chapter  IV
16 Pages

Britain's Defence Policy and NATO

One of the most persistent problems of post-war defence planning in Britain has been to determine the size and the nature of the military contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The difficulty arises in the main because Britain's involvement in NATO and her military commitments in other parts of the world have been very different and often incompatible. In NATO, Britain is bound by treaty to provide and maintain certain specified and substantial military forces, and also to relinquish some independence over their control. The interests her troops help to defend and the strategy they employ are decided by a collective process, in which Britain has by no means a controlling voice; nor is Britain's military contribution the most vital for the defence of NATO'S interests. Outside Europe, Britain has retained - if decreasingly so - military commitments that have been highly valued because they have been linked with Britain's imperial past, and because they have demonstrated an independent British world role. These commitments - in South-East Asia, the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere - have been more flexible than those towards NATO, but in the past have involved British troops in combat situations which have often demanded substantial reinforcement. Successive British governments have had to weigh the importance of a vital, but shared and interdependent, security interest in Europe against her more independent interests elsewhere, and they have had to decide how best to meet the constant and substantial military demands of the NATO commitment and the widely variable and more open-ended demands of her military commitments outside Europe. This essay seeks to examine the way in which involvement in NATO has affected formulation and the execution of British defence policy, and in particular to assess the extent to which the NATO commitment has come to dominate British defence thinking to the detriment of her traditional world role.