A Letter from London. Cheerless stock-taking: Girilal Jain

After the Christmas effervescence follows the inevitable annual stock-taking. So great has been the shock of events that even during the Christmas holidays the British people could not completely shut out uncomfortable thoughts about their place and role in the world. This question was forced into the open by the controversy over the American Skybolt missile. The subsequent agreement between President Kennedy and Prime Minister Macmillan under which the former agreed to provide Polaris missiles to Britain under certain conditions has not stilled the doubts that the country can no longer claim either to be an independent nuclear power or to have special relations with the United States.

There is no question that the British are smarting under the blows they have received in 1962. The worst of these blows have come from Brussels and Washington. As the year has been drawing to a close the Brussels negotiations for Britain’s admission to the European Economic Community have been getting tougher and tougher. Gone is the dream that once a member, this country with its long and unbroken tradition of democracy and experience of international relations, would be able to take over the leadership of Western Europe and serve as a bridge between it and the Commonwealth. The French have shown the British negotiators their place. Now President Kennedy has delivered the final blow by offering to France Polaris missiles on the same terms as to Britain and thus equating the two countries in their relations with America.


In their attachment to fond illusions the British policy-makers paid little attention to the revolution in American policy in 1962. When the American Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Robert McNamara, spoke a couple of months ago of how useless and dangerous small national nuclear deterrents were they convinced themselves that this did not apply to their bomber force. When he outlined his concept of second strike capability they missed the essential point that in the American view the bomber forces, British as well as their own, were about to lose their importance in favour of ballistic missiles. When President Kennedy acted over Cuba without prior consultation with his allies the British Government studiously avoided facing the fact that it meant the end of the myth of equality among members of the western alliance. The process of painful but necessary adjustment has been initiated with the Nassau agreement between President Kennedy and Mr. Macmillan. In that sense the agreement could well come to be regarded a landmark.

But for its ostrich-like behaviour the British Government should not have been taken by surprise either by the tough French attitude at the Brussels negotiations or the recent unfolding of American policies. The French never made a secret of their view that they conceived and developed the European Economic Community with the principal objective of finding a fully protected market for their agricultural surpluses and as such there could be no place for Britain in it unless she was prepared to stop cheap food imports from the older Commonwealth countries. Since General dc Gaulle’s return to power it has been equally obvious that France regarded herself as the leading power in Europe. Similarly since Mr. Kennedy came to occupy the White House the Americans have made no secret of their resolve to assert their leadership in the western alliance.

America’s opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons within the western alliance has to be seen in the context of this firm determination to assert their leadership. This is not to imply that the arguments they have advanced in support of their opposition to independent national deterrents are not convincing. They are in fact unanswerable. It is incontestable that they alone can provide a credible deterrent against Russia. But an equally fundamental fact is that the American leaders have come to the same conclusion as the men in the Kremlin, that is, their countries are the only two super powers in the world and they alone can and will decide whether mankind is to be allowed to live or be annihilated.


Cuba was a godsend for President Kennedy and his new frontiersmen. They were able to demonstrate their capacity to handle a critical situation with breathtaking firmness. Through the demonstration of their power and courage they established their right to the leadership of the western world. This was followed by the assertion of this right in the form of the intimation to the British Government that the Skybolt missile on which depended the future of its bomber force was to be scrapped.

It is, of course, true that the decision reflected the change in American strategy. With the arrival of the Minuteman and Polaris missiles America is in a position to absorb a Russian nuclear attack and still retaliate effectively. This is the meaning of second strike capability. This implies that American strategy no longer hinges on the ability to strike first at Russia. The downgrading of the strategic bomber command must follow the development of the second strike capability.

Under the Nassau agreement it is stipulated that the British nuclear force “will be used for the purpose of international defence of the western alliance in all circumstances.” This clearly means the end of the independent deterrent. President Kennedy agreed that Britain is entitled to use this force in the defence of “supreme national interests.” To leave no scope for doubt American officials have let it be known that the use of this force in a situation like that which arose over Suez in 1956 or Kuwait last year would be contrary to the agreement even if the Soviet Union threatened to intervene. Mr. Macmillan and his Defence Minister, Mr. Thorneycroft, insist that this American interpretation is not correct. Only not many people here accept their word for what it is.

As in international relations 1962 has been a year of surprises and shocks at home. Orpington is no more just the name of a town. It stands for a political phenomenon – the revolt of the lower middle class against both the Conservative and Labour parties and the revival of the Liberal party. While the Labour party has maintained its support among the working class the Conservative party continues to lose votes to the Liberals.

The steady rise in unemployment continues. The figure of nearly 600,000 is the highest for many years and it is feared that it will touch three-quarters of a million in the coming months. The problem of unemployment is particularly acute in Northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and denotes the decline of old and established industries like steel and ship-building. Consumer industries have tended to get concentrated in Southern England and the Midlands largely on account of the availability of a big market in London. The problem is becoming so grave that the North and South are being described as two nations and The Economist has seriously suggested that the nation’s capital be shifted to some place in the North to act as a corrective to lop-sided development.

In this rather bleak year the Chinese invasion of India presented the British Government and people a great opportunity to impart a fresh vitality to the Commonwealth idea and to give wider content to the concept of their leadership of this unique multi-racial association. At one stage it appeared as if the opportunity was being seized. Hopes ran high in the first part of November when the Labour shadow foreign Secretary, Mr. Harold Wilson, pleaded for massive arms aid to India on a lend-lease basis and the Lord Privy Seal, Mr. Edward Heath, said that Mr. Nehru had only to agree to accept such an offer. Unfortunately the hope has not been fulfilled and the opportunity considerably whittled down.

False Step

The first false step was taken when the Commonwealth Secretary, Mr. Duncan Sandys, virtually forced Mr. Nehru to agree to talks with Pakistan over Kashmir under “the implied threat to hold back western military supplies unless India settled with Pakistan.” The quotation is from a despatch in The Times. The second false step was to state in the agreement with India that British military aid would be subject to a limit. Since aid is never unlimited, this stipulation led to the inference that the limit would be fairly low. The Sunday Times has put the figure of total aid America and the Commonwealth (mostly Britain) would give to India at £45 million. This is about the amount Pakistan gets annually under the defence support programme from America, hardware is separate. As far as the press is concerned the point has been reached where it is made to appear as if all of India’s difficulties have resulted from her “cussedness” over Kashmir. The Chinese aggression is almost forgotten.

The Times of India, 29 December 1962

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