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Britain and the Bomb

Brass Tacks

By Stephen C. Clapp

Harold Macmillan's announcement of Britain's radical military realignment promises to affect gravely military planning throughout the NATO nations. This move was motivated principally by economic difficulties compounded by the Suez invasion. In an attempt to lower taxes, the government plans to halve military manpower by 1960 and eliminate the draft by withdrawing troops from Libya, Korea, and Germany in particular. The government views its present program, undertaken in 1950 under the pressure of Korean conflict, as ill-adapted to the present need for long-range planning. Prime Minister Macmillan argues, further, that an economically burdened England could never be the defensive force the free world expects; hence he asserts "more punch for the pound" through powerful deterrents is the British answer to economic and military pressures.

Britain's most sweeping peacetime reorganization calls for drastic overhauls in weapon research, air force techniques, and naval operations. With the hydrogen bomb in prospect, Britain intends to carry forth nuclear research, particularly in atomic missiles where she hopes to develop a "second generation" of rockets while receiving the presently less-advanced U.S. weapons already in production. They hope that this ground-to-air missile system will eventually replace R.A.F. manned fighters. On the seas, carrier task forces supported by light cruisers will comprise the fleet as the heavy cruisers are retired to the scrap pile.

Since the British announced their new policy, other westerners have revealed similar designs in their own planning. Adenauer wants a similar program for Germany, and our own military prospects involve a possible two and one-half million manpower cut in the next four years. At the same time, this new emphasis on the deterrent power of nuclear weapons has thrown new considerations into schemes for H-bomb test control, disarmament, and defense research. And by this reorganization, Britain has admittedly placed her final trust in American manpower and nuclear weapons.

Labor Party Reacts

Left-wing Labor Party leaders, dismayed by Hugh Gaitskell's ineffective opposition to Macmillian's Bermuda policy, have refused to modify more than slightly their stand against hydrogen bomb tests. Strong Parliamentary support behind this resolution has both shaken Gaitskell's leadership and threatened to raise an obstacle to British research in the nuclear field. Any disarmament plans intended to reduce nuclear weapons would now encounter strong British opposition. Both deterrent value and economy appear to demand nuclear research and stockpiling for defense.

The underlying philosophy of Britain's outlook is "realism" according to its own view, "defeatism" according to some initial American reactions. The White Paper announcing the change detected "no means of providing adequate protection for the people of this country against the consequences of an attack with nuclear weapons." Macmillan has been willing to agree with the American goal of a party for every thrust to the extent of backing "defense research" against bombs and missiles, but no one seems too optimistic about its success.

Regardless of whether "the overriding consideration in all military planning must be to prevent war, rather than to prepare for it," Britain's military policy has raised problems which can't be easily solved. Although the government contends that its ground force will soon be more mobile and more powerful than before, it must be questioned whether Britain will have any intermediary fighting unit between colonial trouble-shooters and atomic mass retaliation. Already NATO officials have warned member countries that, with the possible exception of Britain and France, all must retain substantial ground forces for the defense of Europe.

In each European nation's growing realization of probable obliteration in nuclear war and the helplessness of conventional defense against such weapons, they are being realistic, perhaps, but also possibly parochial. If each nation were to regard its protection in terms of its own needs, rather than those of the total free world, we might have a peculiar form of isolationism: each nation crouched behind--not geographic--but nuclear boundaries and refusing the less destructive but more practical use of conventional forces. Britain has a very real faith in the power of nuclear deterrents, yet the road of preventive armament is a very narrow and dangerous one, and one which history proves more often wrong than right.

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