25 Jun 2008 00:00:00.000
A highly secret British project to maintain the nation's ability to launch a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union is the subject of a new official history to be written by a University of Nottingham academic.
Chevaline was initiated in the early 1970s to maintain the credibility of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent against the USSR at the height of the Cold War. Kept secret by successive Conservative and Labour governments, and subject to much delay and many technical problems, it was eventually revealed to have cost over a billion pounds in public money, sparking a wave of public and parliamentary criticism.
Now a comprehensive history of the Chevaline programme is to be written by Professor Matthew Jones, of The University of Nottingham, following his appointment to the four-year project made in a written statement to Parliament by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
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As a Cabinet Office official historian, Professor Jones will have access to all relevant UK government documents, and will work on archival sources in the United States, as well as examining the private papers of key ministers and officials and carrying out interviews.
Professor Jones, of The University's Department of American and Canadian Studies, said: "This is a unique and exciting opportunity to investigate and compile the authoritative history of one of the most controversial programmes of post-war British defence policy.
"The project will cover such areas as Whitehall policymaking, Anglo-American relations, and the central issue of why successive British governments considered it essential to maintain an 'independent' nuclear deterrent and the steps they were prepared to take to ensure its credibility."
Chevaline was intended to improve the Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missiles procured from the United States as a result of the Nassau Agreement of 1962, between the American President, John F Kennedy, and the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. Improving Soviet anti-missile defences during the 1960s led British officials to doubt whether Polaris could fulfil its role of providing an independent nuclear deterrent, and after considering several alternatives, in the early 1970s the Conservative government led by Edward Heath began the formidable technological task of a Polaris improvement programme.
The need for a credible independent British deterrent grew out of the conclusion of several governments that in the event of a Soviet attack on Western Europe or even the UK alone - as had been threatened at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956 by Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin - it might be unrealistic to expect the USA to retaliate on Britain's behalf, and so risk the destruction of America's own cities. Hence a series of post-war governments maintained that Britain had to have the ability to strike back independently, without relying on the American nuclear arsenal.
This is a unique and exciting opportunity to investigate and compile the authoritative history of one of the most controversial programmes of post-war British defence policy.
Professor Matthew Jones
Department of American and Canadian Studies
However, soon after it was begun, the Chevaline programme ran into major difficulties, leading to sharp increases in cost and delays before its final deployment in 1982. Having been kept secret through a succession of UK governments, the revelation of Chevaline's existence by the Thatcher government in 1980, as Britain prepared to secure its next generation nuclear deterrent through the purchase of Trident from the United States, prompted public and parliamentary criticism of poor management and lack of accountability in the Ministry of Defence, as final expenditures soared to over £1 billion. The Chevaline programme raises many controversial issues, including why it survived the sustained pressures on defence spending in the 1970s, the changing requirements of deterrence, and accountability and secrecy in government, and these are all questions which the commissioned history will aim to address.
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 70 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
It provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation - School of Pharmacy).
Its students are much in demand from 'blue-chip' employers. Winners of Students in Free Enterprise for four years in succession, and current holder of UK Graduate of the Year, they are accomplished artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and fundraisers. Nottingham graduates consistently excel in business, the media, the arts and sport. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree completion rates are amongst the highest in the United Kingdom.