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Global Strategy

The Global Strategy Paper: Seb Cox is interviewed by Ross Mahoney.
DR ROSS MAHONEY: We’re privileged to have with us Seb Cox, who is the head of the RAF’s historical approach Seb, in your opinion, what’s the broad implication of the 1952 Global Strategy paper?
SEBASTIAN COX: Well, the background to the paper is, as so often in history, economic as well as strategic. So, 1952, the British economy is not in the best of shape.
Strategically, the background comes from a NATO meeting earlier in the year, in February 1952, where the NATO nations had– theoretically, at least– agreed that they were going to expand conventional forces for NATO to 96 divisions, to try and counter the perceived strategic imbalance with the massive Soviet conventional forces in Europe massed in East Germany and Poland.
Slessor, the chief of the air staff– his opinion of the Lisbon Agreement was that it was economically, an impossibility; logistically, a nightmare; and strategically, a nonsense.
So, the background is essentially those two economic and strategic facts. And what Slessor does is, he gets the chiefs of staff to agree that they will go and recast British strategic policy. They’ll start thinking it from, as it were, first principles. And they take themselves off to the Maritime College at Greenwich for five days, the three of them, with other advisers coming in to talk with them. And essentially, the product of that is the Global Strategy paper. And what the Global Strategy paper essentially says is that NATO needs to rely on nuclear deterrence, and strategic nuclear deterrence in particular. And that is essentially what is going to preserve the peace, particularly in Western Europe.
So the focus is on strategic deterrence. But it’s a Global Strategy paper because it also looks outside Europe. And it says, from the British perspective, you can’t rely simply on the use of nuclear weapons to deter war such as Korea, or other wars in other nations around the globe. The British chiefs of staff do not believe that you can use nuclear weapons in that context. And of course, if you think back to the arguments in the Korean War about whether the US was going to use nuclear weapons as part of the Korean War, you can see what the concerns there were.
There was also an understanding that if you used strategic nuclear deterrence as your main deterrent force in Europe, rather than building this massive conventional army which you couldn’t afford anyway, that also allowed you to deploy resources elsewhere in the globe, to counter the communist threat– particularly in Asia or the Middle East. So that was essentially the thinking that went into it. And the result is, you don’t get rid of conventional forces. Of course you don’t. You need an element of conventional force to deter Soviet adventurism, or an attempt to start a crisis on a small scale using conventional forces and not nuclear.
So, you still need a particular level of conventional force to deter Russian adventurism, or an attempt to start a smaller scale war. But your main focus is going to be on airborne strategic nuclear deterrent. And that is really what the paper comes out with. There is an element of the paper that talks about post-nuclear exchange, there might be some activity still going on, particularly at sea. And he’s talked about his broken backed warfare, because of course, you have this massive nuclear exchange, so in large parts of the UK, Russia, potentially America are devastated. But there’s still the argument when there’s still some activity, particularly at sea.
To be honest, Slessor and General Slim allowed that to be included in the paper principally to get the chief of the Naval staff on the side to allow them to put the paper forward as a joint paper from all the chiefs of staff. And there are arguments about whether this feeds into a subsequent American recasting of strategy, which takes place the following year, which is called the New Look. Which follows some of the same lines, particularly on reliance on the nuclear deterrent as the prime element of deterring the Soviet Union. Historians argue about that, but a lot of people don’t think that it particularly influenced Americans– they were already thinking along the same lines.
And of course, those strands about deterrence, and air warfare as a deterrent, go right back to before the Second World War. And Slessor himself had been a pre-war planner in the RAF as a group captain. He had been the director of plans before the second world war. So he was steeped in this form of thinking. And he was an intellectual airman. Once he retires, shortly after this, he produces a number of books arguing for deterrence, and nuclear deterrence in particular.
DR ROSS MAHONEY: Some interesting insights there into the Global Strategy paper. And a really interesting one that Seb brought up about continuity. Slessor’s background pre-second World War, which is something that we should perhaps think about as we think about where do these ideas come from and how they’re developed.

The Global Strategy Paper: Interview with Seb Cox

Sebastian Cox is the Head of the Air Historical Branch of the RAF, and he is also a director of the Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power Studies.

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Planning for the use of atomic weapons

In 1951, the Churchill Conservatives had been elected following the years of Clement Attlee’s Labour governments, 1945-51. It was felt that Britain’s defense policy needed reassessing, especially as anxieties over the British economy were growing. The main concerns were over the position of the economy, as increased spending on rearmament programmes by the Attlee government could not be sustained. Churchill on returning to office did comment that he could not believe how the Attlee government had squirreled away the huge sums required to develop the A-Bomb without this becoming a public matter. Beyond these commitments, Britain’s previous agreements to improve conventional forces in the February 1952 NATO meeting represented an over-extension of Britain’s state expenditure beyond what the economy could stand. Churchill in particular felt strongly that Britain’s nuclear weapons were not given enough significance in defense plans. Therefore, the British strategy was ordered for renewal and the Global Strategy Paper emerged as a result of this, with nuclear deterrents at the heart of it.

Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir John Cotesworth Slessor, served as Chief of the Air Staff from 1950 to 1952. He played an active role in World War I and II, as well as the interwar years, and went on to become one the strongest proponents of strategic bombing and the nuclear deterrent in the 1950s. It was Slessor who created the term ‘V- Force’ to represent the planned trio of strategic jet bombers, and was a contributor to the decision to build the three bombers. He also encouraged a rethinking of British strategy, which contributed towards the Global Strategy Paper, which Sebastian Cox discusses in the next video.

Sebastian also mentions ‘broken-backed warfare’ in the next step. This term describes a form of conflict that could potentially occur after a massive nuclear exchange. It suggests that after a nuclear exchange, if countries were not completely destroyed, they would carry on fighting until the enemy has been completely defeated. This theory transpired out of the British 1952 Global Strategy paper, yet the American ‘New Look’ nuclear strategy released in 1953/4 completely rejected this idea. As Sebastian suggests in the video, the idea in 1952 was put forward so that the Royal Navy could endorse the Global Strategy

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