The Official History of the UK Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: Volume II: The Labour Government and the Polaris Programme, 1964-1970, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Official History of the UK Strategic Nuclear Deterrent

Volume II: The Labour Government and the Polaris Programme, 1964-1970, 1st Edition

By Matthew Jones


560 pages

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Volume II of The Official History of the UK Strategic Nuclear Deterrent provides an authoritative and in-depth examination of the British government’s strategic nuclear policy from 1964 to 1970.

Written with full access to the UK documentary record, Volume II examines the controversies that developed over nuclear policy following the arrival in office of a Labour government led by Harold Wilson in October 1964 that openly questioned the independence of the deterrent. Having decided to preserve the Polaris programme, Labour ministers were nevertheless committed not to develop another generation of nuclear weapons beyond those in the pipeline, placing major doubts over the long-term future of the nuclear programme and collaboration with the United States. Defence planners also became increasingly concerned that the deployment of Soviet anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defences around Moscow threatened to undermine the ability of Polaris to fulfil its role as a national strategic nuclear deterrent. During 1967, under heavy pressures to control defence spending, a protracted debate was conducted within Whitehall over the future of Polaris and how to respond to the evolving ABM challenge. The volume concludes with Labour’s defeat at the general election of June 1970, by which time the Royal Navy had assumed the nuclear deterrent role from the RAF, and plans had already been formulated for a UK project to improve Polaris which could both ensure its continuing credibility and rejuvenate the Anglo-American nuclear relationship.

This book will be of much interest to students of British politics, Cold War history, nuclear proliferation and international relations.

Table of Contents


1. Labour in power: The Atlantic Nuclear Force and the Polaris programme, October 1964 – January 1965

2. Nuclear testing, the future of the MDA, and the defence review, January – October 1965

3. The demise of the ANF proposals and the end of the nuclear sharing debate, November 1965 – July 1966

4. A nuclear weapons programme at the crossroads, January - September 1966

5. A new context for nuclear policy, October 1966-February 1967

6. ‘Shades of Skybolt,’, February-May 1967

7. ‘To destroy what ashes?’ May-July 1967

8. Polaris in jeopardy, July – November 1967

9. Polaris reprieved and the launch of a pilot study, November 1967 – January 1968

10. The Press Gang at work and the birth of ‘Super Antelope’, January – June 1968

11. The Kings Norton report and its aftermath, July-December 1968

12. The revival of the Anglo-American nuclear relationship, and the approach of SALT, January-October 1969

13. A matter of timing, October 1969 – June 1970

Postscript: The independent deterrent and the coming of Polaris

About the Author

Matthew Jones is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, and author of, amongst other books, After Hiroshima: The United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945–1965 (2010).

About the Series

Government Official History Series

The Government Official History series began in 1919 with wartime histories, and the peacetime series was inaugurated in 1966 by Harold Wilson. The aim of the series is to produce major histories in their own right, compiled by historians eminent in the field, who are afforded free access to all relevant material in the official archives. The Histories also provide a trusted secondary source for other historians and researchers while the official records are not in the public domain. The main criteria for selection of topics are that the histories should record important episodes or themes of British history while the official records can still be supplemented by the recollections of key players; and that they should be of general interest, and, preferably, involve the records of more than one government department.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain
HISTORY / Military / General
HISTORY / Military / Nuclear Warfare
HISTORY / Military / Strategy
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / International Security