Britain’s Defence Policy in a Nuclear Age

Ian Cawood shows how British policy-makers adapted to the changing world after 1945.

The Post-War World

Britain found herself, by 1945, deeply in debt, chiefly to USA, with an overextended Empire. Clement Attlee’s Labour Party had won power in a landslide election, promising the construction of an extensive welfare system at home, which placed further financial strain on her foreign policy. Consequently Britain rapidly demobilised, ending conscription in 1945 and reducing her armed forces to under 1 million men. As a result of this, Britain found herself even more over-stretched after the war than she had been during it. Not only were more troops needed in the restive parts of the Empire, but she had to maintain occupation forces in Trieste, Libya, Germany and Austria. The granting of independence to India in 1947 did not particularly help Britain either, as she could no longer call on the Indian Army to help police other colonies in the Middle and Far East.

Britain was forced to reintroduce conscription in 1947, not much more than a year after abolishing it, and even then was not able to cope with the scale of the civil war in Palestine. It was not surprising that both the Chiefs of Staff and successive governments should look to nuclear weapons as offering a cheaper alternative in such a situation.

Britain Draws Closer to the USA

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