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British nuclear weapons and NATO in the Cold War and beyond



    1. Senior Lecturer in Defence and International Afairs at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
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    • I would like to thank Nick Ritchie and Tim Hare for their generous assistance with this article, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. I am also grateful to the staff at the National Archives, the Reference Center at the US Embassy in London, and the Central Library at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The views expressed here are my own and should not be taken to represent the policy or views of Her Majesty's Government, the Ministry of Defence or RMAS.


NATO has been a source of influence on British nuclear policy and strategy since the 1950s. The nature and extent of its influence has, however, been kept limited by successive British governments. This article considers how and why this has happened. It discusses evolving British attitudes towards NATO command and planning, and shows how these were reflected with regard to strategic nuclear issues from the late 1950s. The evolution of the key notion that the United Kingdom is a second centre of nuclear decision within NATO is traced, and both its utility and contradictions are examined. Overall it is argued that, both during and since the Cold War, NATO has neither been a central factor in shaping British nuclear strategy and policy, nor have British nuclear weapons been other than of limited importance and relevance for most NATO members.