British Nuclear Strategy in the Cold War

Kristan Stoddart

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Leading out of wartime collaboration with the Americans on the Manhattan Project, throughout the Cold War successive British governments developed a defensive strategy based on nuclear deterrence. The strategy that emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s reflected the conventional bombing practises of World War II through air launched delivery largely against Soviet cities, particularly the Moscow area, combined with US strategic nuclear forces provided to NATO. Over the coming decade doubts were raised regarding this ‘conventional’ bombing strategy and it was decided to purchase the US Polaris submarine system whilst developing a strategy of ‘minimum deterrence’ based on this ‘Moscow Criterion’. However the advent of Polaris in 1968 came at a time when the USSR began to deploy anti-ballistic missiles requiring a substantial improvement programme to Polaris culminating with the deployment of a revised front-end known as Chevaline in 1983. The high cost of Chevaline however led to serious doubts placed against the concept of ‘minimum deterrence’ against Soviet cities first through nuclear deterrence, and if this failed, through ‘war termination’. This chapter will place these developments in the context of Britain’s Cold War nuclear strategy through independent strategic nuclear targeting, alliance commitments with NATO and the Anglo-US ‘special nuclear relationship’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe British Way in Cold Warfare: Intelligence, Diplomacy and the Bomb
EditorsMathew Grant
PublisherContinuum International Publishing Group
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)184725229X , 978-1847252296
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2009


  • Britain, Cold War


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