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How did the British nuclear deterrence policy evolve during the Cold War?

The British nuclear deterrence policy evolved from a position of independent deterrence to one of collective security under NATO during the Cold War.

In the early stages of the Cold War, Britain sought to develop its own nuclear deterrent. This was driven by a desire to maintain its status as a world power and to ensure its security in the face of the perceived Soviet threat. The UK became the third country to develop nuclear weapons, with its first successful test, Operation Hurricane, taking place in 1952. The British government believed that possessing nuclear weapons would provide a powerful deterrent against Soviet aggression and would give the UK a seat at the top table of international diplomacy.

However, the cost of developing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal was enormous. Furthermore, the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the late 1950s meant that the UK was within range of Soviet nuclear strikes, making the concept of an independent deterrent less credible. As a result, the UK began to shift its policy towards one of collective security under the umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

This shift was formalised in the 1962 Nassau Agreement, in which the US agreed to supply the UK with Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missiles. This allowed the UK to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent at a fraction of the cost of developing its own missile system. The UK's nuclear forces were also integrated into NATO's collective defence strategy, with the understanding that a nuclear attack on any NATO member would be considered an attack on all.

The end of the Cold War did not bring an end to the UK's commitment to nuclear deterrence. The UK replaced its Polaris submarines with Trident submarines in the 1990s, maintaining a continuous at-sea deterrent. The UK government continues to argue that nuclear weapons provide a necessary deterrent against potential threats, although this position is not without controversy.

In conclusion, the evolution of the British nuclear deterrence policy during the Cold War was marked by a shift from a position of independent deterrence to one of collective security under NATO. This shift was driven by the changing strategic landscape, the prohibitive cost of maintaining an independent nuclear arsenal, and the benefits of collective security.

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