The UK Strategic Nuclear Deterrent and the Chevaline Program: An Overview



Matthew Jones, London School of Economics and Political Science

Date and Time

March 10, 2015 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM


Encina Hall (2nd floor)

Abstract: Chevaline was the codename given to a highly-secret program begun in 1970 to improve the performance of the UK's force of Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missiles in order to give them the capability to overcome Soviet ABM defenses deployed around Moscow. After much technical difficulty, delays in project timescale and cost escalation the new system was finally introduced in 1982, but it had already attracted major criticism for the expenditure involved, claims of project mismanagement, the rationale that underpinned its development, and its concealment from proper parliamentary scrutiny. This lecture will explore the background to the program, why it ran into so many problems, and how it became one of the most controversial episodes in post-war British defense policy. An understanding of the problems confronted by the attempt to improve Polaris illuminates a number of key themes and issues that are of relevance to policymakers concerned with strategic weapons programs and project management.

About the Speaker: Matthew Jones’ current research focuses on British nuclear history during the Cold War. He has also written on many different aspects of US and British foreign and defense policy in the 20th century, and has a long-standing interest in empire and decolonization in South East Asia. Jones’ first book, Britain, the United States and the Mediterranean War, 1942-44 (Macmillan, 1996), examined strains in the Anglo-American relationship by strategic issues and command problems in the Mediterranean theater. His book, Conflict and Confrontation in South East Asia, 1961-1965: Britain, the United States, Indonesia, and the Creation of Malaysia (Cambridge University Press, 2002), looks at the federation of Malaysia during British decolonization in the early 1960s. After Hiroshima: The United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945-1965 (Cambridge University Press, 2010) addresses US nuclear policies in Asia in the period of the Korean War, confrontation with China, and early engagement in Vietnam. His current project on UK nuclear policy encompasses the development of nuclear strategy within NATO, the Anglo-American nuclear relationship, and European responses to strategic arms control. In 2008, Jones was appointed by the Prime Minister to become the Cabinet Office official historian of the UK strategic nuclear deterrent and the Chevaline program, a commission that will lead to the publication of a two-volume official history exploring British nuclear policy between 1945 and 1982. Jones’s journal articles have appeared in Diplomatic History, Historical Journal, Journal of Cold War Studies, and English Historical Review. He gained his DPhil in Modern History at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, in 1992.