think very forcibly and rightly, that the case for Trident ought to be argued with the totality of Cabinet, it was the case that the technical presentation had a major section concerned with the non-solution, which was represented by the cruise missile. That had not appeared earlier in terms of current and future air defence systems.
John Nott: [Break in recording] ... the Prime Minister said in a rather sort of off-hand way at the end of a full Cabinet meeting, 'We have made a decision that we are going to [do Trident]' - and I was Trade Secretary, I had nothing to do with Defence but I was on the Overseas and Defence Policy Committee and none of this was mentioned there, and I raised my voice and said 'Prime Minister, don't you think it is possible that on such an important strategic decision for the country the Cabinet should be briefed on this decision?'. No-one supported me, there was complete silence around the Cabinet table, and the Prime Minister looked rather shocked and upset and she said 'Well, of course we had to announce it because it was going to leak', and that was the end of the discussion. It took about 30 seconds.
When I was approached by Margaret Thatcher to become Defence Secretary we had a very jovial meeting with Denis Thatcher and whisky and everything else, and she said 'Are you sound on the nuclear question John?', and I said 'Well, I believe I am'. When I joined the Ministry of Defence because of the way that this was handled, the secrecy involved, I thought that if we ever made a different decision we ought to brief the whole Cabinet. Indeed when we went to D5 I went to the Prime Minister and said 'I think we ought to brief the Cabinet on the whole nuclear issue'. She was very, very unhappy about this and I am sure was strongly advised by the Cabinet Office that on no account should the full Cabinet be given this full briefing. Anyhow I persisted, and in the end the whole Cabinet was briefed, and in my judgment even if something had leaked from an unfortunate member of the Cabinet it would have enhanced deterrence and not reduced it. I just mention that because the secrecy was to my mind completely unnecessary.
Chair: Peter, do you want to talk about the MISC 7 deliberations, the C4? [No]
Peter Carrington: This just shows how brave John is.
Chair: Very brave, yes.
John Nott: Thank you.
Chair: Presumably though, Peter, for Mrs Thatcher it was an of-course decision? [Yes] There was no question it was going to be a renewed deterrent and it was going to be the best the Americans could give us. Was anybody else here who was involved in that want to talk a bit, or can we now leap to recent events?
Kristan Stoddart: Before we leap to recent events can we just revisit some of the issues with the Chevaline?
Chair: Yes, but be quick because I am conscious of the time.
Kristan Stoddart: Of course. In 1972 you get renewed reassessment of strategic deterrence and Soviet capability carried out by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and by the MoD on behalf of the Chiefs of Staff. That assessment stays current and is referenced all the way through the 1970s. At the back end of 1975 improvements to the Moscow ABM defences meant that Field Marshal Lord Carver, who was CDS at the time, wanted to re-target, he wanted to remove reliance on the Moscow criterion. That view is recorded in papers in the Public Record Office, the National Archive system as it now is. Also when we consider today the Duff-Mason Report in my view that and the other papers that went to Ministers at that time are some of the clearest expositions on nuclear deterrence and nuclear strategy that have been written in recent years. The latest Defence White Paper on the subject of deterrence owes a lot to both of those documents.
Frank Panton: What I want to say is in taking the decision for Trident which you took in 1979/1980, what was really being done was taking the decision which should have been taken in 1967 for Poseidon, for precisely the same reasons - maybe not quite 'precisely' but pretty well precisely the same reasons. So I have no problem with that all, except that I would just remark that Super-Antelope was not a development of a missile, it was a development of a front end. It was a pretty complicated development and very difficult, and I have to point out that the original design which Peter Jones masterminded went into service with one emendation, and that was really getting another contractor to do the vital bit because the first contractor failed.
The system was proved, but it was difficult and it did have to resurrect some capabilities which had expired or were going down the drain, and I am quite certain that if you tried at that point - and I had nothing to do with this, I was out of the system at that point - to do a UK cruise missile yourselves completely there would have been quite immense problems, not only with the propellant but also with the missile itself.
Bear in mind when you are looking at what happened to Super-Antelope, the original management of it was given to Aldermaston. It was not the sort of thing that Aldermaston had ever done before, and it should have involved the RAE more intimately than it did right at the start, and that was one of the problems why it was difficult to do.
Ronald Mason: Frank Panton is absolutely right. Starting with Poseidon, the issue of the UK obtaining MIRV capabilities runs through all the discussion with the US. The matter was only resolved in the very last stages of the Trident negotiations.
Chair: Good; Frank, I think we must move on quickly because I am aware of the clock ticking.
David Omand: Forgive me if you have covered this before supper when I wasn't here, but I just wanted to register for future historians the fertile ground still to be gone over in the papers not yet released but an important part of the story, which was when we ceased to maintain a deterrent posture that was based on more than one delivery system, and when we then decided we would rely only on the ballistic missile-firing submarines.
That decision loop we went through with genuine reluctance. I set up the Anglo-French Nuclear Commission as a forum involving the Prime Minister and the President under which discussion of future deterrence could take place with the French. We examined carefully the possibility of develop an air-launched missile jointly with the French. It came to nought and would have in fact proved far too expensive. In the end - and this is the interesting part of the story - we rationalised in our own minds reliance on the ballistic missile submarine as our deterrent. That I think is a story which is well worth having a good look at.
Chair: Thank you very much. Before I turn to Kevin, Michael Howard has a really good historian's question he wants to pose to the insiders.
Michael Howard: It is this: now the Cold War is over and we have got a great deal of the Soviet documentation although by no means all of it, is there any evidence that the Soviet Union took the slightest interest in or expressed that they were affected by the fact that we had developed an independent nuclear deterrent, or were particularly worried by the fact that we had developed Chevaline? Does it register on their horizon at all?
Chair: Who would like to answer from the inside? We have the whole run of Permanent Secretaries at the Ministry of Defence from the ending of the Cold War through to 2005, so if there was any British intelligence on that I am sure this is now the moment to divulge it. Who wants to say first?
David Omand: I would just hazard the comment that one result was much greater attention by both the KGB and the GRU than would otherwise have been the case, as witnessed by the number of their activities we uncovered where they were trying to find out what we were up to. Similarly, and in a slightly later period, the way Mr Gordievsky as Rezident in London was tasked by Moscow Centre showed very clearly they thought it was worth keeping an eye on what we were up to, partly of course as an insight into what the United States was up to.
Chair: Anybody else can divulge?
Kate Pyne: You took the wind out of my sails slightly there, because one of the things I show in presentations is a picture which a Navy chap gave me showing a Russian trawler on a 'fishing expedition' in the sea area where the Chevaline approval trials were carried out. That was one of several recorded instances of their presence, so that links in.
Chair: Kevin, tell us all.
Kevin Tebbit: I am not sure at this late stage that you want me to tell you very much and therefore I will be extremely brief. This has been mainly geared to trying to chart what motivated British decision-makers at the key stages in nuclear history, and in a sense even posing it like that misses the importance of points that Frank Panton, Kate Pyne and Ron Mason were making, because so often political decision-makers are insufficiently sensitive to the reality that unless you are prepared to invest in sustaining technological and scientific capacity throughout a period, the option to go for a new system may no longer be there when politicians finally decide that they want it.
One of the really important bits of the history is the sustainment of the scientific and engineering base that has been needed throughout this period. I mention this because it nearly hit us very recently before the Government took the decision to invest in warhead sustainment in 2004. That background may not feature in the political history, Peter, but actually has always been a very critical aspect. I think the first thing we should say is there were times when this was very fragile, and we all owe a huge debt to the people at AWE and other places that kept it going in the quiet times.
Frank Panton: I would just interject here; I did an estimation of what the hiatus time was when Governments took over in the period of the 1960s, and when a new Government took over it took it from six months to a year to reach a decision. In that time the chaps at the coal face who were doing the actual work were not quite left in limbo, I mean the money was there, but the decision was not made and there was six months to a year before you could get anything positive. That occurred four times in 10 years.
Kevin Tebbit: You make the point. Nevertheless, although it was sometimes a close run thing, the fact is that despite difficulties, cross-currents, Chancellors suggesting 'No', sometimes Foreign Secretaries wanting to do something a little less high profile, basically once the critical decision was taken at all other stages in the nuclear story Prime Ministers always brought their colleagues to preserve, maintain, sustain, modernise the deterrent, provided it was affordable and provided we had the technology to be able to do it.
Why did they do it? I think Michael Quinlan posed the key motivations at the beginning. He began with prestige: with what makes other countries take us seriously, and the importance of a seat at the top table, whether it be for arms control or for broader political influence. It was quite clear that at the beginning of the period that these were unquestioned assumptions because Britain still saw herself as a super power and had not reached the final denouement at Suez, and it was more or less natural instinct to be determined to stay in that game. This was the currency of the top table and we were part of it.
Also, on Michael's third point, was the clear determination to retain influence with the United States and to use our possession of nuclear weapons to lock them in to our security rather than to allow a perception to grow in Soviet minds that we could be decoupled from this fundamental alliance. We recall that this strategic coupling was not a foregone conclusion from just how bad the nuclear relationship was with the United States in the late forties - the McMahon Act, when the risk that the US would go its own way was very real. Some ambivalence on the part of the United States to our nuclear policy recurred at various stages in the past - over MIRVed systems for example, or through a sense on the part of some influential players in Washington that we ought to be pushed in the arms of the Europeans rather than continue to occupy an independent nuclear position. It is important to note that such attitudes seem to have gone now. There is no evidence of anything but full co-operation from the US in the latest nuclear deal.
It is worth remembering some of the individuals involved in this history, because a lot has been the result of personal trust built up, especially transatlantically. There have been many unsung heroes in this continuous nuclear co-operation story, at the policy level as well as among scientific communities.
We have said very little about the NATO aspects. That is in itself interesting because of course while we were doing this nationally there was a big NATO game being played throughout the period. Indeed, key points in our own decision-making often corresponded to or coincided with key points in broader NATO decision-making, which actually made some of the UK's decisions more manageable. We think here, for example, of NATO's long-range theatre nuclear force modernisation, in the late 1970s leading to the twin track arms control approach against the background of a growing perceived Soviet threat. This was the period when the UK decided to replace Polaris.
Where NATO fits into it all now is an interesting question. Preservation of NATO's nuclear posture remains formally one of our reasons for possessing the deterrent. We say that we are still helping to defend countries who have foresworn nuclear weapons themselves, notably Germany. It is unclear how far we shall be able to emphasise this dimension as we go through the public debate in the next few years.
In the policy cluster that Michael described he also included the importance and meaning of independence, which has changed over time from being a fully independent nuclear deterrent to one which is independent for operational purposes only, and the contrast with the French, and the way in which our views shifted over that time - the critical point coming with Chevaline: and never again would we do anything quite so difficult and so demanding in national scientific and engineering terms. I think that was a very important point that was brought out. We have always sought to preserve our deterrent at an affordable cost.
Michael talked about the position of France in all this. We have had a discussion about how at various points there were efforts at least to hold the door open to nuclear co-operation with France. Richard Mottram reminded us how such considerations were in the minds of the group of which he was Secretary in 1978, and also how Chevaline might have been seen as an option in the longer term for possible moves with the French should the United States prove not to be as reliable as we thought.
This extent to which the United States and the French had been working together will always be one that fascinates observers of this subject. I certainly remember visiting US nuclear establishments between 1976 and 1979 and was interested in looking at the register of those who had signed in recently. You could go and find one or two of your French colleagues' names as quite recent visitors, which did not coincide with what the Americans were saying about how little they were doing with France at that time.
We have not spoken very much about morality because morality does not seem to have come into it very much at all. There is an interesting piece in the papers from I think 1954, maybe 1956, but that is it. We worked on the assumption that a country, which is prepared to accept nuclear cover from the United States, is not changing its morality if it provides for its own nuclear deterrence. That has been the moral position, implicitly or otherwise, that we have taken throughout that period. No doubt those arguments will come back again.
Openness and secrecy. Academics love to chart the constitutional niceties as to how many Cabinet members were involved or not involved in decisions that Prime Ministers took. What is clear is that this was seen to be a Prime Ministerial responsibility and obligation throughout, and Prime Ministers judged how much they wished to involve people other than their Secretary of Defence and probably their Foreign Secretary and inevitably the Chancellor as they went along.
Institutional pressures: these did not feature as much perhaps as one might have expected. There was the RAF, there was the Navy, and some inevitable rivalry between the two. There was also the view that AWE Aldermaston were seeking to preserve jobs rather than a minimum programme. (Although I would prefer to put that in the context of the need to sustain technology when others do not necessarily understand how difficult that is.) But these were not dominant issues.
We did not talk much about arms control and Non-Proliferation Treaty, ABM Treaties and those sorts of things. Clearly they are going to be quite a feature in the current debate running up to 2010 with the NPT Review Conference. One factor that did play was the ABM Treaty in 1972, which did have quite an effect on calculations. At least without it, it would have made it even more necessary to proceed with a Chevaline type solution in order to continue to penetrate defences. By and large one is struck by the point that the UK, perhaps more than any other nuclear power, did try to build in an arms control dimension at the same time as they took modernisation decisions.
I think that brings me to a conclusion. I don't know if this has been a helpful session for the academics present but it has certainly been helpful for those of us who were practitioners, to try to refresh our memory and, as and when security and confidentiality permits, to identify where we might enlighten matters further.
Thank you Peter.
Chair: Thank you, Kevin, very much, and can I thank all of you for coming. It has been a terrific evening. On several levels it has been fascinating, and it certainly is to us humble scholars, but I hope it is of some use to those responsible for it now, and I hope it has been enjoyable and not too painful for those who have had to revisit some of their hotter moments as public servants or Ministers.
If Onora [Baroness O'Neill, President of the British Academy] will allow me, on behalf of the Academy, the Mile End Institute and the National Archives, thank you so much for coming. You will all be invited to the knees-up at the National Archives in November, so we will meet again. Thank you so much.