Selling or Selling Out Nuclear Disarmament? Labour, the Bomb,and the 1987 General Election

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In the British general elections of 1983 and 1987 the Labour Party campaigned to rid the United Kingdom of nuclear weapons. In 1986/7, there was a serious prospect of a government committed to ending Britain’s status as a nuclear weapons state and removing American nuclear weapons from British territory. This article traces the development of Labour defence and disarmament policy under Neil Kinnock in the run-up the 1987 general election. It explores how internal and external factors informed the presentation of labour’s case for nuclear disarmament and non-nuclear defence to national and international audiences. Reaction from foreign governments, most importantly the United States and the Soviet Union, is examined. The central question is whether the articulation of Labour’ alternative in 1986-7 is best understood as an attempt to make the case for nuclear disarmament or as preparation for a defence and foreign policy framed by existing approaches to nuclear strategy and arms control. The general conclusion is that on key issues of defence policy Neil Kinnock followed a trajectory in which aspiration gave way to accommodation as the proximity of responsibility grew closer: Labour in power would move back toward orthodoxy and consensus on defence and disarmament.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-137
Number of pages23
JournalInternational History Review
Issue number1
Early online date02 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • nuclear weapons
  • defence
  • disarmament
  • Labour Party


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