Thursday, July 19, 2018

Considering Britain's Military Drawdown After 1945

Looking into the historians' debate on British decline I was struck by the coverage of the country's military drawdown between World War II and the 1970s, when it turned from dominant power and global military superpower into a regional military actor with some residual out-of-area commitments and capabilities, but in most ways, roughly on par with other industrialized states of the same size (of which there are several in its neighborhood alone). Some parts of the story are fairly well-covered in the literature, like the development of Britain's nuclear deterrent, and some of the other aspects of the story have at least been the subject of some solid books, like Eric Grove's study of the post-war British navy, From Vanguard to Trident (reviewed here). Still, there was little about the period compared with other phases of British military history, what there was of substance usually narrowly specialist stuff, and I sought in vain for really concise, really comprehensive pieces about the whole process, or even many portions of it. (Because of its connection with the nuclear deterrent there was a fair amount on, for example, the V-bomber force; but try finding anything comparable on the post-war Fighter Command, let alone Transport Command.)

While the comparative scanty and uneven nature of the coverage of a fairly important bit of history is unfortunate, it is unsurprising given the biases of military historians that Jeremy Black described so well in his book on the subject. Ultimately I wound up forming my picture of what went on from scattered bits. And as I had previously written about the country's economy I wound up consolidating them into new writing, which it seemed worthwhile to post up at SSRN given the scarcity of detailed material.

Apart from the more military-related bits in my long "Geography, Technology and the Flux of Opportunity" (overall, more concerned with economics than defense) I have completed four pieces:

"The Evolution of Britain's Defense Posture, 1945-1979."

"The Restructuring of the British Navy, 1945-1979."

"The Evolution of the British Carrier Force, 1945-1979."

"Foundations of Semi-Superpower Status: Financing Britain's Defense Posture, 1945-1971."

The first paper, "Evolution," considers the country's overall posture as it developed phase by phase between 1945 and 1979. The following two consider the British navy (the funding and manning of the forces, their mission and distribution around the world, the key changes in their technology), "Restructuring" its overall development in the 1945-1979 period, while "Carrier Force" (naturally) focuses more tightly on its carrier force during the same years. The last, "Foundations," considers how Britain's posture was resourced.

Having gone through all that, I find myself less concerned with putting together a picture of British policy in that earlier period; and for that matter, the ways the issue echoed in British culture at the time; and more interested in relating it to what we are seeing now. A half century ago Britain decided to give up the global military aspirations, deeming carriers, "east of Suez" forces and the rest unaffordable and focusing on Europe. Now Britain is exiting the EU, commissioning supercarriers, and once again, getting a base "east of Suez" (in Bahrain, where it had a base until 1971). Any thoughts about all that?

"Geography, Technology and the Flux of Opportunity"
Review: Vanguard to Trident: British Naval Policy Since World War II, by Eric J. Grove
The Cult of Ian Fleming
Review: Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)

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