The speech delivered by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara on 16 June 1962 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is often cited for its significance in the enunciation of U.S. nuclear strategy, but the speech also featured passages decrying the existence of separate, national nuclear forces within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This article concentrates on the latter dimension of the speech by examining the context of McNamara's remarks and the reactions they provoked, particularly in Great Britain. A vociferous political debate erupted in the United Kingdom over the country's independent nuclear deterrent. The article presents new evidence about McNamara's thinking on independent nuclear forces during this period and shows that the speech had the unintended consequence of complicating Britain's attempts to enter the European Economic Community. The speech and the resulting debate were a crucial part of the sequence of events that produced the Skybolt crisis at the end of 1962.

On 16 June 1962, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara delivered the commencement address at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, one of the best-known speeches of the nuclear age. McNamara laid out a controversial counterforce targeting doctrine, displaying the kind of clinical and dispassionate analysis for which he was already synonymous. He argued that civilian casualties in a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange might be reduced if each side adopted a more discriminating selection of targets than simply the destruction of urban populations.1 The speech marked the first time that such a detailed public statement had been delivered by a senior U.S. official regarding the conduct of nuclear war and how it could be managed. When the speech was still being drafted, McGeorge Bundy, President John F. Kennedy's special assistant for national security affairs, noted that McNamara would be explaining U.S. nuclear policy “with a depth and authority that have no public precedent.”2 The changing emphasis in U.S. nuclear targeting options outlined at Ann Arbor has tended to be the part of McNamara's address now most featured in histories of the development of nuclear strategy. However, in addition to the disclosures about U.S. targeting strategy, the speech contained other important themes and messages, including strong criticism of the possession of independent, national nuclear forces by European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Such forces, he argued, could undermine the planning and implementation of the centrally directed and coordinated nuclear strikes that would be needed for the new targeting doctrine to achieve its desired goals. For contemporary commentators, McNamara's assertion that small nuclear forces, when operating independently, were “dangerous,” “expensive,” “prone to obsolescence,” and lacking in credibility as a deterrent, attracted widespread attention because of what it seemed to reveal about the Kennedy administration's general attitude toward the nuclear aspirations of Great Britain and France.

This article examines the background to the intra-alliance dimensions of the Ann Arbor address and the ramifications the speech held for the nuclear relationship among the principal members of NATO. Although McNamara wanted to mount a critique of the French nuclear program, which was then still in its formative stages and developing free from Washington's control—and perhaps also to draw a line under the debates within the Kennedy administration that had simmered over the previous few months on whether to offer nuclear assistance to France—the evidence presented in this article makes clear that the defense secretary did not intend for his remarks to be taken as a U.S. attack on Britain's “independent” nuclear deterrent force, which by 1962 included more than 100 modern V-bomber aircraft, some equipped with high-yield thermonuclear weapons. Nevertheless, the address created unwelcome dilemmas for the British government led by Harold Macmillan. In the immediate aftermath of the speech, British ministers were forced to respond to McNamara's strictures while attempting to preserve close Anglo-American relations, but they also felt obliged to declare the United Kingdom's nuclear independence from U.S. control, not least because the government was attempting at that very moment to persuade France not to block Britain's concurrent bid to join the European Economic Community (EEC).

The British reaction to the Ann Arbor speech exposed some of the contradictions at the heart of the Macmillan government's conception of the role of the UK nuclear deterrent in the Western alliance. McNamara's speech also played a key part, underplayed in some of the literature on Anglo-American nuclear relations, in fueling British suspicions in December 1962 that the Kennedy administration's decision to cancel the Skybolt missile program stemmed not from technical problems in development and cost-effectiveness, as the U.S. Department of Defense claimed, but from a desire to force the British out of the nuclear business. In this way, Ann Arbor formed the essential (and unwitting) prelude to the most serious crisis in Anglo-American nuclear relations in the postwar era.3

Anglo-American Nuclear Relations, the Multilateral Force, and the Debate about U.S. Nuclear Assistance to France

Swinging from acceptance of the technical aspects of U.S.-UK nuclear cooperation, which were enshrined in the July 1958 Agreement on the Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defense Purposes, to reluctant willingness to provide the Macmillan government with a new delivery system to equip the V-bomber force (in the form of the Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile), to deep reservations over the continuing existence of Britain's independent nuclear force, officials in the Kennedy administration frequently criticized the British nuclear program not only as a distraction from the more urgent priority of building conventional military capabilities in NATO, but also as a goad to other European powers—such as France and also West Germany—that might also aspire to build nuclear weapons.4 The French exploded their first test device in February 1960, and President Charles de Gaulle planned to start equipping the French air force with nuclear-capable aircraft by 1964 and to develop an indigenous ballistic missile program.5 To some anxious U.S. observers, unchecked French nuclear ambitions, along with the preferential treatment accorded to Britain since 1958 with the provision of valuable know-how in the development of nuclear warheads, served to encourage others down the unwelcome path of proliferation. Concern about this matter centered, above all, on the prospect that the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) harbored desires to acquire or control nuclear weapons in some way.6

Growing doubts about the credibility of the U.S. nuclear guarantee to Western Europe in the late 1950s, combined with concerns over possible West German nuclear ambitions, induced the Eisenhower administration to advocate a policy of nuclear sharing within NATO through the creation of a Multilateral Force (MLF). First presented to the NATO Council in December 1960 and soon adopted by the Kennedy administration, the MLF scheme was intended as a new European medium-range ballistic missile force that was jointly financed, owned, and controlled by its members. Its surface vessels, carrying U.S.-supplied Polaris missiles, were to be operated by mixed national contingents, ensuring that all prospective participants—including, most importantly, the FRG—enjoyed a share in the alliance's nuclear capacity, planning, and decision-making and that none would enjoy exclusive “national” control over the force. At the same time, U.S. officials would be careful to maintain a veto over final nuclear use of the MLF if it were created.7

The conviction of many State Department officials by the early 1960s was that the existence of the UK strategic nuclear force had spurred France and the FRG to acquire the same type of national capability and status, impeding Washington's attempts to resolve NATO's nuclear dilemmas by devising multilateral solutions such as the MLF. Moreover, the provision of the Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile, which was agreed to by the Eisenhower administration in early 1960 at an early stage of its development—and which in some quarters was seen as a quid pro quo for the Macmillan government's agreement to permit the basing of the first U.S. Polaris submarines at Holy Loch in Scotland that same year—threatened to extend the effective life of the V-bomber force for at least another decade.8 The basic problem was that no political strings had been attached to the UK's eventual purchase of Skybolt so that it would not be bound into a multinational and alliance-based system of nuclear control and would also benefit from U.S. design information derived from the close nuclear collaboration established by the 1958 agreement, helping the British to build their own nuclear warhead for the missile. Such an arrangement would enable the British government to have its own chain of national command authority to launch the V-force. This independent capability, according to officials in London, contributed to NATO's deterrent strength and served as a last-resort method of retaliation if national survival were at stake and the United States refused to use its own nuclear forces to deter or defeat a Soviet attack.9

Open expression of doubts that the United States would be prepared, in all circumstances, to risk its own destruction in order to meet Soviet aggression in Europe was not often heard from British ministers during this period. Voicing such concerns could disrupt the relationship and weaken the impression of a strong and credible Western deterrent. Privately, however, UK officials saw great benefits in having Soviet leaders understand there was a separate means of nuclear retaliation whose political control was located in Europe.10 As one Ministry of Defence official stated just a few days after the Ann Arbor speech,

Deterrence requires the obvious will and ability to extract an unacceptable price for aggression. We do not dispute American capability to devastate the Soviet Union if necessary. We sometimes have misgivings about their “obvious will” to risk their own devastation. That is why neither we nor the French are yet willing to have to rely solely on the Americans for our nuclear protection. We intend to retain for HMG [Her Majesty's Government] the ability to take an independent decision to initiate nuclear operations that would extract an unacceptable price from an aggressor. So long as we retain this independence, it has to be taken into account in the formulation of policy and strategy in both Moscow and Washington. We consider that these advantages outweigh the risks if the deterrent should fail.11

The ability to inflict great damage on the Soviet Union by nationally controlled nuclear means became a powerful marker of status within NATO. As Frank Costigliola argues,

Many Europeans believed that an independent nuclear force was the criterion of sovereignty and political power. Even if the French or British forces could not destroy the Soviet Union, they could, as de Gaulle put it, “tear off an arm” or trigger a nuclear war which the United States would be forced to enter. Thus weapons of mass destruction, which could be used only irrationally, became assimilated into ostensibly rational political debate.12

Misgivings over the independent status of the UK nuclear program were evident from the early stages of the Kennedy administration.13 In April 1961, following approval by the National Security Council (NSC), the president issued a document on policy toward the North Atlantic alliance that laid new stress on enhancing NATO's capabilities for conventional defense. Regarding nuclear policy, the administration recommended that the British assign their nuclear forces to NATO, and it noted: “Over the long run, it would be desirable if the British decided to phase out of the nuclear deterrent business. If the development of Skybolt is not warranted for U.S. purposes alone, the U.S. should not prolong the life of the V-bomber force by this or other means.”14 The following month, in front of the Canadian parliament in Ottawa, Kennedy made clear the direction he wanted his administration to go by announcing U.S. intentions to commit five Polaris submarines to NATO command (as a reinforcement of the U.S. nuclear guarantee to the alliance) and also to move toward the creation of a “NATO sea-borne force, which would be truly multi-lateral in ownership and control, if this should be desired and found feasible by our Allies, once NATO's non-nuclear goals have been achieved.”15

For the Kennedy administration, anything that conflicted with the objective of moving away from European national deterrents was to be discouraged. In February 1962 U.S. officials objected strenuously to a passage in the annual British Defence White Paper, which mentioned that the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear deterrent made a “significant” contribution to Western strength, would be preserved throughout the 1960s, and “by itself [was] enough to make a potential aggressor fear that our retaliation would inflict destruction beyond any level which he would be prepared to tolerate.”16 Kennedy wrote to Macmillan to express his “special concern” about the White Paper's references to UK nuclear capabilities. Alluding to the major reappraisal of NATO's nuclear policies that was then under way and the pressures building for independent nuclear capabilities, Kennedy thought such statements “may well have the effect of convincing de Gaulle of the rightness of his course … [and] hasten the day when Germany will pursue a national program.” The president insisted that public statements should take into account such considerations, adding, “we ourselves are prepared to be as forthcoming as possible to meet our objective of finding a NATO solution to head off independent national aspirations.”17

Macmillan chose to reply in a restrained manner, expressing his appreciation that the president felt able to write to him with such candor. The government's upcoming statement on defense to the House of Commons, Macmillan stressed, would emphasize that Britain was making a contribution to the West's deterrent as a whole. Moreover, although British possession of a force of V-bombers in the 1960s was a reality that could not be ignored, this did not “in itself rule out a completely different organisation of the Western deterrent.”18 To avoid any misunderstanding, the prime minister added that he did not, however, believe it would be possible to form a multilateral NATO deterrent force. As for the UK force,

Our contribution, important though it is, is relatively small. But I have never been persuaded that its existence necessarily encourages the French and the Germans to try to develop their own independent nuclear capacity; they will be moved or deterred by quite other factors. Indeed, I think one can argue quite plausibly that the existence of the British nuclear force gives some comfort both to those Europeans who fear that the United States might, in the last resort, shrink from using the nuclear deterrent for the defence of Europe, and to those who, contrariwise, are worried lest America might use it too precipitately.19

Macmillan argued that the United States itself would stand to benefit by being able to share nuclear responsibilities. Having thought deeply about the issues, the prime minister predicted that, in the absence of concrete disarmament measures, other countries would inevitably begin acquiring their own nuclear capabilities, no matter how crude these might be.20

What did Macmillan mean when he said he was ready to look at a completely different organization of the Western deterrent? The documentary record shows he was frequently attracted by the idea of exchanging, at some point in the future, complete “independence” for the UK deterrent in order to fulfill some of his larger policy goals.21 He was prepared, for example, to contemplate the idea of an Anglo-French nuclear force—under shared political control—as one way to satisfy de Gaulle's aspirations to play a leading role in alliance affairs and as an option, through the provision of nuclear assistance to France, that might also facilitate the UK's entry into the EEC. In April 1961, Macmillan had written to Kennedy to say, “we should be ready to go a long way to meet de Gaulle in certain fields of interest to him.”22 The French program, if given technical help, could be conceived not as an independent capability but as a contribution to the overall Western deterrent, a conception that informed British views of the UK's own deterrent force.23

This approach was, however, considered and rejected in 1961 by Kennedy administration officials who saw it as a course that would only stimulate West German nuclear ambitions. Doubts were also expressed over French reliability. Kennedy's formal reply to Macmillan explained he had come to the

conclusion that it would be undesirable to assist France's efforts to create a nuclear weapons capability. I am most anxious that no erroneous impressions get abroad regarding future U.S policy in this respect, lest they create unwarranted French expectations and serious divisions in NATO. If we were to help France acquire a nuclear weapons capability, this could not fail to have a major effect on German attitudes.24

The policy of the U.S. administration would be to try to respond to French concerns over the nuclear arrangements of the alliance rather than to assist their national program, and the United States would expect British support in this endeavor.25

Kennedy's rebuff to Macmillan's ideas, delivered in May 1961, did not mean the issue of nuclear assistance to France would stay off his policy agenda for long. For one, the French government's determination to push forward with its nuclear program, regardless of what the United States did, was apparent to many observers. France's eventual possession of a national nuclear force appeared inevitable. An important advocate for U.S. nuclear assistance to France during this period was James M. Gavin, the Francophile former general who had led U.S. airborne forces with great distinction during the Second World War and had forged a good relationship with de Gaulle. In March 1961, hoping to improve Franco-American ties, Kennedy sent Gavin to Paris as U.S. ambassador. Over subsequent months, according to Bundy, Gavin “had become deeply bothered by the gradual deterioration of Franco-American relations, and he was persuaded that the principal cause of this difficulty lay in the failure of the United States to meet the hopes of the French in the nuclear field.”26 If this neglect continued, the ambassador feared, it would only drive France and the FRG closer, and he suspected, according to his confidant, Cyrus Sulzberger of The New York Times, that “the French and the Germans are edging toward a secret agreement under which France would supply Germany with nuclear warheads which the U.S. refuses to give either country.”27

However, Gavin's advice on such matters did not find favor within the State Department (particularly from Under Secretary of State George Ball), whose officials had resented Gavin's initial appointment and believed he was too much in thrall to the French position. The danger with Gavin, Bundy had advised the president by February 1962, was that he was “an enthusiast for the French position” on nuclear questions.28 There was much press speculation at this time that Gavin was to be replaced, and Bundy observed, “there is some question as to whether Jim is not a round peg in a square hole on this particular job.”29

Gavin's view was that it made sense to offer help to the French in the nuclear field. Assistance would eliminate French irritation at the apparent double standards then operating (wherein the United States collaborated closely with Britain under the 1958 agreement), gain favor with de Gaulle, and ensure that the French did not squander their resources on unproductive lines of technical nuclear development. One area of possible assistance was with the supply from U.S. sources of expensive-to-produce highly enriched uranium. (The French were building a uranium enrichment plant at Pierrelatte, at an estimated cost of $700 million, but it was reported to be behind schedule.) A tentative request from French officials for supplies of U-235 was forwarded to Washington by Gavin on 14 November 1961 but was turned down a week later. Secretary of State Dean Rusk told Gavin, in a message reviewed and approved by the president, “that we will undertake no action likely to result in any direct or significant aid to France in developing or securing independent nuclear warhead or effective nuclear weapon delivery capability.”30

At the end of December 1961, Kennedy wrote to de Gaulle to convey his continued opposition to an independent French nuclear program. “What troubles us, decisively, in the case of a specifically French nuclear capability,” the president tried to explain,

is that if we should join in that effort, we would have no ground on which to resist certain and heavy pressure from the Germans for parallel treatment. Yet it is imperative that the Germans not have nuclear weapons of their own; memory is too strong, and fear too real, for that.31

Expressing skepticism that a purely national program would be economically viable in view of the technical developments being made in the weapons field and the resources required to keep pace with them, Kennedy also noted that the United States had the

same doubt about Great Britain. We have cooperated with the British on atomic energy since early in World War II, and we cannot now break a connection so long developed in mutual trust. But we do not believe that as the nuclear age advances the United Kingdom will be able to sustain an effective deterrent of a national type alone. I believe this view is shared by some of our most knowledgeable British friends. If Great Britain were today in the position of France, and if we did not have existing commitments on the exchange of information, I can assure you that our policy toward her would not differ from our present policy toward France. At present, and I believe for some time to come, the deterrent force of the United States protects Europe too. This is so because of the clarity of our commitment, the superiority of our overall force, and, if I may say so, my personal determination.32

Rather than offer assistance to the French program, Kennedy instead inquired whether France was ready to enter into consultations over the problems connected with the nuclear defense of Europe.33

De Gaulle replied simply that France was not asking for U.S. nuclear help and that he could understand why the United States was unwilling to share such secrets, even with an ally. He acknowledged that building a nuclear force on a par with the Soviet Union would take enormous resources, but he explained why he believed a lesser capability was sufficient:

But how can one evaluate the degree of destructive power required to constitute a deterrent? Even if your enemy is armed in such a manner that he can kill you ten times, the fact that you have the means with which to kill him once or even merely tear off his arms may give him pause. Moreover, in the West France is not alone. Its atomic force will certainly add something to the power of the Free World. But, when the time comes, it will doubtless be advisable to organize the combined use of Western nuclear weapons.34

This cool response meant there would be no immediate follow-up, but U.S. officials acknowledged that the issue of possible U.S. assistance to France was far from closed, particularly as press speculation over the subject intensified. Although few in the administration backed the idea of an extensive offer of nuclear information in the area of warhead design, as was provided to the United Kingdom under the 1958 agreement, some were interested in proposing an initial offer of advice with medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) technology—where French work had begun but where the expense involved in developing the technology was known to be substantial.

The subject of nuclear assistance to France was examined again by the Kennedy administration in early 1962. Gavin continued to argue during this period that a refusal to discuss cooperation in the nuclear field was a prime source of the overall discord in Franco-American relations that was by now being widely reported in the press on both sides of the Atlantic.35 Civilian officials at the Department of Defense, moreover, were concerned to explore practical cooperation with France over such matters as the buildup of conventional forces in Europe (as the Algerian war came to an end, so allowing the redeployment of some French forces), the defense spending burden placed on France by its nuclear program, and the prospect of French purchases in the nuclear-related field offsetting U.S. military expenditures in France, which were a drain on the balance of payments. The principal figure within the Pentagon associated with a new approach to France was Paul H. Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, but some support also came from Roswell Gilpatric, the deputy secretary of defense, and from McNamara himself. Skeptical of the potential of European integration or multilateral schemes, Nitze preferred to focus on the importance of the bilateral relationship with France and was prepared to see nuclear assistance extended in a similar way to that offered to the United Kingdom a few years earlier. An additional source of advocacy was General Maxwell B. Taylor, the president's personal military adviser, who had visited France at the end of March 1962 and returned “deeply impressed by the unanimity of the French with whom he talked, in passionate commitment to development of a nuclear capability, and in passionate resentment of the refusal of the Americans to provide assistance.”36

But after Nitze held tentative discussions on the subject with the French ambassador in February, press reporting of French criticisms of the U.S. government's refusal to accept an independent French nuclear force, combined with strong State Department opposition, was enough to persuade Kennedy to drop any idea of a formal approach to de Gaulle.37 Nevertheless, at the end of February, Nitze suggested that the administration consider how to change the nature of U.S. relations with France on nuclear matters and advocated preliminary discussions with French officials. “We do not today have any clear view as to what might or might not be possible in this area,” Nitze explained. “The French have not been willing to make any worthwhile exploratory overtures to us. We have not gone very far in exploring ideas with them.”38 He now wanted some groundwork laid “for an incision in the most bitter issue that now divides us and the French.”39 The director of armaments in the French Ministry of Defense, General Gaston Lavaud, came to Washington from 4 to 16 March 1962 with a long shopping list of U.S. equipment and support, some of which was connected to the French ballistic missile program. Lavaud's main point of contact at the Pentagon during his visit was Nitze, and the visit prompted intense discussion between the Defense and State Departments over whether help to France in areas such as ballistic missile technology would indirectly assist the French nuclear program. Strong opposition to the provision of anything that might contribute to nuclear delivery systems came from Ball and Rusk, the latter directing Nitze and Gilpatric not to open any talks that covered missile components or technology.40

Rusk was convinced that if nuclear aid were offered to France with conditions (such as French support for an MLF and the commitment of French nuclear forces to NATO), de Gaulle would be resentful, and his demands for greater U.S. recognition of France's leadership in Europe would intensify. A State Department memorandum on the subject maintained, “He wants aid, but he probably does not expect it, and he might respect us less—rather than more—if we showed susceptibility to pressure by granting it.”41 Numerous negative consequences for U.S. policy toward NATO would also follow if such an initiative were taken, and West German officials would probably clamor for similar forms of assistance, which might encourage them to develop their own nuclear potential.42 By this time French officials were already voicing open criticism of the U.S. government's refusal to accept the reality of the French nuclear program and to offer France direct assistance with its weapons, and these complaints did nothing to persuade President Kennedy to modify his views.43 Lavaud returned home with little progress made on the equipment purchases that would have alleviated the U.S. balance-of-payments burden caused in part by the stationing of U.S. forces in France. Gilpatric explained for Ball's benefit that

the French are not prepared to increase substantially their purchase of U.S. military equipment unless we are willing to relax our present policy of not assisting them in advanced weapons technology. If adhered to, this attitude means not only that the French will do nothing to improve materially the U.S. balance of payments account with France but also that they will not look to us for assistance in re-equipping their forces with modern conventional armament. As Bob [McNamara] and I said … without such help we doubt that the French divisions will, at least for an unacceptably long period of time, attain the level of combat readiness which is essential if the current planning for the use of NATO forces is to be meaningful.44

Franco-American relations by this point were entering a period of deep antagonism, as de Gaulle treated the U.S. administration's efforts to influence European developments, especially in the nuclear field, with profound suspicion.45

At a meeting on 16 April 1962, chaired by Kennedy, U.S. officials ruled out the provision of nuclear assistance to France for the time being. Instead, the State Department would renew its push for the European members of NATO to form a multilateral MRBM force with U.S. support. At the meeting, McNamara argued that nuclear help would probably not serve to alter de Gaulle's attitudes toward the alliance. Yet, nothing could stop the French from developing a nuclear delivery capability. Moreover, McNamara contended, nuclear assistance might, in a “narrow military view,” lessen the strain on French military budgets, improve the U.S. balance-of-payments position, and induce the French to be more cooperative over the formation of an MLF.46 In reply to McNamara's point that French nuclear development was inevitable and so it made little sense to deny assistance if it had any chance of yielding some concessions, Rusk was adamant that the United States should not be in the business of subsidizing the costs of other powers’ nuclear programs:

in effect we should be reducing the price of entry into the nuclear field. [His] view was that we should instead seek a way to reduce our special nuclear relation to the British. The re-establishing of such nuclear sharing with the British in 1958 had been a mistake.47

The other NATO allies, Rusk said, would react badly if the United States was found to be starting even tentative discussions with France, and a bilateral approach of this sort would be “disastrous.”48 Kennedy agreed with the State Department's opposition to nuclear assistance to France, feeling it was “wrong to move on this matter now.”49 Regarding the MRBM proposals, McNamara was extremely doubtful of their military necessity, but he acknowledged that policy in this area had to be advanced for political reasons.50

One result of these deliberations was National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 148, “Guidance on U.S. Nuclear Assistance to France,” issued by President Kennedy on 18 April 1962. The document ordered officials to emphasize in their background briefings with the press that the recent stories claiming the administration was moving to provide aid to the French MRBM and nuclear programs were “without foundation.” No discussion of the subject with French officials was to take place.51 That same day, at a presidential news conference, Kennedy—in response to a question about the possibility of providing nuclear assistance to France—reiterated that U.S. policy was to discourage the spread or proliferation of nuclear weapons. Bundy later recalled that Kennedy said he did not believe de Gaulle would change his policies in return for nuclear assistance: “You would probably get money from him, but that's all you'd get.”52 Additionally, Bundy wrote that Kennedy's “personal responsibility for the nuclear posture of the West was never far from his mind, and he had an almost instinctive doubt that he could ease this burden by sharing it. The path of nuclear diffusion seemed to lead away from that limitation of the atomic arms race on which he never gave up hope. He respected de Gaulle, but on many great issues de Gaulle and he were in clear disagreement, and de Gaulle would not change his policy in return for nuclear weapons.”53

The EEC Negotiations and Anglo-French Nuclear Collaboration

The State Department's success in April in gaining White House backing for a fresh attempt to sell the idea of a multilateral MRBM force to the European NATO allies was ill-timed for Macmillan and his senior officials. Negotiations to enter the Common Market had stalled in the spring of 1962. British leaders knew they had to overcome de Gaulle's aversion to UK membership in the EEC, and they also knew that the French president adamantly opposed the MRBM scheme. The temptation for Britain during this period was to offer technical knowledge to the French nuclear program, but this could be done only with the acquiescence of the United States, which had provided much of the information now in the hands of British nuclear scientists under the terms of the 1958 collaborative agreement, which forbade the transfer of such information to third parties.54

Any British nuclear offer to France, no matter how tentative, was unlikely to be welcomed by the Kennedy administration, a fact appreciated by British Foreign Office officials. Before Macmillan's arrival in the U.S. capital for a visit in late April, Bundy advised Kennedy,

there is nothing for us in any possible British notion that the United Kingdom might pay its entrance fee to the Common Market by providing nuclear assistance to the French. In such a case the British would be appeasing the French with our secrets, and no good would come of it for Europe or for us.55

British policymakers who accompanied the prime minister on his trip reported that Rusk, Bundy, and Ball had asked them whether they expected overtures from the French regarding nuclear cooperation “as their price for letting us into the Common Market.”56 When the British replied that such a French proposal was not anticipated and would in any event be rejected, Rusk expressed relief, saying it would create problems for Washington if a bargain of that sort were floated. The United States, Rusk confirmed, was determined not to help France with nuclear weapons technology, either directly or through the United Kingdom.57

When Macmillan visited Washington in April 1962, he again proposed to Kennedy that British and French nuclear forces be placed “in trust” to promote the defense interests of Western Europe within the framework of the Atlantic alliance. Such notions were “vague and undeveloped,” Macmillan admitted, and presented some major difficulties—such as the reluctance of either government to surrender independent control of its nuclear forces—but he was clear that the “basic idea is that, when the enlarged European Community exists, the nuclear capability of the two members which have such a capability should somehow be given a European label, without withdrawing it from NATO.”58 Kennedy told the prime minister in private conversation that the idea was premature and would be worth considering only if it could buy something “really spectacular like full French cooperation in NATO and elsewhere plus British entry into the European Economic Community.”59 He also warned Macmillan against making any such suggestion to de Gaulle.60 The prime minister must have emerged from this exchange anxious that his room for maneuver in the final stages of talks over EEC entry would be curtailed by the emerging trends in the U.S. approach to the nuclear problems of the Western alliance.

Indeed, U.S. policy, which reflected the outcome of the meeting Kennedy had held with his senior advisers on 16 April, was now ready to push forward with ideas for an MLF within NATO, where the national role for British and French forces might eventually fade away. As Bundy noted,

We want the British in Europe, and we do not really see much point in the separate British nuclear deterrent, beyond our existing Skybolt commitment; we would much rather have British efforts go into conventional weapons and have the British join with the rest of NATO in accepting a single U.S.-dominated NATO force.61

But if U.S. policymakers now expected the British to support a NATO-controlled nuclear force, this could place Britain in the difficult position of having to align itself against de Gaulle on one of the most sensitive issues of French external policy. Moreover, submitting UK strategic nuclear forces to a multilateral scheme that would form part of a combined Western and U.S.-led targeting effort and be subject to a U.S. veto over final decisions for use—if that was what the U.S. government hoped to see—would probably put paid to any notion of using the idea of a collaborative Anglo-French nuclear effort, held “in trust” for Europe but free of U.S. control, as a possible bargaining chip in the EEC negotiations with France.

The British position was that an MLF would be militarily unworkable, politically dangerous, and unjustifiably expensive. “If the Americans want to help us to negotiate our way into Europe,” one Foreign Office telegram opined, “they must not expect us to take up a position on this important nuclear matter which will only confirm de Gaulle's suspicions that we are incapable of maintaining a point of view independent of the Americans on a matter of vital interest to European defence.”62 Philip de Zulueta, the principal private secretary to the prime minister and one of his closest advisers on foreign affairs, worried that U.S. policy on the matter might mean that the previously close, bilateral nuclear relationship with the United States could not be maintained indefinitely and that a potential replacement was still highly uncertain because the alternatives seemed to be either complete dependence on the United States or a nebulous “European” deterrent, perhaps organized around an Anglo-French core if Britain became a member of the EEC. “We have refused to bribe the French [with offers of nuclear collaboration] to let us into the Common Market,” de Zulueta noted, “so as not to jeopardise this special relationship [with the United States] which we may now find quite useless.”63

McNamara and U.S. Nuclear Strategy: Athens and Ann Arbor

On 5 May 1962, against this background of Anglo-American divergence over the nuclear arrangements of the alliance, and only a few days after Macmillan's departure from Washington, McNamara spoke before the NATO Council in Athens in what was the first of two landmark pronouncements on U.S. nuclear strategy, presentations that also encapsulated the Kennedy administration's growing hostility to the existence of independent national nuclear forces. Of even greater significance than McNamara's speech at Athens was the unclassified, public version of McNamara's remarks on 16 June, when he delivered the commencement address at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As he had in Athens, McNamara referred to the current controversies within NATO, including the erosion of the credibility of the U.S. nuclear guarantee to Western Europe in view of the increasing U.S. vulnerability to direct nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. This, in turn, had prompted a belief that “nuclear capabilities are alone relevant in the face of the growing nuclear threat, and that independent national nuclear forces are sufficient to protect the nations of Europe.”64 Refuting these positions, McNamara instead maintained that interdependence and the closest coordination of defense effort between the allies were now needed. The alliance, he argued, had the overall nuclear strength to meet any challenge it confronted, and its collective military strength reduced the chances of a “major nuclear war” and made possible a strategy “designed to preserve the fabric of our societies if war should occur.”65 Non-nuclear forces, he stressed, could enhance deterrence. If deterrence should break down, however, basic U.S. strategy in a nuclear war should be aimed at the “destruction of the enemy's military forces, not of his civilian population.”66

Such a counterforce approach to targeting, made possible by anticipated improvements in the design and accuracy of nuclear weapons, might allow NATO to prevail in the event of nuclear war while limiting civilian casualties to the maximum degree possible. In this eventuality, McNamara argued, “relatively weak nuclear forces with enemy cities as their targets are not likely to be adequate to perform the function of deterrence.”67 Instead, if they were “small, and perhaps vulnerable on the ground or in the air, or inaccurate, a major antagonist can take a variety of measures to counter them.”68 Moreover, if such an antagonist thought a small force could be used independently, that alone might be enough to invite preemptive attack. If war were to break out,

the use of such a force against the cities of a major nuclear power would be tantamount to suicide, whereas its employment against significant military targets would have a negligible effect on the outcome of the conflict. Meanwhile, the creation of a single additional national nuclear force encourages the proliferation of nuclear power with all of its attendant dangers. In short, then, limited nuclear capabilities, operating independently, are dangerous, expensive, prone to obsolescence, and lacking in credibility as a deterrent.69

The emphasis in U.S. nuclear strategy had to be on “unity of planning, concentration of executive authority, and central direction” so that a properly coordinated campaign could be launched to destroy the enemy's nuclear capabilities. McNamara intoned that there must not be “competing and conflicting strategies” in the event of nuclear war.70

The previous month, at the closed NATO session in Athens, McNamara had been more explicit about the problems of divided command-and-control of nuclear forces. A counterforce strategy, he said, would involve

carefully choosing targets, pre-planning strikes, coordinating attacks, and assessing results, as well as allocating and directing follow-on attacks from the center. These call, in our view, for a greater degree of Alliance participation in formulating nuclear policies and consulting on the appropriate occasions for using these weapons. Beyond this, it is essential that we centralize the decision to use our nuclear weapons to the greatest extent possible. We would all find it intolerable to contemplate having only a part of the strategic force launched in isolation from our main striking power.71

McNamara highlighted the dangers of using a portion of the alliance's nuclear force in an uncoordinated fashion to launch a retaliatory attack against Soviet military targets, so “endangering all of us,” and that “equally intolerable” would be

one segment of the Alliance force attacking urban industrial areas while, with the bulk of our forces, we were succeeding in destroying most of the enemy's nuclear capabilities. Such a failure in coordination might lead to the destruction of our hostages—the Soviet cities—just at a time at which our strategy of coercing the Soviets into stopping their aggression was on the verge of success. Failure to achieve central control of NATO nuclear forces would mean running the risk of bringing down on us the catastrophe which we most urgently wish to avoid.72

One of McNamara's aims in both Athens and Ann Arbor was to reinforce the credibility of the U.S. nuclear guarantee to Western Europe by making the point that U.S. cities would not necessarily have to be sacrificed in the event of hostilities in a NATO–Warsaw Pact armed clash on the Central Front. However, his analysis tended to provoke concerns that the United States was planning to conduct the kind of controlled and confined nuclear exchange that would leave Europe a devastated nuclear battlefield. Moreover, counterforce targeting implied that disabling first-strike options might become more tempting to decision-makers in Washington in the midst of a crisis if war seemed imminent. In retrospect, it is apparent that the theoretical targeting options McNamara outlined were far beyond the capabilities of U.S. strategic nuclear forces at that time. The nuclear target planning undertaken by the U.S. military authorities throughout this period, and the philosophy that underpinned it, remained wedded to a large-scale and overwhelming use of nuclear weapons against an extensive list of military, industrial, and economic targets in the Soviet Union and the territories it controlled. Not until the mid-1970s did the kind of selective and discriminating nuclear strikes envisaged by McNamara in 1962 start to find their way into such targeting plans. (For one, U.S. command, control, and communications systems were not advanced enough to conduct the kind of extended and discriminating nuclear campaign McNamara postulated.)73 Marc Trachtenberg has cast doubt on whether McNamara and the president ever really believed in the counterforce/no cities options and argues that the real function of these pronouncements was political: in attacking the notion of separate national nuclear forces, a further marker was delivered that the administration would do nothing to foster German nuclear ambitions.74

Public statements such as McNamara's were also designed as a reminder that the alliance had to show more commitment to the buildup of conventional forces if the general nuclear warfighting strategies that were becoming available to Washington were never to be put into effect. Kennedy had read McNamara's Ann Arbor speech in draft form, put forward his own amendments, and had wanted the secretary of defense to “repeat to the point of boredom that our general war response will come only if our allies are subjected to major attack.”75

For European observers, there could be no mistaking the increasingly outspoken tone of hostility to national nuclear forces now coming from the administration, coupled with a new push to sell the MLF concept within NATO. In the middle of May, after McNamara's Athens address, Kennedy was asked at one of his regular news conferences about his attitude toward independent nuclear forces. He replied,

We do not believe in a series of national deterrents. We believe that the NATO deterrent, to which the United States had committed itself so heavily, provides very adequate protection. Once you begin, nation after nation, beginning to develop its own deterrent, or rather feeling it's necessary as an element of its independence to develop its own deterrent, it seems to me that you are moving into an increasingly dangerous situation.76

Just a few days before the president delivered these remarks, Bundy had sent him a memorandum that attempted to summarize the convoluted evolution of views within the U.S. bureaucracy over the previous few months regarding nuclear assistance to France. Summing up the argument against providing help, he wrote that nuclear diffusion

was a strategic nonsense; the Western nuclear deterrent was fundamentally indivisible… . There could be only one serious nuclear war against the Soviet Union—and the prevention of that war, by credible deterrence, could in no way be assisted by the addition of small, ill-controlled, vulnerable, and wholly independent national nuclear forces. Measured in terms of defense against Soviet Russia, the French force in prospect could only be a danger to all—including the French themselves.77

The real purpose of the French program, as de Gaulle reportedly admitted in private conversation, was in the bargaining power it could give him within the Western alliance. Why should the United States bolster French capabilities if this was de Gaulle's aim?78

The White House's reservations over any UK nuclear initiative involving France were compounded by the reemergence of State Department opposition to Britain's independent nuclear status in the run-up to Ann Arbor. Toward the end of May, Rusk had received a memorandum from Foy Kohler, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, outlining a program of action regarding the UK's independent nuclear capability and the Anglo-American nuclear relationship. Noting that little had been done to pursue the approach that had been advocated in the NSC policy directive of April 1961, Kohler now saw the need to bring the matter to a head because of the current UK negotiations over EEC entry, which could raise the undesirable issue of British nuclear assistance to France, and also because Macmillan had (in February's Defence White Paper) signaled his clear intention to maintain an independent deterrent throughout the 1960s. This British position, Kohler noted, was at odds with McNamara's recent criticisms of weak national nuclear forces and was inimical to U.S. arguments that the conventional strength of the alliance should be bolstered. According to Kohler:

The heart of the matter is that we should avoid any actions to increase the degree of our special nuclear relationship with the UK. We should make clear that we are not prepared to extend that relation, notably in regard to creation of a UK Polaris missile force. The British will undoubtedly show a continuing interest in acquiring Polaris or other missile-bearing submarines, as they come closer to the end of the effective life of the V-bomber force. Even if that life is prolonged through Skybolt, the V-bomber force is a wasting asset… . If the V-bombers are not replaced by a sea-borne missile force, the independent British deterrent will expire.79

Kohler also warned that the United States should not agree with the British to have the UK's strategic nuclear forces committed to NATO

until we see how action to this end could be fitted in with the concept of a genuinely multilateral force. We would not want commitment of V-bombers to substitute for full UK participation in the multilateral force or to set a pattern for a multilateral force based on national contingents rather than on units under multilateral ownership, control and manning.80

Kennedy's close circle of advisers began expressing renewed doubts about the close nuclear relationship with Britain. Forged in 1958, the bilateral arrangement was now an obstacle in the path of forming the MLF and was an irritant in U.S.-French relations. Writing to the French political scientist Raymond Aron in late May 1962, Bundy confirmed that the administration's reluctance to offer nuclear assistance to France was based on the view that the nuclear defense of the West was “fundamentally indivisible.” Bundy said this was why some in the U.S. administration regretted the nuclear arrangements with Britain.81 “I was not in Washington in 1957 and 1958 when it was decided to reopen nuclear cooperation with the British,” Bundy told Aron,

but my impression is that this decision grew out of the sense of political insecurity which followed Sputnik. We were then pressing upon NATO as a whole a kind of “forward strategy” in nuclear weapons, and the reinforcement of the British in the nuclear field must have seemed a logical part of this undertaking. If we had to do it over again today, we should not encourage the British in this nuclear effort, and it is our guess that over a period of time all merely national deterrents in the hands of powers of the second rank will become uneconomic and ineffective.82

The Kennedy administration, Bundy implied, had to deal with the unwelcome legacy of an agreement left from the Eisenhower era and would not regret seeing its demise.

Against this backdrop of internal administration debate, and with U.S.-French relations running at low ebb, McNamara delivered his speech at Ann Arbor. He later characterized the speech as an attempt to “educate” the European NATO allies in the finer points of nuclear strategy, and he clearly felt the need to reinforce the message of his “closed” remarks to NATO ministers at Athens with a public declaration of U.S. thinking that would also touch on recent arguments over nuclear assistance to France. The final version of the address was toned down from the original draft.83 Having provided an oral summary of its contents to the president, Bundy told McNamara that Kennedy had some reservations and that “it might seem to be a continuation of our debate with the French and might offer the Soviet Union a hand-hold for charges of missile rattling.”84 The “easy way” to handle the matter, Bundy advised Kennedy at the start of June, was “simply to say that this is not the right time for this particular speech. Bob is a good soldier.”85 The harder approach—and a more “sensitive operation”—would be to revise the speech “with an eye on French sensibilities and Soviet propagandists.”86 In the latter case, Bundy vouched he would be “glad to work with Bob's people line by line and word by word.”87 On 7 June, just over a week before McNamara was scheduled to speak, Bundy reported to the president that they had revised the speech and that it no longer constituted “a risk from the missile-rattling point of view,” but the question remained of “whether the passage on weak national nuclear forces is desirable at this point in our messy dialogue with the French.”88 Bundy was against inclusion, but McNamara argued that the passage was needed “for a lot of people here [i.e., in Washington] and that it does not say anything directly disagreeable to the French themselves—they simply will not agree with it.”89 Kennedy accepted McNamara's point, and the passage was included. William Kaufmann, the RAND Corporation analyst and principal author of McNamara's Athens speech, strongly opposed the delivery of the unclassified counterpart at Ann Arbor, later recalling that in a top secret speech “there are a lot of things that you can say that you're just crazy to say publicly, particularly the comments about the national nuclear deterrents of the British and the French. I thought it was just crazy.”90

Reactions to Ann Arbor

Kaufmann's sense of the wider ramifications of the speech was to prove accurate, and McNamara's public criticisms of small national nuclear forces had a deep and long-lasting resonance. As Macmillan later recalled, McNamara's intervention at Ann Arbor “could hardly have done anything more calculated to upset both his French and his British allies,” while his “fervent denunciation of the dangers of the ‘dissemination of nuclear power’ was an ill-disguised attack upon the determination both of Britain and of France to maintain, at any rate in the foreseeable future, their separate, independent nuclear forces.”91

The full extent of the prime minister's annoyance can be appreciated by recalling his anxiety that the U.S. approach to alliance nuclear matters in the summer of 1962 might jeopardize his overriding foreign policy objective of securing Britain's entry into the EEC. Macmillan had met de Gaulle at Champs in early June to try to lower French opposition to British membership.92 Before the meeting, Macmillan had discussed with his closest advisers whether he should suggest the idea of Anglo-French defense collaboration, including future possibilities in the nuclear field. But the problem with this idea was that Macmillan's recent discussions in Washington had made clear that any such initiative would likely incur U.S. disapproval. The prime minister was worried about recent press speculation that an Anglo-French nuclear deal might be in the offing, and he even had to instruct the British ambassador in Washington, Sir David Ormsby Gore, to inform Kennedy that such news stories were baseless and that he had “no intention of doing anything foolish at Champs.”93 In fact, at Champs Macmillan suggested to de Gaulle that the nuclear forces of Britain and France could be held for the benefit of European defense within NATO: “if a European defence became a reality there might be an arrangement by which Europe, including the Germans, would control its own nuclear deterrent.”94

Macmillan emerged from this meeting believing that he had made some headway and had largely convinced de Gaulle that once Britain was in the EEC, it might eventually be possible to find a basis for some kind of nuclear collaboration. This was what made Macmillan so annoyed when McNamara spoke against national nuclear forces at Ann Arbor and when the Kennedy administration renewed its diplomatic push for the MLF. According to the prime minister, McNamara's remarks had been “foolish” and had “enraged the French,” thus putting the UK government in “difficulty,” which could only help the Labour Party in its attacks on the whole notion of an independent deterrent.95

The British government's erstwhile backers were particularly irritated by McNamara's Ann Arbor line that independent nuclear forces were “dangerous, expensive and prone to obsolescence, and lacking in credibility as a deterrent.”96 The conservative-supporting Daily Mail called it a “crippling blow” against the UK's independent deterrent and said it “marked the end of an era” for the Royal Air Force's (RAF) Bomber Command as an independent national force. The Daily Express stressed the obvious divisions that had opened between McNamara and Harold Watkinson, the British minister of defence.97 Some even speculated that Watkinson might be forced to resign because of the attacks on the government's nuclear policy that were bound to come from the opposition Labour Party. The defense correspondent of The Times of London noted that the new U.S. counterforce strategy had as an essential corollary that

the western nuclear effort must be unified and centrally coordinated. There is no longer room for national nuclear deterrents which, if the enemy believes that they be used independently of the western alliance as a whole, are simply an invitation to the pre-emptive strike… . In this context, Britain's V-bomber force is clearly vulnerable, and the projected striking force of General de Gaulle will be even more open to such an attack in the early stages of its development.98

After a report in The New Statesman alleged that Watkinson's relations with McNamara had become deeply strained by Britain's approach to conventional defense spending, an exasperated Watkinson advised the prime minister that although he was “quite sure that [the speech] was not aimed at us but at the French,” he thought it was “awkward and will be used by our critics against us.”99 Watkinson did not propose to respond publicly, and he had instructed his press officials “to do their best to calm it down.”100 The dilemma of taking a clear public posture on the speech's content was plain, but Watkinson's

preference would be to side with the French and to seek to persuade the Americans to accept the French position for what, in fact, it is—that of a small highly inefficient nuclear power. I am sure that the more McNamara or any other American attacks the French deterrent the more it makes the General and those around him absolutely determined to carry on with their current deterrent policy. Do you think it would be any good saying this to the Americans and asking them if they could not manage to accept what is, after all, the fact? I do not necessarily believe this would encourage the Germans to do the same thing.101

It was not going to be easy, Watkinson thought, to “steer between the two conflicting policies of trying to be in agreement with the Americans and the French, particularly as I can see how much it is in our interests that we should not offend the French at this stage.”102 With Rusk about to visit the UK, Watkinson wanted him to reply to the inevitable press questions “not that we were the good boys and the French the bad … but merely that Mr McNamara's statement was on the lines of a policy that he and I had agreed together and one that we were indeed implementing because Bomber Command is targeted and integrated with Strategic Air Command.”103

Watkinson was technically correct in this last observation. Since July 1958 the two forces had operated a combined plan in the event of general nuclear war, and RAF officers had been based at Omaha with the U.S. Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff to ensure proper liaison with the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC). Sixty Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) were also based in the United Kingdom. Launchable under “dual-key” arrangements, they had been integrated into joint target planning when they became operational in 1959. By 1962, the coordinated Anglo-American plan involved the V-bomber force and Thors in attacks against the Soviet Union on 16 cities, 44 airfields, 10 air defense control centers, and 28 IRBM sites. However, a separate UK national plan involved the use of the V-bomber force alone, informed by the UK's own criteria for target selection. The guidelines for this plan had first been promulgated by the British Chiefs of Staff in October 1957, and it was avowedly countervalue in nature, with major Soviet centers of population the only targets.104

In a bid to deflect further embarrassing probes about UK nuclear policy, Foreign Secretary Lord Home took up Watkinson's suggestion of a direct appeal to Rusk. The latter was told that the Ann Arbor speech was likely to “give rise to strong attacks by the [Labour Party] Opposition on our policy of maintaining our contribution to the Western nuclear deterrent. In fact, the Opposition are likely to be elated with this opportunity.”105 If criticized in the House of Commons, the foreign secretary warned Rusk, ministers “shall have to hit back and some hard things will have to be said.”106 Divergences between U.S. and British approaches might have to be revealed and “thrashed out” in public on the floor of the House. There was “much to be said in our own and American interests for taking the heat out of debates on this issue if possible.”107

The line the British government chose to propound was that McNamara, with his criticism of independently operating nuclear forces, was not in fact referring to the British strategic deterrent because RAF Bomber Command worked according to an agreed and coordinated joint target plan with SAC. The unattributed briefing material disseminated by the Foreign Office was even more explicit: The strategic role of the V-bomber force “in support of NATO” was “fully integrated” with that of the U.S. strategic air force, and its “assigned targets are part of a unified plan.”108 The government had “never conceived” of the V-force “as contributing to anything in the nature of a third force.”109 Nevertheless, criticism continued, including a BBC news report and commentary that Watkinson found so tendentious that he felt compelled to write a letter of protest to the broadcasting company's director-general, Hugh Carleton Green.110

McNamara had been made aware of the UK press fallout from his Ann Arbor speech soon after its delivery. Public relations officials in the Department of Defense's Office of International Security Affairs quickly spread the word that the Pentagon was unhappy with the interpretation being given to McNamara's remarks and that the phrase “operating independently” clearly excluded Britain from his criticism insofar “as that country does not operate independently.”111 British correspondents in Washington were said to understand the technical point, but other interpretations were “difficult to stop in the political attacks which ‘Labour’ is trying to make against Watkinson's nuclear forces.”112 Further statements from McNamara were not expected to have much effect but might be necessary to assuage any grievance felt by Watkinson.113 Efforts at damage limitation continued. Officials from the U.S. Defense Department, when questioned in Washington, duly repeated the British official line and were ready to add that the UK retained “control” of the force.114

This all represented an unwelcome distraction from the British government's prevailing concerns over how to dispel French opposition to British entry into the European Community. Ormsby Gore took an early chance to see McNamara in Washington, where he explained, as he reported to the Foreign Office, that

in the coming weeks we would find ourselves in a very delicate situation over our negotiations to enter the Common Market. It was not therefore in our interest to have to point out all the time the differences between our position over nuclear weapons and that of France. I was afraid that on this occasion his lucidity of mind and clarity of expression had proved something of an embarrassment to us.115

McNamara understood, but wanted to underline to Ormsby Gore his eagerness to undertake for the NATO allies “a process of education” in the realities of the nuclear world and the choices in nuclear strategy that confronted the United States, of which his recent pronouncements had been a key part. At the close of their conversation, McNamara professed that he was “very sorry for any difficulties” his Ann Arbor speech had caused and that he was “extremely anxious to maintain very good and close relations with the British Government and he hoped that the excitement would soon die down.”116

The controversy did not abate, however. Writing in The New York Herald Tribune, Walter Lippmann claimed the UK force could never be used independently and that the last word on its employment would always lie with the U.S. president. This story caught the prime minister's eye, prompting him to send a curt message to Watkinson:

As I see it, legally, the President can use the American deterrent without my agreement. I can use the British deterrent without his approval. We have a gentleman's agreement to consult each other “if there is time to do so.” All that is being said to the contrary is just anti-British propaganda.117

Watkinson had already been busy with a further effort to defuse the matter once and for all by giving an interview to the defense correspondent of The Times of London on 22 June in which he affirmed Britain's “unchallenged right to use its nuclear force independently or to withhold its use if the Government think it right to do so.”118 He explained that, while Bomber Command's target plans were “completely integrated” with those of SAC, Britain had the “political freedom” to withdraw the force for “national purposes.” However, such a step would make “no military sense at all in the present state of Anglo-American relations.”119 Watkinson went on to assure the correspondent—less than accurately—that “all the implications” of the Ann Arbor speech had been discussed between himself and McNamara before it was made and that the government was in full agreement with the “broad outlines” of U.S. strategic thought. To suggest that British nuclear targets in the coordinated plans with SAC were “centres of population” was “quite wrong,” although there “might well be many cases where it would be difficult to distinguish between military and civilian targets.”120 The U.S. government's belief in the value of the UK force, Watkinson argued, had been demonstrated by the assurances he had recently received from McNamara that Skybolt was being developed according to plan. Nevertheless, whatever the “official” British position, The Times’s correspondent was adamant that the effect of the Ann Arbor speech was to bring the British nuclear force “firmly into the centre of the political scene” and that, whether he meant it or not, McNamara's comments on small independent deterrents applied “as forcibly to the British deterrent as any other.”121

A day later, goaded by his interview with Ormsby Gore, McNamara issued a statement clarifying that his Ann Arbor remarks referred to the dangers of separate nuclear capabilities operating independently. Because Bomber Command's aircraft were organized as part of a coordinated Anglo-American force alongside SAC, this clearly did not apply in the UK case, “although of course their political control remains with the British Government.”122 He had not been referring to the British force at Ann Arbor, McNamara reiterated, adding that the United States “appreciate[s] the important role” the British force played in joint strike plans.123

In one further Department of Defense effort to clarify matters, Adam Yarmolinsky, who played an important role in adapting McNamara's presentation in Athens for public delivery at Ann Arbor, gave an interview to a Washington Post correspondent at the end of June. In Yarmolinsky's view, press reporting of the Ann Arbor speech had not given sufficient attention to its final third, which made clear that U.S. officials would regard nuclear war as a “wholly unprecedented disaster, even with a ‘no-city’ strategy” and that as a consequence the main emphasis of the administration was on increasing the alliance's conventional strength.124 He also said,

We were not thinking of the British in the speech. On the other hand, we would be unhappy if the British were to fail to build-up their conventional forces on the grounds that they needed the money for their nuclear deterrent or that their nuclear deterrent was all they needed.125

Asked why the administration did not offer some assistance to France in the hope that this would provide some degree of leverage over French nuclear policy, Yarmolinsky replied that decisions over the control of nuclear weapons were “too important for the French to be much influenced by whether we belatedly helped them or not. And helping them would encourage other nations to assume that they too could go ahead and then get American help.”126

Kennedy's “Eight Questions”: McNamara and Britain's Nuclear Independence

What was McNamara's underlying thinking at this time on the central question of independent European nuclear capabilities, and how did this relate to the Kennedy administration's earlier internal debates over the issue of possible U.S. nuclear assistance to France? Recently released documents from the U.S. side provide further insight on the background of the Ann Arbor speech and these key questions. On 25 May 1962, eight days after the press conference in which Kennedy had publicly decried the tendency toward a proliferation of national or independent deterrents, he sent a note to Rusk and McNamara asking whether several assumptions of U.S. policy should be reexamined. The president touched on eight particular concerns: (1) whether offering nuclear information to France would in fact encourage West Germany to seek its own weapons and whether an arrangement could be made with the French that would limit West German demands; (2) whether refusing to give assistance to France would push the French toward the West Germans, “thus making German possession more likely”; (3) whether British entry into the EEC would not, in any case, bring France into “nuclear discussions”; (4) whether U.S. hopes of gaining French support (perhaps post–de Gaulle) for a European deterrent were at all plausible; (5) whether the emergence of an independent French nuclear force would mean that France has “no obligation to us, and that we will lack the element of control that our cooperation with the British has given us”; (6) whether the “NATO nuclear concept … [was] really not developing in any way and no longer a likely prospect”; (7) whether helping France would really stimulate demands from other countries to follow a similar path; and finally, (8) whether, with the conventional strength of the European members of NATO still limited, implementation of the alliance's “forward strategy” was still possible and, if not, “should we consider whether it is possible for us to reduce our forces in the European theatre?”127

This was an extensive list of queries and went to the heart of the debates between the so-called young Turks in the State Department, led by Ball, who saw creation of the MLF and strong moves against independent national nuclear forces as the best answer to the nuclear problems of NATO, and a more skeptical Pentagon view. Kennedy's questions also showed he was more open to discussion within his administration on this key issue than was suggested by the April meeting leading to his NSAM 148 directives and his recent press conference pronouncements. Prepared by the Pentagon's Office for International Security Affairs under Nitze, McNamara's reply to Kennedy's memorandum was provided on 16 June, the same day he gave the Ann Arbor address.128 The defense secretary began his long memorandum by arguing that U.S. non-cooperation was not going to bring the French nuclear program to an end and that it would almost certainly be continued even after de Gaulle had left the scene. But once an initial (and minimal) French force was deployed, officials in Paris might be influenced by U.S. efforts to bring them to understand the “political and military limitations of a weak, independent nuclear force.”129 The U.S. aim should be to limit the size of the French program and “link it increasingly to our own U.S. nuclear forces,” perhaps through coordinated planning and eventual involvement in an MLF closely tied to NATO. McNamara noted, however, that such changes in French approaches would not be easy to achieve.130 If a shift in U.S. policy toward acceptance of, or even assistance to, a French program were to be undertaken, it might stimulate unwelcome expectations in both France and West Germany. McNamara argued that, no matter what the United States did,

the continuation of a vigorous, if modest, French program would undoubtedly generate pressures within Germany over time for an independent German force, unless the political unification of Europe moves faster than now seems likely. Moreover, an additional motive for a German program may exist as compared with the British and French; the desire to strengthen its bargaining position vis-à-vis the USSR over reunification and Berlin. The Germans might be prepared to forego nuclear independence as part of a larger deal on unification. But for this leverage to be effective they would have to have the nuclear option open to them.131

Over time the West Germans might come to regard the French and British nuclear forces as the core of a new “European” force, so that Bonn's feelings of discriminatory treatment might abate, but this could not be taken for granted. A U.S. offer of nuclear assistance to France would probably lead to cooperation in areas such as targeting. But French acceptance of U.S. help was bound to stimulate West German calls, perhaps within three to five years, for similar treatment. Feelings of discrimination could become even more acute if the United States and the Soviet Union reached a nonproliferation agreement that was seen as largely directed against Germany. If nuclear help to France were refused, the French might, McNamara conjectured, turn to West Germany for financial support, with the long-term inducement of a share in French nuclear capabilities through European defense planning. (That de Gaulle would want to do anything that could lead to actual German possession of nuclear weapons was seen as unlikely.)

On the question of whether Anglo-French nuclear relations would solidify as a result of Britain's eventual membership in the EEC, McNamara believed the French would not accept any differential in the U.S.-UK and French-UK nuclear relationships if the United Kingdom managed to join the community. The issue gave McNamara reason to compare the fundamental qualities of U.S. relations with the two West European allies:

To us there is a clear distinction between our relationships with the UK and our relationships with France. Except for several short-lived episodes, such as the abortive Suez affair, British foreign policy for a century [sic] has rested on the proposition that it cannot afford a fundamental split with the U.S. This drawing together has become far more explicit in recent times in view of the over-riding importance the British attach to the American Alliance. The British have accepted the status of junior partner in the firm in exchange for a special relationship which they believe affords them a unique opportunity to influence U.S. policy.132

The British had forged their postwar nuclear policy in this political context and were now reaping the benefits to the revision of U.S. atomic energy legislation in 1958 that had permitted the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. weapons information to Britain. This had allowed the British, for “relatively small expenditure,” to gain nuclear warhead technology that in qualitative terms was on a level with U.S. technology, while “the possession of the Bomber Command [sic] has seemed to the British to be an important factor in giving the British the second place in the eyes of world opinion in the councils of the Free World.”133

The advantages of the 1958 deal for the British were manifold: they could buy from the United States or make as much nuclear material as they could afford, without restrictions on the size of their technical and scientific nuclear weapons establishment or on the nature of their research program or the number and type of nuclear systems they chose to field. Except for data on gaseous diffusion techniques for uranium enrichment, Britain was

privy to virtually every U.S. development in the nuclear weapons field. They had the run of almost every U.S. research institution; access to a large part of U.S. intelligence data; and they could, if they chose to do so, construct almost any one of the U.S. weapon designs. In addition, they are able to exchange their surplus of plutonium for American U-235 [under a barter arrangement reached in May 1959]. That they choose not to apply much of this sharing information to development of their own weapon systems is due to their own policy decisions and not to any control exercised by the U.S.134

As for the level of independence the British were able to enjoy, McNamara argued it would be “difficult to contend that the U.S. controls the British nuclear program in the sense that we make, or influence, the British to do things to which they really object. Rather, the more reasonable interpretation is that the harmonization of their nuclear policy with that of the U.S. caused them no pain, and that the atomic assistance received from the U.S. has been sheer profit.”135 At the same time McNamara recognized that the UK had had to pay a price for its special nuclear relationship with the United States, including accommodating U.S. facilities on British soil—including Polaris submarine berthing facilities at Holy Loch in Scotland—which had created occasional political problems at home, and showing cooperation over several colonial issues.

McNamara stressed that U.S.-French and U.S.-British relations differed qualitatively, including on nuclear matters. “We lack the long experience of close partnership,” he noted. “Not only de Gaulle's ideas, but French ideas generally are not easily assimilable to our ideas.”136 The French under de Gaulle were “determined to re-establish a political position they had not had for generations.”137 France's recent negative attitudes toward NATO and the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons on its soil did not auger well for the future: there was not a “firm and well-established foundation of mutual confidence and trust which would seem to be essential for an activity so delicate and important as nuclear sharing.”138 Unlike de Gaulle, the British had been

willing to live within the nuclear policy favored by the U.S., and they have done so without having to sign any written commitments to this effect beyond the [1958] arrangement not to retransmit data and atomic materials. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that de Gaulle is unwilling similarly to restrict his policy options whether the pledge would be written or unwritten.139

McNamara emphasized that “the British have not surrendered their independence, however little it may be worth. And the French are no more likely to. Finally, since the U.S. is the great nuclear power, the French have every incentive to seek coordination with us whether or not we assist them rather than the other way around. The problem to be overcome is de Gaulle's sense of pride.”140

As for the prospect that the French would eventually aim for a “European” deterrent force, rather than one centered on NATO (and thus subject to a U.S. veto), McNamara argued that although de Gaulle was opposed to multilateral arrangements, broader French opinion was more sympathetic. “There is an inherent inconsistency,” McNamara maintained, “in an independent French national nuclear deterrent and a European Community gaining depth in the political and economic fields.”141 Without giving up the right of independent action in the event of an emergency, a post–de Gaulle leadership might well find the idea of a European deterrent attractive, but this would pose difficulties for NATO's nuclear arrangements and bear on the nature of the U.S. commitment to Europe's defense. “The French, and the other Europeans,” McNamara opined,

are still in the elementary stages of learning about nuclear warfare. It would appear to be in the U.S. interest and that of the West generally that education and action make possible a NATO-wide solution to the problem rather than a division between a U.S. deterrent and a European deterrent. In the end, if we handle ourselves intelligently, Europe and the French should come out strongly in favor of close association with the U.S. on nuclear matters.142

McNamara's response to President Kennedy's “eight questions” memorandum provided an essential counterpoint to his Ann Arbor address and reflected growing skepticism within the Department of Defense that there were immediate and worthwhile avenues for nuclear cooperation with France, especially now that the Kennedy administration was redoubling its efforts to promote the MLF.

The Aftermath of Ann Arbor

Less than a week after the Ann Arbor address, Rusk had talks in Paris with de Gaulle and other senior French officials amid continuing hostile press coverage of McNamara's speech, which was viewed as “a brutally frank restatement of the Washington belief that Europe's job in the Western alliance is to provide foot soldiers and leave the nuclear capability to the United States.”143 French Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville told Rusk that a French nuclear force, like the British, might eventually have combined targeting with the United States but still enjoy ultimate independent control. He added, moreover,

In the theoretical event of the Continent being overrun by Russian conventional forces and the Americans at that point not having made use of their nuclear arms, he thought it conceivable that the British might then use theirs independently. There was no question of the French force being used independently except in the very last resort.144

When asked by Rusk whether this meant that use of the force de frappe was intended to trigger a U.S. nuclear response, Couve de Murville simply replied that “they would not be so silly.”145

Later, Rusk tried to impress on de Gaulle the point that national nuclear forces would be unnecessary under the collective cover of NATO, especially as the alliance moved to improve its procedures over nuclear consultation. “If there are nuclear forces within the Alliance which might move separately,” Rusk said,

then we are faced with a whole series of most difficult problems. Defense in NATO must be indivisible. We must act together. It is impossible for us to act separately. There are delicate problems of common action but this is fundamental.146

However, de Gaulle remained unconvinced, believing that no one could be sure what would happen in the future in the event of a Soviet attack, which could fall on a variety of different points in Europe. What Rusk pictured as “indivisibility” among alliance members seemed to de Gaulle to “amount to integration which meant American control. For the French this no longer corresponded to what is necessary.”147

Rusk's Parisian foray did little to endear recent U.S. diplomacy to British officials. At Champs, Macmillan had tried to emphasize to de Gaulle that Britain enjoyed genuine nuclear independence from the United States, but such reassurances had been undercut by the British responses issued in the wake of McNamara's Ann Arbor speech. The clarifying statements stressing the integration of Anglo-American nuclear forces counteracted the overall impression that the prime minister had set out to achieve as the backdrop to the EEC entry talks, which were due to resume in the autumn of 1962. Press reports from London, for example, drew attention to Macmillan's public emphasis of the political importance of an independent deterrent but then quoted “qualified sources” as saying that the close integration of the UK force with the U.S. command and warning system meant that independent action was in practice “virtually out of the question.”148 From Washington, the head of the British Defence Staff warned that the government should not open itself up to the charge of “schizophrenia” by, on the one hand, implying complete political independence over the UK force while, on the other, emphasizing “complete operational integration.”149

The fact that Rusk, returning via London from his trip to Paris and other European capitals, had then tried to elicit British support for the MLF incurred further prime ministerial criticism. Macmillan complained to Foreign Secretary Home:

If we cannot persuade the Americans to keep quiet about the Common Market, I would hope that we could at least impress on Rusk the importance of leaving the nuclear question, and indeed the re-organisation of NATO, until the negotiations with the Six [EEC members] have come to a head. In the nuclear field, we have an independent deterrent and the French are going to get one; these are facts which the Americans cannot alter. There is therefore no point in their going on talking about them; the moment to take stock will come quite soon after our talks with the Six have ended.150

Having to lay stress on the integrated nature of Anglo-American nuclear planning as a retort to criticism of independent nuclear forces clearly did not help to allay de Gaulle's suspicions of Britain's enduring ties with the United States.151

Rusk, however, was unrepentant and was now determined to pursue the MLF agenda. When passing through London on 25 June, he had held meetings with Home and other senior Foreign Office officials. He told them that his main anxiety was that “the Germans would, sooner or later, seek to have a nuclear capacity of their own unless they were offered some alternative arrangement such as the multilateral force.”152 Any talks on the MLF within NATO needed to move forward “with all deliberate speed,” he argued, although “he was not asking [the United Kingdom] to agree with the American position but simply that we should not frustrate the exercise.”153 Home's response was to assure Rusk that the British would not try to prevent the issues from being discussed in NATO, but he hoped that the political problems, as opposed to the military need for an MRBM force, could be reserved for later discussion.154 Later that same day, Rusk resumed discussion with Home at the U.S. embassy, where he highlighted the problem of coordinating statements to the press and to parliament regarding the position of the UK deterrent. Rusk expressed “some concern” that a British draft statement had emphasized that, even though this might be a remote contingency, the British deterrent was available for independent use. After some discussion of alternative language, Rusk brought up his own skepticism over the whole notion of nuclear independence, saying,

the employment of nuclear weapons is not a path to freedom but a path to slavery. The U.S. has never had less independence than it has today in the areas affected by these weapons. We do not talk of the independent use of nuclear weapons because of our many Allies. The responsibility which the possession of these weapons brings inhibits our freedom of action. This is an aspect of the situation which the French tend to overlook. We thought of the U.S.-UK relationship as something which goes back to World War II. The UK nuclear capability is one of its contributions to the Alliance.155

No NATO ally, Rusk said, “would expect to act independently” when it came to nuclear use, and the United States looked on its own weapons as a contribution to the alliance. The French attitude, by contrast, seemed to be to emphasize that a national nuclear capability was associated with noncooperation, but “this was not a problem with the UK.”156 His next comment raised questions about the rationale for why the United Kingdom would even consider possessing an independent nuclear force: “the more the UK stressed its independence the more it tended to move in on our independence.”157 Rusk then “cited the theoretical problem with which Khrushchev and President Kennedy would be confronted if missiles should be fired from the UK at the Soviet Union.”158

Meanwhile, the British government's discomfort—this time on the parliamentary home front—continued. On 26 June, several MPs from the Labour Party, reacting in part to repeated Conservative attacks on Labour's allegedly incoherent approach to Britain's nuclear future, took the opportunity to quiz Macmillan closely in the House of Commons on where the government's nuclear policy now stood. The prime minister began with the statement that the government was “constitutionally free to determine upon the use of this power.”159 At the same time, “there has been joint planning between the British and American authorities against any future emergency. What may be the ultimate development of European defence is a matter for consideration with changing circumstances.”160 Harold Wilson, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, was unsatisfied, noting that, as a result of recent clarifying pronouncements, both the British and the U.S. governments had apparently condemned “the idea of independent deterrents which are capable of operating independently.” He then asked Macmillan whether it was still government policy to have such a force.161 The prime minister responded:

It is for us to decide what we are to do. We have to recognize—and do recognize—that France is now a nuclear power, and is likely to remain one. There are great problems which can be discussed as to the future. For the present, we have this independent deterrent … [and] there are very strong reasons for maintaining it, and we intend to do so.162

This was not enough, however, to prevent further probing from the opposition benches about how the UK force could operate independently when it was “integrated” with U.S. forces for planning purposes and so presumably could not be used without U.S. approval. Again, Macmillan tried to explain that, “although in practice the targets are discussed and arranged between us,” the force itself was under complete national control: “the sovereignty, the power of control, rests with Her Majesty's Ministers for the time being, and the officers concerned would follow the instructions given to them by the Government of the day.”163

Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell, seizing on what he saw as contradictions in the prime minister's argument then raised the inconsistency between McNamara's recent remarks and the UK government's position, saying, “If the British Government are free, as I understand he claims, to use the nuclear deterrent as they wish, how can this possibly be reconciled with Mr. McNamara's position?” Macmillan replied that he was “not responsible for what Mr. McNamara may have said” and that strong reasons remained for retaining a deterrent under national control. “As a matter of practice,” the prime minister confirmed,

there is an understanding which I had with President Eisenhower and now have with President Kennedy that neither of us in any part of the world would think of using power of this kind without consultation with each other; but that does not take away the independent right of both the American and the British Government.164

Skybolt Cancellation and the Nassau Agreement

By July 1962, much to the relief of British officials, the controversy over McNamara's remarks about national deterrents had begun to dissipate. Ministers in London were still expecting that the Skybolt missile system would enter into service in the second half of the 1960s to give the V-bomber force some credibility to penetrate Soviet air defenses, and they did not anticipate having to make difficult decisions over the provision of a successor system for the deterrent for at least another two years. That same month, Peter Thorneycroft replaced Watkinson as British defence minister. When Thorneycroft traveled to the United States in September 1962, he heard firsthand the complaints from McNamara over Skybolt's steadily rising costs. Yet McNamara did not indicate that any basic reconsideration of the program was underway—even though he was by now leaning toward cancellation.165 In a further attempt to dispel lingering doubts after the Ann Arbor speech, McNamara made clear that the United States considered British possession of a national deterrent force to be different from the French bid. In the case of Britain, he said, “independent political control coupled with integrated targeting was tolerable to the United States because of basic identity of political outlook and aims and because we understood each other well. These could not be taken for granted by the United States in the case of France.”166

The upbeat report Thorneycroft brought back from Washington might have been qualified if he had been aware of the State Department's increasingly firm conviction that positive steps should be taken to scale back the extent of Anglo-American nuclear cooperation.167 Echoing the advice he had received from Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Kohler in May 1962, Rusk, a few days before the Thorneycroft visit, had written to McNamara to remind him of the importance of the April 1961 policy directive concerning the long-term future of the British deterrent. When the current negotiations on British EEC entry were concluded, he explained, it would be necessary to reexamine the special UK-U.S. nuclear relationship in the context of U.S. desires “that future European nuclear efforts are based on genuinely multilateral rather than national programs.”168 Until this exercise was conducted, Rusk argued, it was “of the utmost importance to avoid any actions to expand the relationship. Such actions could seriously prejudice future decisions and developments and make more difficult the working out of sound multilateral arrangements.”169 He expressed confidence that McNamara would discourage British attempts to acquire Polaris or similar systems as a successor to the V-bomber force and that “U.S. decisions relative to Skybolt should be made on the basis solely of U.S. interest in this missile for our own forces.”170

Rusk argued that maintaining this posture would be important because the UK would probably reconsider its nuclear options once it had entered the EEC, not least because a European deterrent force would have to be based on missiles rather than manned bombers. Previous British interest in Polaris, Rusk conjectured, might be revived in an effort to perpetuate a UK national force that could then be combined with the French force under joint arrangements. Rusk did not see Macmillan's idea for an eventual Anglo-French nuclear deterrent, held in trust for Europe, as holding any attraction for the United States, insofar as it would do nothing to defuse West German ambitions. U.S. willingness to supply Polaris to Britain without tying it to genuinely multilateral arrangements (such as through the MLF scheme) could influence the UK to turn in a direction inimical to the wider goals of U.S. European policy.171

This political advice—with the State Department maintaining that no special regard should be paid to Britain's position when it came to decisions over Skybolt's future—was of obvious significance when on 7 November, with Kennedy administration officials relaxing in the afterglow of their performance during the Cuban missile crisis, McNamara recommended the cancellation of the Skybolt program on cost grounds. Senior Pentagon and White House officials recognized that cancellation would represent a serious political blow to Macmillan's government and possibly even lead to its fall, an eventuality no one wanted to see. The British would have to be informed that cancellation was likely and be given time to decide what to propose before the administration made its final recommendation on the defense budget toward the end of the month.172

When McNamara informed Thorneycroft by telephone that cancellation was under consideration, the British minister stressed the adverse consequences of any such move, noting that the government would come under criticism not only from Labour but also from its own backbench Conservative MPs.173 Although McNamara had seemed prepared to hint to Thorneycroft that Polaris might be substituted for Skybolt, this was not a proposition that found any support in the State Department. On 24 November, Rusk wrote to McNamara that the State Department was firmly opposed to such a step. Instead, Rusk put forward three alternatives: Britain to continue with Skybolt development and production (with U.S. financial and technical assistance); provision of shorter-range and less advanced Hound Dog missiles for use with the V-bomber force; or participation in a sea-based NATO MRBM force, with mixed manning of surface ships (and no specific offer of Polaris). “It seems essential,” Rusk stressed, “that we make quite clear to the British that there is no possibility of our helping them set up a nationally manned and owned MRBM force.”174 What is surprising in retrospect is how little McNamara objected to the State Department's position, which he must have realized the Macmillan government would find unacceptable.175 When the State Department's proposals were discussed by Kennedy, Rusk, and McNamara at a White House meeting on 10 December, the defense secretary said he “did not believe that the British would be pleased by any one of these three alternatives, at least at first.” He thought the United States should

consider, at some stage in the negotiations … a proposal to give the British access to a more up-to-date weapons system on the condition that the venture become multilateral if and when a multilateral force should be developed. Such a course might conceivably be taken, for example, with Polaris.176

But this was precisely the kind of diminution of nuclear independence that Macmillan and his senior ministers were determined to resist.

The wider significance of McNamara's Ann Arbor speech was now to become clear. Memory of the speech served to intensify and confirm British suspicions that Skybolt cancellation had more behind it than simply the Pentagon's concerns over rising costs. When McNamara finally made his way to London to meet Thorneycroft face-to-face on 11 December—having told waiting reporters on his arrival at Gatwick Airport that Skybolt had serious technical problems—their meeting at the Ministry of Defence was a tense affair. Thorneycroft's response to the conditional offer of Polaris tied into an MLF package was that the two subjects should not be linked. Combining any statement of the U.S. agreement to provide Polaris with a British commitment to join a multilateral force would be “impossible,” he said, because “no-one would believe that the choice had in fact been free. The test of the independence of a nuclear deterrent was whether, like the V-bomber/Skybolt force, it would be operable entirely on its own.”177 The U.S. record of this encounter had Thorneycroft stressing that Skybolt cancellation would be used by the government's critics as evidence of U.S. unreliability, with the impression made much worse by the lingering effects of the Ann Arbor speech. The British press, the Minister of Defence complained, would say the Skybolt decision formed part of a policy that had been formulated earlier in the year by the Kennedy administration: “They will say that this decision is really taken to force Britain out of having an independent nuclear deterrent.”178

The complicated and intense negotiations that ensued at Nassau from 19–21 December 1962 eventually saw a compromise of sorts emerge.179 With Kennedy acknowledging that the original 1960 agreement to provide Skybolt to the UK did oblige the United States to offer a replacement, and with the president not wanting to see Macmillan's domestic political position completely undermined to the advantage of the Labour Party, the United States agreed to supply Polaris, which was to be installed on a new British-built submarine force. But the missile system was offered only in the context of an involved and ambiguous set of undertakings that would form part of collective alliance arrangements. (Both powers would look toward “the development of a multilateral NATO nuclear force in the closest consultation with our NATO allies” and would “use their best endeavours to this end.”) Although Macmillan said he was prepared to study the multilateral principle, he insisted during the negotiations that Britain must nevertheless retain the right to independent use of the weapon system when “supreme national interests” were invoked by the government, and this crucial clause was inserted in the communiqué that emerged at the end of the Nassau talks.180

The Skybolt crisis, with its culmination at the Nassau Conference, had served to remind U.S. officials that maintenance of some form of “independent” nuclear capability—where a national firing chain could be seen to operate—was a sensitive domestic political subject for British ministers. U.S. officials appreciated that cajoling or even forcing the British into renouncing their national deterrent capability would almost certainly do fundamental damage to Anglo-American relations and thus endanger certain basic objectives in U.S. foreign and defense policy. Over the next eighteen months, and much against its basic inclinations, the British government continued to express polite but skeptical interest in U.S. plans for the creation of an MLF. Despite harboring the deepest private reservations, British officials took part in discussions over the practicalities of the scheme, all the while hoping to drag out the talks so that opposition within Western Europe to the MLF would develop a stronger momentum and the U.S. government would lose enthusiasm.181 Skepticism over the MLF was also rife within the Kennedy administration (and its successor), running from the White House through to the Pentagon. Only the imperative need to stifle West German nuclear ambitions kept the scheme alive, and both Kennedy and later President Lyndon Johnson were insistent that it could not be introduced except with European agreement.182

In the meantime, the contours of transatlantic and intra-NATO relations had been shaken by de Gaulle's veto of Britain's entry into the EEC, issued in the wake of the Nassau agreement. When de Gaulle announced the veto at a press conference on 14 January 1963, he had cited the agreement as evidence that Britain was tied into a cycle of nuclear dependence on the United States and so could not be relied upon to adopt a suitably European or independent attitude to global problems.183 In private at the start of January, de Gaulle had already rejected Kennedy's offer, made in parallel to the Nassau agreement, to provide Polaris missiles in return for committing French nuclear forces to an MLF.184 This was precisely the kind of compromise that had been considered and turned down when Rusk had visited Paris in June 1962 in the days following McNamara's attack on national nuclear forces at Ann Arbor. Integration of nuclear planning, in French eyes, denoted U.S. control.

“Moments of Great National Peril”: The Ambiguities of British Nuclear Independence

The French appreciation of the implications of joint planning had helped to create a diplomatic and public relations tangle for the British government in the immediate aftermath of the Ann Arbor speech. Keen to distance themselves from McNamara's blanket denunciation of national nuclear forces, British ministers and officials had emphasized the existence of close Anglo-American integration of nuclear planning, even though ultimate national control was still exercised over the British force. But this latter aspect of the clarifications and explanations that were promulgated after Ann Arbor tended to be obscured by the candid admission that combined operational nuclear planning was well entrenched between the RAF's Bomber Command and SAC. The British parliamentary exchanges in late June 1962 underlined the essential point that just when the requirements of British diplomacy toward EEC entry demanded that ministers should assert the element of independence in nuclear policy— to convince de Gaulle that Britain could free itself of its close links to the United States—McNamara's speech pushed them into trying to unravel, in none too convincing terms, the contradictions that seemed to lie at the heart of UK nuclear policy.

The UK certainly maintained national nuclear target planning throughout this period, but the chief emphasis of Bomber Command after 1958 had been on its combined planning with SAC. In May 1963, under the Nassau agreement, these arrangements were changed when the entire UK V-bomber force was “assigned” to the U.S. Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) for targeting purposes, and SACEUR's nuclear planning cell at Omaha—with British officers attached—now coordinated the work of the bomber force with that of SAC.185 As McNamara's private views at the time of the Ann Arbor speech make clear, as long as UK strategic nuclear forces had joint planning arrangements, which allowed them to operate alongside and in harmony with U.S. forces, he did not see a problem with providing U.S. nuclear assistance to the United Kingdom. The principal cause for concern was nuclear forces that operated independently, particularly if a counterforce targeting doctrine was to be implemented. Britain not only shared the U.S. view of the Cold War, McNamara reasoned, but also had clearly reconciled itself to the role of junior nuclear partner. Within these arrangements, the United States did not rate the capabilities of the British V-bomber force very highly. During an interview with McNamara in July 1962, Ormsby Gore, the British ambassador, was told that on a recent visit to SAC the U.S. secretary of defense had asked about the British contribution to a combined nuclear strike against the Soviet Union and had been informed that the lower level of UK alert meant that the United States “could only count upon eight V-bombers being certainly operational. This compared with over a thousand bombers and rockets which the Americans judged would be available to them whatever the degree of surprise.”186 As for the UK's national targeting plans—which after 1963 existed in parallel with the UK's contribution to SACEUR's NATO planning—McNamara apparently never took them seriously because the contingencies in which they would be invoked were so remote that they were irrelevant to U.S. nuclear strategy. Such national plans, along with the existence of an independent firing chain, were usually seen by U.S. officials as necessary for political purposes in Britain.

Unlike both Kennedy and Bundy, for example, McNamara was at first surprisingly oblivious to the domestic political consequences for the Macmillan government of the decision to cancel Skybolt. He also was apparently unable to link the furor that greeted his remarks at Ann Arbor to the implications that would inevitably be drawn by an attentive press, as well as nervous British officials, that the decision to end the program had been premediated and political. Despite Kennedy's own reservations over the contents of the Ann Arbor speech, McNamara had been keen to deliver a direct message to West European allies that the U.S. nuclear guarantee was firm but that they needed to make greater efforts to build up NATO's conventional military strength. However, he also wanted to use the occasion to scold the French for their independent nuclear ambitions and—perhaps more crucial—to signal to the rest of the administration, and to other potential proliferators, that the Defense Department was firmly opposed to the provision of nuclear assistance to additional nascent nuclear powers. In his rush to stake out the Pentagon's position in public, McNamara overlooked the impact his comments would have on British domestic politics at a time when possession of an independent nuclear force had become an area of deep contention between the Conservative and Labour Parties.

In the period after McNamara's uneasy meeting with Thorneycroft on 11 December, when he presented the reasons for Skybolt's cancellation, the defense secretary seemed almost to be trying to compensate for the troubles he had helped to create. When he presented to British officials the formal State Department–inspired U.S. position that a Polaris replacement would have to be linked in some fashion with arrangements for an MLF, he did so without enthusiasm. McNamara's constructive performance at the subsequent Nassau Conference even prompted Macmillan to single him out for praise, when one might have expected opprobrium to be heaped on his head for having made the initial decision to cancel Skybolt.187 After Nassau, McNamara was in fact keen to move ahead quickly with technical arrangements for the supply of Polaris to the UK, and he had little faith that the MLF scheme would come to fruition. (Although he was prepared to give it his backing in early 1963, he thought it had dubious military utility and should not be forced on the Europeans.)188

Finally, Kennedy, despite some doubts, endorsed the controversial remarks that McNamara delivered at Ann Arbor. They reflected the president's own belief that, in a world where the number of nuclear weapons, along with their physical dispersal, was increasing enormously, a high premium should be placed on centralized control, lest decisions on nuclear release be taken without full consideration of the consequences. At Nassau, Kennedy was willing to concede the “supreme national interests” clause of the final communiqué in order to give tangible political cover to the Macmillan government's claim that the future of an independent nuclear deterrent had been secured—Polaris would be allocated its own national targeting plans by the British authorities when it finally became operational in the late 1960s.189 With press speculation rife that the Anglo-American relationship was in trouble, resolution of the issues at Nassau had a great deal to do with Kennedy's fundamental desire to give Macmillan what he needed to counter his domestic political critics. At the end of December 1962, the president gave a background press briefing to reporters in which he affirmed that the decision to cancel Skybolt was technical and financial, not political, in origin and that the offer of Polaris to the British

was in keeping with both our technical and moral obligation to them, and I think that the arrangement was made in the best interest of the United States, Britain, and the Alliance, because the British will have their deterrent. It will be independent in moments of great national peril, which is really the only time you consider using nuclear weapons anyway. It will serve as a basis for a multinational or multilateral force.190

As the remainder of Kennedy's presidency was to show, he was always skeptical about the practicalities of forming an MLF, especially in the face of European doubts and opposition. In February 1963, discussing with his senior advisers his thoughts about the creation of a multilateral nuclear force within NATO, Kennedy admitted with frank realism that “the logical course for each country was to have its own deterrent. Anything less was illogical. By the same token, it was in the U.S. interest to retain the control it now had.”191 The tension between these two positions had been exposed by McNamara's criticism of independent nuclear deterrents at Ann Arbor. As long as there was no joint Franco-American nuclear planning and the French continued to develop their nuclear capabilities free of dependence on or control by the United States, the force de frappe would not be a welcome development. Only after the Nixon administration entered office at the end of the decade, when political circumstances had changed and de Gaulle had left the scene, was nuclear assistance to France forthcoming from the United States. By then, attitudes in Washington toward European independent nuclear forces had undergone significant shifts, not least because the prospect that West Germany would acquire nuclear weapons had receded, and also because concerns over proliferation in general had assumed a less salient position in official thinking.192



McNamara's Ann Arbor commencement address, alongside the classified version of the speech delivered several weeks earlier in Athens to foreign and defense ministers, has drawn much attention from scholars of the period. For the immediate background, see William W. Kaufmann, The McNamara Strategy (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), pp. 113–121; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (London: Andre Deutsch, 1965), pp. 848–850; Desmond Ball, Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), pp. 194–198; Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), pp. 281–285; Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, 3rd ed. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 222–231; Andreas Wenger, Living with Peril: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nuclear Weapons (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), pp. 191–196, 267–271; Deborah Shapley, Promise and Power: The Life and Times of Robert McNamara (Boston: Little, Brown, 1993), pp. 141–145; and Lawrence S. Kaplan, Ronald D. Landa, and Edward J. Drea, History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Vol. 5, The McNamara Ascendancy, 1961–1965 (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, Historical Office, 2006), pp. 305–309.


Bundy Memorandum for Kennedy, 1 June 1962, in Digital National Security Archive (DNSA), Document No. 679124656.


The Skybolt crisis still lacks definitive treatment, but Richard Neustadt's updated Report to JFK: The Skybolt Crisis in Perspective (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999) provides a rich and detailed account. The crisis is also covered in Ian Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy and the Special Relationship: Britain's Deterrent and America, 1957–1962 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 338–372; John Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence: British Nuclear Strategy, 1945–1964 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 312–320; Donette Murray, Kennedy, Macmillan and Nuclear Weapons (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000), pp. 31–380; Nigel J. Ashton, Kennedy, Macmillan, and the Cold War: The Crisis of Interdependence (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2002), pp. 152–170; Ken Young, “The Skybolt Crisis of 1962: Muddle or Mischief?” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4 (December 2004), pp. 614–635; Richard Moore, Nuclear Illusion, Nuclear Reality: Britain, the United States and Nuclear Weapons, 1958–1964 (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan 2010), pp. 166–173, 210–212; and most recently, Matthew Jones, The Official History of the UK Strategic Nuclear Deterrent, Vol. 1: From the V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, 1945–1964 (London: Routledge, 2017), pp. 349–372.


Numerous studies have appeared on Anglo-American nuclear relations during this period and the significance of the bilateral 1958 agreement on nuclear cooperation. See, for example, Jan Melissen, The Struggle for Nuclear Partnership: Britain, the United States, and the Making of an Ambiguous Alliance, 1952–59 (Groningen: Styx, 1993); Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 77–106; John Baylis, “The 1958 Anglo-American Mutual Defence Agreement: The Search for Nuclear Interdependence,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3 (June 2008), pp. 425–466; and Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 96–149.


On the French nuclear program, see Wilfrid Kohl, French Nuclear Diplomacy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971); Colette Barbier, “The French Decision to Develop a Military Nuclear Programme in the 1950s,” Diplomacy and Statecraft, Vol. 4, No. 1 (March 1993), pp. 103–113; and Beatrice Heuser, NATO, Britain, France and the FRG: Nuclear Strategies and Forces for Europe, 1949–2000 (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1999), pp. 93–123.


For a cogent expression of this view, see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945–1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), pp. 230–238, 284–286.


The original and classic study covering the nuclear sharing issue in NATO—although now overtaken by the release of new documentary sources—is John D. Steinbruner, The Cybernetic Theory of Decision: New Dimensions of Political Analysis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974). See also the analysis in Trachtenberg, Constructed Peace, pp. 193–220, 310–314. For a good summary, see Lawrence S. Kaplan, “The MLF Debate,” in Douglas Brinkley and Richard T. Griffiths, eds., John F. Kennedy and Europe (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999), pp. 51–65. For critical British perspectives, see Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 227–235. On German nuclear ambitions, see Catherine M. Kelleher, Germany and the Politics of Nuclear Weapons (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975); and Matthias Kuntzel, Bonn and the Bomb: German Politics and the Nuclear Option (London: Pluto Press, 1995).


See Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 251–296.


See, for example, Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, p. 207. However, the provision of a considerable number of U.S. nuclear weapons to the V-bomber force under Project E (at least up to 1962) has been seen as a strong check on operational independence because U.S. custody was maintained over the bombs concerned at Royal Air Force bases in the UK. See Justin Bronk, “Britain's ‘Independent’ V-Bomber Force and U.S. Nuclear Weapons, 1957–1962,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 37, Nos. 6–7 (December 2014), pp. 974–997.


Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 364–366.


L. J. Sabatini Minute, 22 June 1962, in DEFE 7/2396, The National Archives of the United Kingdom (TNAUK).


Frank Costigliola, “The Failed Design: Kennedy, De Gaulle, and the Struggle for Europe,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 8, No. 3 (July 1984), p. 230.


See, in general, Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 297–301.


“Policy Directive: NATO and the Atlantic Nations,” 20 April 1961, in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII: West Europe and Canada (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994), p. 289 (hereinafter referred to as FRUS, with appropriate year and volume numbers). For further background, see Douglas Brinkley, Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, 1953–71 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 117–124.


“Address before the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa,” 17 May 1961, in Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1962), p. 385.


Statement on Defence, 1962: The Next Five Years, February 1962, Paragraph 13, Cmnd. 1639, and copy in C(62)23, “Defence White Paper, 1962,” note by the Minister of Defence, 9 February 1962, in CAB 129/108, TNAUK.


Kennedy to Macmillan, 16 February 1962, in PREM 11/3711, TNAUK; copy also in “Telegram from Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom,” 16 February 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII, pp. 1059–1061. See also Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, p. 849.


Macmillan to Kennedy, T.79/62, 23 February 1962, in PREM 11/4052, TNAUK.




Ibid. This episode is also detailed in Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 332–323.


See, for example, Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 241–245. For the overall subject of Anglo-U.S.-French nuclear relations in this period, indispensable is Constantine Pagedas, Anglo-American Strategic Relations and the French Problem, 1960–1963: A Troubled Partnership (London: Frank Cass, 2000).


Macmillan to Kennedy, T.247/61, 28 April 1961, and attached “Memorandum” with “Annex III: Nuclear,” in PREM 11/3319, TNAUK.


Ibid. See Macmillan's own account of this episode in his memoir, Pointing the Way, 1959–61 (London: Macmillan, 1972), pp. 354–355.


Kennedy to Macmillan, T.261A/61, 8 May 1961, in PREM 11/3319, TNAUK.




Bundy Memorandum for Kennedy, “Action on Nuclear Assistance to France,” 7 May 1962, in President's Office Files (POF), Box 116A, John F. Kennedy Library (JFKL).


“Diary Entry for 22 February 1962,” in C. L. Sulzberger, The Last of the Giants (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970), p. 847.


Bundy Memorandum for Kennedy, “Ambassador Gavin's Visit,” 28 February 1962, in POF, Box 116A, JFKL.




“Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in France,” 29 November 1961, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII, pp. 678–679. Two months later the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Glenn Seaborg, was given a message reminding him that denial of U.S. nuclear assistance to France was White House policy and had been personally approved by Kennedy. See McGeorge Bundy to Seaborg, 8 January 1962, in “NATO: Weapons: France” Folder, National Security File (NSF), Box 225, JFKL.


Kennedy to de Gaulle, 31 December 1961, contained in “Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in France,” 1 January 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIV, p. 718.






De Gaulle to Kennedy, 11 January 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. 14, p. 749.


See, for example, Gavin to Kennedy, 9 March 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII, pp. 687–688. On the overall state of Franco-American relations during this period, see Erin Mahan, Kennedy, de Gaulle and Western Europe (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); and Sebastian Reyn, Atlantis Lost: The American Experience with de Gaulle, 1958–1969 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010), esp. pp. 141–144.


“Action on Nuclear Assistance to France,” 7 May 1962. According to Sulzberger, Taylor received a positive answer when he asked French officials whether they would cooperate with a NATO nuclear force if they were given U.S. nuclear systems. See “Diary Entry for 20 March 1962,” in Last of the Giants, p. 859.


For some of the background, see John Newhouse, De Gaulle and the Anglo-Saxons (London: Andre Deutsch, 1970), pp. 153–157; Costigliola, “The Failed Design,” p. 242; Paul H. Nitze, From Hiroshima to Glasnost: At the Center of Decision (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989), p. 211; Pascaline Winand, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the United States of Europe (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1993), pp. 231–232; and Kaplan, Landa, and Drea, McNamara Ascendancy, pp. 371–372.


Nitze Memorandum for Bundy, “The French Nuclear Problem,” 27 February 1962, in Folder 14, Box 221, Paul H. Nitze Papers, Library of Congress.




See telephone message from Mr. Kohler to Messrs. Nitze and Gilpatric, 9 March 1962; and Ball to McNamara, 10 March 1962, both in “NATO: Weapons: France” Folder, NSF, Box 225, JFKL.


Department of State Memorandum for Kennedy, “Nuclear Aid to France,” 9 March 1962, in “NATO: Weapons: France” Folder, NSF, Box 225, JFKL.




For a story that particularly irritated Kennedy, see Robert C. Doty, “U.S.-French Strain Laid to Paris Plan for Nuclear Force,” The New York Times, 27 February 1962, p. 1. For Kennedy's reaction to such stories emanating from French sources, see “Telegram from Embassy in France to Department of State,” 9 March 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII, pp. 685–686.


Gilpatric to George Ball, 16 March 1962, in “NATO: Weapons: France” Folder, NSF, Box 225, JFKL.


See Trachtenberg, Constructed Peace, pp. 338–339.


“Minutes of Meeting,” 16 April 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII, pp. 377–380.








Ibid. See also Kaplan, Landa, and Drea, McNamara Ascendancy, pp. 393–396; and Kohl, French Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 211–221.


NSAM 148, “Guidance on U.S. Nuclear Assistance to France,” 18 April 1962, in “NSAM 148” Folder, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSF, Box 336, JFKL.


“Action on Nuclear Assistance to France,” 7 May 1962.




For this general argument, see also Pagedas, A Troubled Partnership, pp. 198–199, 203–205.


“Bundy Memorandum for Kennedy,” 24 April 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII, p. 1069.


“Note of a Conversation at Luncheon at the State Department on 28th April 1962,” in CAB 133/300, TNAUK.




Evelyn Shuckburgh Note of Conversation, 19 April 1962, in DEFE 7/2144 and DEFE 7/2278, TNAUK.


See PM(W)(62)2nd Meeting, “Record of a Meeting Held at the White House on Saturday, 28th April 1962 at 3.30 p.m.,” in CAB 133/246, TNAUK; and “Record of a Conversation in the British Embassy, Washington, on Sunday 29th April 1962, at 11.30 a.m.,” in CAB 133/300, TNAUK. Full records can also be found in PREM 11/3722, TNAUK.




“Bundy Memorandum for Kennedy,” 24 April 1962, p. 1068.


Foreign Office (FO) Telegram No. 4309 to Washington, 14 June 1962, in PREM 11/3715, TNAUK; and Bligh Minute for Macmillan, “MRBMs for NATO,” 15 June 1962, in PREM 11/3715, TNAUK.


De Zulueta Minute for Bligh, 27 February 1962, in PREM 11/3716, TNAUK.


“Nuclear Weapons in Western Defense: Address by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, Ann Arbor, June 16, 1962,” in Richard B. Stebbins, ed., Documents on American Foreign Relations, 1962 (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), pp. 230–236. Excerpts can also be found in Kaufmann, McNamara Strategy, pp. 114–117.


Stebbins, ed., Documents on American Foreign Relations, p. 232.


Ibid., p. 233.










McNamara Speech to NATO Council, Athens, 5 May 1962, reproduced in Philip Bobbitt, Lawrence Freedman, and Gregory F. Treverton, eds., US Nuclear Strategy: A Reader (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 205–222. The speech (full version) can also be found in “Ministerial Meetings of the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Athens, May 4–6, 1962: Volume II, Military Questions,” in PREM 11/3722, TNAUK.


“McNamara Speech to NATO Council, Athens.”


See William Burr, “The Nixon Administration, the ‘Horror Strategy,’ and the Search for Limited Nuclear Options, 1969–1972: Prelude to the Schlesinger Doctrine,” Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer 2005), pp. 34–78.


See the persuasive evidence cited in Trachtenberg, Constructed Peace, pp. 315–321.


See Kaplan, Landa, and Drea, McNamara Ascendancy, pp. 305–306. See also Freedman, Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, pp. 273–287.


Presidential News Conference, 17 May 1962, in Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1963), p. 402.


“Action on Nuclear Assistance to France,” 7 May 1962.




“Kohler Memorandum for Rusk,” 24 May 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII, pp. 1073–1076.




Bundy to Raymond Aron, 24 May 1962, in “NATO: Weapons: France: Eight Questions” Folder, NSF, Box 226, JFKL.




See Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 326–327; and Kaplan, Landa, and Drea, McNamara Ascendancy, pp. 308–309. Several writers have examined precise authorship of the speech. Adam Yarmolinsky evidently produced an initial draft and Daniel Ellsberg then reworked parts of it.See Shapley, Promise and Power, pp. 141–145; and Kaplan, Wizards of Armageddon, p. 285. See also the important recollections in Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (Bloomsbury: London, 2017), pp. 178–185.


Bundy Memorandum for Kennedy, 1 June 1962.








Bundy Memorandum for Kennedy, 7 June 1962, in DNSA, Document ID: 1679124448.




Office of the Secretary of Defense, Historical Office, “Oral History Transcripts: William Kaufmann,” 14 July 1986, pp. 19–20, https://history.defense.gov/Portals/70/Documents/oral_history/OH_Trans_KaufmannWilliam7-14-1986.pdf.


Harold Macmillan, At the End of the Day, 1961–63 (London: Macmillan, 1973), pp. 334, 341.


See, for example, Macmillan to Kennedy, T.284/62, 5 June 1962, in PREM 11/3775, TNAUK.


Macmillan Message to Ormsby Gore, 29 May 1962, in PREM 11/3712, TNAUK.


“Extract from a Conversation Between the Prime Minister and President de Gaulle Which Began at 10.30 a.m. on Sunday, June 3, 1962,” in PREM 11/3775, TNAUK. See also, Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 337–338.


“Diary Entry, 19 June 1962,” as quoted in Macmillan, At the End of the Day, p. 335.


Stebbins, Documents on American Foreign Relations, p. 233.


“Nuclear Shock for Britain: Kennedy's Switch Means End of the Independent Deterrent,” Daily Mail (London), 18 June 1962, p. 1. For the Daily Express quotation, see Nils A. Lennartson Memorandum for the Record, 18 June 1962, in DNSA, Document ID: 1679127679. From the liberal side of the political spectrum, see “Washington Champions National Unity: Dangers of National Nuclear Efforts Stressed,” The Guardian (London), 18 June 1962, p. 9.


“America Sets Out Nuclear Policy Principles,” The Times (London), 18 June 1962, p. 12. British reactions are also examined in Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 334–337.


See Anthony Verrier, “The Watkinson Scandal,” The New Statesman, Vol. 63, No. 1630 (8 June 1962), pp. 822–824; and Watkinson Minute for Macmillan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 18 June 1962, in PREM 11/3709, TNAUK.










See Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence, pp. 258–259, 433–434; Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 129–138; Stephen Twigge and Len Scott, Planning Armageddon: Britain, the United States and the Command of Western Nuclear Forces, 1945–1964 (London: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000), pp. 70–71; and Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 51–54. The key document here on UK national policy is COS(57)224, “Strategic Target Policy for Bomber Command,” 16 October 1957, in AIR 8/2201, TNAUK.


FO Telegram No. 1637 to Paris, Home Personal for Rusk, 19 June 1962, in PREM 11/3709, TNAUK.




Ibid. See also Drew Middleton, “Tories Pressed on Atom Policy: Speech by McNamara Adds Fuel to Opposition Attack,” The New York Times, 19 June 1962, p. 2.


FO Guidance Telegram No. 245, “Nuclear Strategy,” 18 June 1962, in DEFE 7/2396, TNAUK.




Watkinson to Carleton Green, 20 June 1962, in DEFE 7/2396, TNAUK.


Lennartson Memorandum for the Record, 18 June 1962, in DNSA, Document ID: 1679127679.




Lennartson Memorandum for McNamara, 19 June 1962, in DNSA, Document ID: 1679111234.


“Mr McNamara Not Opposed to British Nuclear Force,” The Times, 20 June 1962, p. 11.


Washington Telegram No. 1656 to Foreign Office, 22 June 1962, in PREM 11/3709, TNAUK.




Macmillan Minute for Watkinson, “British Deterrent,” M.175/62, 24 June 1962, in PREM 11/3709, TNAUK; emphasis in original.


“Britain's Nuclear Targets Agreed with U.S.: Minister Says Right to Act Alone Is Unchallenged,” The Times, 23 June 1962, p. 8.








See Washington Telegram No. 1667 to FO, 23 June 1962, in PREM 11/3709, TNAUK; and “McNamara Says U.S. and Britain Have Joint Nuclear-Strike Plans: Reveals Target Coordination as He Clarifies Intent of Ann Arbor Speech,” The New York Times, 24 June 1962, p. 5.


Washington Telegram No. 1667 to FO, 23 June 1962.


Harold N. Margolis Memorandum for Lennartson, 29 June 1962, in DNSA, Document ID: 1679127300.






Kennedy Memorandum for Rusk and McNamara, Untitled, 25 May 1962, in “NATO: Weapons: France: Eight Questions” Folder, NSF, Box 226, JFKL.


McNamara Memorandum for Kennedy, “Answers to Eight Questions re European Nuclear Matters,” 16 June 1962, in Folder 14, Box 221, Nitze Papers, Library of Congress. Another copy of this memorandum can be found in partially redacted form in “NATO: Weapons: France: Eight Questions” Folder, NSF, Box 226, JFKL. The copy in the Nitze papers has no redactions. The memorandum was prepared by Henry Rowen, the deputy assistant secretary for international security affairs, under Nitze's supervision.






























Robert C. Doty, “French Shrug Off U.S. Attack on Nuclear Arms,” The New York Times, 19 June 1962, p. 2.


Paris Telegram No. 232 Saving to FO, 22 June 1962, in PREM 11/3709, TNAUK.




Rusk Telegram to Department of State, 20 June 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. 13, pp. 723–724.




Drew Middleton, “Rusk Consults Macmillan On European Atom Force,” The New York Times, 25 June 1962, p. 1.


Air Chief Marshal Sir George Mills to Mountbatten, 6 July 1962, in DEFE 7/2396, TNAUK.


Macmillan Minute for Home, M.168/62, 24 June 1962, in PREM 11/3715, TNAUK.


See Paris Telegram No. 276 to FO, Dixon Personal for Home, 19 June 1962, in PREM 11/3709, TNAUK.


Record of a Meeting Held at the Foreign Office at 11 a.m. on June 25, 1962, in PREM 11/3715, TNAUK.






Memorandum of Conversation, 25 June 1962, in “Role of the UK Nuclear Deterrent,” Executive Secretariat Conference Files, 1949–1972, Box 391, CF 2163 Secretary's European Trip, June 18–28, 1962 MemCons, Record Group 59, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. I am indebted to William Burr for supplying this document and the source reference.








Hansard Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, Vol. 661, Cols. 954–960, 26 June 1962, https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/sittings/1962/jun/26.










Ibid. See also Drew Middleton, “Macmillan Says Britain Will Keep Atom Force,” The New York Times, 27 June 1962, p. 6; “Britain to Keep Her Independent Deterrent,” The Times, 27 June 1962, p. 9; and Kohl, French Nuclear Diplomacy, p. 325.


Ministry of Defence Minute, “Minister of Defence's Visit to the United States, September 1962: Skybolt,” 19 September 1962, in DEFE 13/323, TNAUK.


Ministry of Defence Minute, “Notes on Talks during the Minister of Defence's Visit to the United States, September 1962: Nuclear Problems in Europe,” 19 September 1962, in DEFE 13/323, TNAUK.


See Watkinson Minute for Macmillan, “Visit to the United States 9th to 17th September, 1962,” 18 September 1962, in DEFE 13/323, TNAUK.


Rusk to McNamara, 8 September 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. 13, pp. 1078–1080. Copies of this letter also went to Bundy and Seaborg at the Atomic Energy Commission.








Kaplan, Landa, and Drea, McNamara Ascendancy, pp. 379–381; and Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 349–350.


See, for example, Thorneycroft Minute for Home, “Skybolt,” 8 November 1962, in PREM 11/3716, TNAUK.


Rusk to McNamara, 24 November 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. XIII, pp. 1086–1088.


A point made in Kaplan, Landa, and Drea, McNamara Ascendancy, p. 382.


“Last Conversation with the President before NATO Meeting of December 1962,” 10 December 1962, in U.S. Declassified Documents Online, Document No. GALE|CK2349015040, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/6pC665.


See MM(62)30, “Record of a Meeting between the Minister of Defence and the U.S. Secretary of Defense on Tuesday 11th December 1962,” in DEFE 7/2145, TNAUK. See also the analysis offered in de Zulueta to Ormsby Gore, 11 December 1962, in PREM 11/3716, TNAUK. Other accounts of this meeting can be found in Solly Zuckerman, Monkeys, Men and Missiles: An Autobiography, 1946–88 (London: Collins, 1988), pp. 249–252; and Neustadt, Report to JFK, pp. 69–76.


John Rubel Notes, “Memcon, McNamara-Thorneycroft, 11 December 1962,” in U.S. Declassified Documents Online, Document No. GALE|CK2349078274, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/6pBj95.


For accounts of Nassau, see Jan Melissen, “Pre-Summit Diplomacy: Britain, the United States and the Nassau Conference, December 1962,” Diplomacy and Statecraft, Vol. 7, No. 3 (November 1996), pp. 652–687; Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 412–421; Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence, pp. 320–326; and Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 372–401.


“Record of a Meeting Held at Bali-Hai, the Bahamas, at 9.50 a.m. on Wednesday, December 19, 1962,” WP2/2/G, in FO 371/173292, TNAUK; “Memorandum of Conversation,” 19 December 1962, in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. 13, pp. 1091–1101; and Cmnd. 1915, “Statement on Nuclear Defence Systems, 21 December 1962,” in Bahamas Meetings, December 1962: Texts of Joint Communiques (London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1962).


See Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 428–434, 494–531.


For the MLF see Alastair Buchan, “The Multilateral Force: A Study in Alliance Politics,” International Affairs, Vol. 40, No. 4 (October 1964), pp. 619–637; David N. Schwartz, NATO's Nuclear Dilemmas (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1983), pp. 82–135; and Murray, Kennedy, Macmillan and Nuclear Weapons, p. 124.


See Neustadt, Report to JFK, p. 107; and the discussion in N. Piers Ludlow, Dealing with Britain: The Six and the First UK Application to the EEC (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 206–211.


See Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, pp. 865–866; Winand, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the United States of Europe, pp. 320–323; and Neustadt, Report to JFK, pp. 97–102.


See Mountbatten Memorandum for Lemnitzer, “Assignment of V-Bombers,” 23 May 1963, in DEFE 25/250, TNAUK. For the final communiqué outlining the plans for assignment of forces to SACEUR, see Ottawa Telegram No. Codel NATO 42 to FO, 24 May 1963, in PREM 11/4162, TNAUK; and Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 497–498.


Ormsby Gore to Thorneycroft, 27 July 1962, in DEFE 13/336, TNAUK.


See, for example, Nassau Telegram No. Codel 44 to FO, 21 December 1962, in PREM 11/4147, TNAUK.


See Kaplan, Landa, and Drea, McNamara Ascendancy, pp. 405–420. This did not mean that after Nassau McNamara was not concerned to drive a hard bargain with the British over payment of full and proportionate research and development costs associated with supply of the latest Polaris A3 missile, an issue on which he was overruled by Kennedy in January 1963 (leading to the payment of a simple 5 percent surcharge on the cost of each missile instead). See Jones, V-Bomber Era to the Arrival of Polaris, pp. 416–423.


See Matthew Jones, The Official History of the UK Strategic Nuclear Deterrent, Vol. 2: The Labour Government and the Polaris Programme, 1964–1970 (London: Routledge, 2017), pp. 271–273.


“Comments by the President at a Background Press Briefing Conference, Palm Beach, December 31, 1962,” in Richard P. Stebbins, ed., Documents on American Foreign Relations, 1962 (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 247.


“Memorandum of Conversation in the President's Office, 18 February 1963,” in U.S. Declassified Documents Online, Document No. GALE|CK2349487351, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/6mFQK7.


See Marc Trachtenberg, “The French Factor in U.S. Foreign Policy during the Nixon-Pompidou Period,” in The Cold War and After: History, Theory and the Logic of International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), pp. 183–243; and Francis J. Gavin, “Nuclear Nixon: Ironies, Puzzles and the Triumph of Realpolitik,” in Fredrik Logevall and Andrew Preston, eds., Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969–1977 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 126–145.