‘Expensive, prone to obsolescence, and lacking in credibility as a deterrent’: US attitudes to the UK’s independent nuclear capabilities, and McNamara’s Ann Arbor speech of June 1962 revisited

Tuesday, April 5, 2016
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305
  • Matthew Jones

Abstract: On 13 February 2016, in a widely-reported interview for the BBC, Ashton Carter, the US Secretary of Defense, made clear that the US Government supported the maintenance and renewal of Britain’s strategic nuclear deterrent force of Trident submarines.  According to Carter, Trident enabled Britain to ‘continue to play that outsized role on the world stage that it does because of its moral standing and its historical standing.’  However, during the early 1960s, attitudes in Washington to the UK’s independent nuclear capabilities were altogether different.  This paper will begin with a re-examination of Robert McNamara’s famous address at Ann Arbor in June 1962 when he openly criticised the existence of independent allied nuclear forces.  Using new evidence, it will chart the background to the speech, the reception it was accorded, and how it helped to intensify tensions in Anglo-American relations when the Skybolt missile system was cancelled by the US at the end of the same year.  The paper will also show how by the end of the Johnson administration, and the tenure of McNamara’s period as Secretary of Defense, the US had become reconciled to the continued existence of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent and even begun to take steps to assist with its improvement.  

About the Speaker: Matthew Jones is Professor of International History, London School of Economics and Political Science. After receiving his DPhil from St Antony's College, Oxford, he was appointed to a Lectureship in the History Department at Royal Holloway, University of London in 1994, and subsequently promoted to Reader in International History before moving to the University of Nottingham in 2004, and then to the LSE in 2013.  His interests span post-war British and US foreign policy, nuclear history, and the histories of empire and decolonization in South East Asia.  His books include Britain, the United States and the Mediterranean War, 1942-44 (Macmillan, 1996), Conflict and Confrontation in South East Asia, 1961-1965: Britain, the United States, Indonesia, and the Creation of Malaysia (Cambridge University Press, 2002), and After Hiroshima: The United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945-1965, (CUP, 2010).   In 2008, Jones was commissioned by the Cabinet Office to write a two-volume official history of the UK strategic nuclear deterrent, covering the period between 1945 and 1982, the first volume of which has now been completed.