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Military Nuclear Relations between the United States and Great Britain under the Terms of the McMahon Act, 1946-1958

S. J. Ball
The Historical Journal
Vol. 38, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 439-454
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2639991
Page Count: 16
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Military Nuclear Relations between the United States and Great Britain under the Terms of the McMahon Act, 1946-1958
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Abstract

This article takes a fresh look at Anglo-American nuclear relations between 1946 and 1958. It concentrates on the relationship between the military establishments of the two countries in general and the ties between the United States air force and the Royal Air Force in particular. The article argues that an understanding of military relations is essential for an understanding of the high politics of the nuclear relationship. It is shown that senior officers in the armed services were the main `functional elite' dealing with nuclear delivery systems and the planning for their use. Relations between these groups were personally and institutionally close and on the whole cordial. In Britain the link sustained optimism about the possibility of close nuclear co-operation in the 1940s and early 1950s and suppressed fears about the loss of nuclear independence in the late 1950s. In the United States it was recognized that military relations were an important channel through which to influence British nuclear policy. The article offers accounts, based on new archival research, of the nuclear aspect of the October 1947 Pentagon talks on the Middle East, Churchill's visit to the United States in January 1952 and the first Anglo-American joint nuclear targeting agreement - the Wilson/Alexander agreement of 12 March 1954. It reveals for the first time details of Plans E and X which equipped the RAF with American atomic and thermonuclear weapons between 1955 and 1958. The article concludes that the British nuclear force was becoming subordinated to the United States even before negotiations about Thor, Skybolt and Polaris missiles became central to the relationship.

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