Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Ambiguity and DeterrenceBritish Nuclear Strategy 1945-1964$

John Baylis

Print publication date: 1995

Print ISBN-13: 9780198280125

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198280125.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2017. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 25 February 2017

(p.415) Appendix 7 Chiefs of Staff Committee/Air Defence Committee Working Party

(p.415) Appendix 7 Chiefs of Staff Committee/Air Defence Committee Working Party

The Trend of War

Ambiguity and Deterrence
Oxford University Press

DEFE 8/48

AD (WPS) (54) 16

14 July 1954

Note by the Joint Secretary

The attached paper on ‘The Trend of War’ prepared by Dr Cockburn is circulated for consideration by the Working Party.

The Trend of War

  1. 1. The imminence of the H-bomb with lethal radius of about 5 miles, the Mach 3 aircraft, and finally the unstoppable ballistic rocket has so disrupted the military situation that it is difficult to recognise any permanent basis on which to plan defence policy. As long as the threat depended on airborne vehicles, against which defence, although difficult, was at least possible, there was no escape from a competitive arms race. This might eventually have brought offensive and defensive again into balance. This trend will be fundamentally altered by the ballistic rocket threat if, as now seems probable, no direct defence is possible.

  2. 2. Strategic stability will be re-established when both sides can retaliate with an unstoppable threat. From about 1965 onwards we may expect both Russia and America to have available intercontinental rockets capable of delivering an H-bomb with an accuracy of the order of 5 miles. Provided neither side discovers a direct defence against ballistic attack, the use of any weapon of mass destruction as a strategic threat will become neutralised.

  3. 3. It also follows that any penetration of the air space of a nation possessing the ballistic weapon will eventually become too risky to be used as an instrument of war. With no means of deciding whether such a threat carries conventional armament or annihilatory H-bombs, atomic retaliation may be inescapable. (p.416) Strategic air forces will consequently also become neutralised and ‘total’ air defence no longer necessary.

  4. 4. Retaliation does not, however, provide a global defence. It can only defend areas which are completely integrated politically. Thus when New York is vulnerable to retaliation, the US will not use her strategic weapon in defence of London. The UK must, therefore, have its own retaliatory defence.

  5. 5. Similarly, however, we will not be prepared to sacrifice the UK in the defence of say Darwin, and eventually each political unit must have its own means of retaliation.

  6. 6. The atomic bomb has little value as a compulsive instrument of foreign policy as soon as it provokes unstoppable retaliation. The US is the only power which can contemplate its use with some impunity to itself and this only for a few more years. Thereafter, global war and the use of the H-bomb become synonymous terms and the present peripheral wars are probably typical of the means by which foreign policy will have to be implemented in future.

  7. 7. Although ballistic retaliation would eventually be the main component of defence, it could only be used as a last resort. It would not allow us to deal with any partial threat such as reconnaissance over the UK, or tactical air power in ‘non-vital’ areas overseas. Furthermore, it will be some time before the logic of retaliation is fully established and meanwhile we must maintain our effort on air defence.

  8. 8. Our present air defence is already obsolescent. Existing fighters are incapable of catching the V bomber and the system has a limited handling capacity against a saturation threat.

  9. 9. There are a number of possible phases in the development of air defence.

    1. (a) The thin-winged Javelin and the F.23.

    2. (b) The supersonic manned fighter.

    3. (c) Orange Yeoman.

    4. (d) The Stage II guided weapon.

    5. (e) Defence against ballistic rockets.

    With the exception of the last, which may never be achieved, all demand improved radar surveillance and data-handling facilities and the operational requirements are similar for the manned fighter and for the guided weapon. The Orange Yeoman system cannot develop sufficient handling capacity and has too short a range to provide area defence. We must, therefore, embark on the development of the radar and data handling components of Stage II air defence.

  10. 10. The ‘long range’ 150 mile ground-to-air missile has clear advantages over the manned fighter in the close defence role, and a (p.417) longer period of usefulness. We should, therefore, concentrate on this form of defence and reduce our investment in the close defence fighter. This involves accepting the greater risk now rather than later.

  11. 11. In the close defence role, the manned fighter is a wasting asset; but it still has a useful role outside the range of close control in offensive/defensive and in tactical applications. The supersonic fighter should be developed as a replacement for the Javelin rather than for the Swift and Hunter.

  12. 12. The nature of peripheral war will depend on the conditions in which the atom bomb will or will not be used tactically. In ‘vital’ areas such as Europe the situation will be governed by the risk of strategic retaliation. In ‘expendable’ areas, such as Korea, atom warfare may not be militarily justified. In between these extremes there will be areas such as Egypt or Japan where limited atomic warfare might develop. It is difficult to predict where the tacit bomb line will be established.

  13. 13. The tactical air situation may eventually stabilise along the same lines as the strategic situation. Any large build-up of air power will tend to provoke, and hence be neutralised by, the threat of atomic attack on its ground organisation. Direct air defence will still be required, but only to deal with limited attacks against the ground forces, to deny reconnaissance and to protect air supply lines.


  1. 14.

    1. (a) Provided no defence can be developed against the ballistic rocket, it must eventually neutralise the threat of atomic annihilation of vital areas.

    2. (b) The threat of ballistic retaliation will also tend to neutralise the large-scale use of air forces as an instrument of war and remove the need for ‘total’ air defence.

    3. (c) Unstoppable retaliation, being an ultimate deterrent, cannot deal with partial or peripheral threats. Direct air defence is still required but only against limited threats.