Britain Can't Be Defended In Atom War
"All the King's horses, all the King's men and all the King's scientists can't put the British Humpty Dumpty up on his sea wall again."
NO SOONER is complete victory obtained by the “peace-loving nations” over the “aggressors” than the question of the future defense arrangements of the Empire takes its place high up on the agenda of the Commonwealth Cabinets who tender advice on this and other matters to the Crown.
Nor are we alone in this preoccupation with “the next war.” In the United States of America the President is demanding conscription, and there is talk of fusing all the Army and Navy into one defense force. In France plans for a new Army of 500,000 men have been published. Even little Denmark, a nation of civilized folk who abolished their tiny armed forces from 1936-38 (or thereabouts), has a mission in London to consider the future of Danish armaments.
Nor is it likely that the Russians are neglecting their armed forces. Indeed, when I visited that land 12 months ago I was impressed by the evidence I saw
indicating that the Russians, already the owners of the greatest Army in Europe and Asia, are now planning to have a very large Navy.
The simple man may be excused if he rubs his eyes when he sees all this going on amid the ruins left by the second world war in one generation. Indeed, the more starry-eyed supporters of H. M. Government in the House of Commons (London, England) could hardly believe their ears when they heard their socialist leaders put the minimum requirements of the British (U. K.) armed forces at about 2,000,000 men.
What is the explanation?
First, there is the official exposition, and it goes something like this:
(a) It is necessary to ensure that the aggressor nations do not rise up again, so we must have armed forces for the purpose of police work;
(b) as members of the Security Council we shall have responsibilities involving us in making a contribution to an international force for the prevention of aggression.
Quite frankly and Mr. Bevin, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has invited everyone to put the cards on the table face up —these explanations art* BUNK.
Consider them in detail. Does anyone who has seen the Germany of today seriously imagine (hat within 10 years there is the slightest chance of her revival as a military power? 1 have a mass of reports on my table received from Germany last week, and it is a record of destruction, of near chaos. Japan is likewise in a parlous state.
“Ah,” say the official apologists, “but remember what happened last time.”
Quite right, so long as we get the facts straight about what did happen. German rearmament began, at the earliest, around about 1933. I only wish it had started sooner, for in that case the Nazis would not have started a war in 1939 with tanks, aircraft, submarines, mines, etc., which in the mass were never more than five years old. In 1942 we nearly lost the war through the activities of the U-boats. It was in June, 1935, that we (the British) made a treaty with the Germans, behind the backs of the French, by which we recognized the right of the Germans to have up to 35% of the British strength in submarines.
March 7. 1936, he could
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have been driven out by two divisions, as all the world now knows.
Whether or not in 1956 Germany and Japan will be becoming international menaces is an arguable proposition, but it is perfectly certain that for the next decade they are not in the picture. They will only re-enter the picture if one of the victorious powers helps them back into the ring. So we come to the second explanation, which is that our membership of the Security Council lays certain obligations upon our shoulders.
Nobody Trusts Anybody
BUT when we look at this matter a little more closely we find that owing to Russian insistence upon the Veto the Security Council and all its horses and men cannot take any action against one of the Big Three.
Yet a child of 10 can understand that the peace of the world during the next 10 or 15 years can be disturbed, either directly or indirectly, only through the malevolence of one of the Big Three. I say “indirectly,” because if Greece and, say, Bulgaria start up a war it will only be localized, provided Russia does not back Bulgaria while the U. S. and Britain back the Greeks. We therefore come back to the question: “Why in 1946 are the Big Three scratching their heads about the conflicting claims of manpower for much needed peacetime reconstruction and manpower for defense forces?”
The plain answer is that to a varying extent the Big Three do not trust each other. Reduced still further to realities one must record the fact that the Russians don’t trust us and we don’t trust the Russians. Broadly stated “us” is the U. S. A. plus the Commonwealth and Empire. This is the true background against which the British Cabinet is now surveying the problem of imperial defense. This is the reality in the minds of the back-room boys of the General Staff, who are gathered around the Chief of the Imperial General Staff just returned from a looksee round the Middle and Far East.
Politicians may gambol about in an ocean of ambiguous formulae, but when the Chief of the Staffs Committee are told by the Cabinet to tender advice on defense the professional men cannot think in terms of a vacuum. They have to think in terms of possibilities, of practical military contingencies. They are entitled to say to the Cabinet: “Who and where and what are the potential enemies against whom we must protect the realm, since we may assume that no British Government requires us to plan aggression?” They do say these things to the Cabinet. In a humble capacity, as a member of the naval staff in the early 1930’s, I have drafted documents embodying this question.
In those days the Cabinet practiced a very cunning form of evasion. A Cabinet Minute had been drafted, which said in effect that the service departments were not to assume the possibility of a large-scale war for a period of 10 years. Each year this Minute was confirmed and given to the Chiefs of Staff in reply to their request for direction from on high. It was the answer to the maiden’s prayer from the point of view of the Cabinet Ministers, but it did not help us much in the Admiralty, because we knew that one year the Minute would not be renewed and then it would almost certainly be too late.
faced with this kind of dilemma the service chiefs and their Ministers have to use their common sense and think for themselves in order to produce a basis for a plan. At the pre.sent moment, as I have pointed out, common sense seems to tell one that the peace of the world can only be disturbed in a substantial manner by one of the Big Three. If we are to assume the possibility of future large-scale war (possibility does not mean probability)— and without this assumption substantial armaments are meaningless—the most likely clash is one in which Russia is involved. Leaving that catastrophic and distasteful thought for a moment where it is, I propose to examine the question of imperial defense from a general point of view. For the moment I’m going to do what I’m afraid the General Staff is doing, pretend that the atomic bomb does not exist. We’ll come to it later.
FOR at least 150 years the basis of imperial defense
strategy has been sea power. During the last war
( 1939-45) it became evident that sea power must be
rewritten in terms of sea-air power. S/A power is only
a means to an end. Its object is to control sea com-
munications. The British Empire is scattered over the
world and is both united
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Britain Can't Be Defended In Atom War
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and divided by the sea routes. It is a useful exercise in strategical geography to take a map of the world and draw upon it two curves or axes. One begins in Canada and sweeps through Great Britain and the Middle East across the Indian Ocean to Australia and New Zealand. This is the sea axis of the Empire. The other curve begins in South Africa and passes up through Egypt, Palestine, India and Burma. This is the land axis. These two strategical backbones cross each other in the Middle East.
The ability of the British Empire to wage war depends upon its ability to control the sea routes for the following purposes:
(a) To feed and supply with raw materials the people of Great Britain;
(b) to deny the use of the sea routes to the enemy in so far as he needs supplies from overseas or intends to move armies overseas.
The white manpower of the British Commonwealth and Empire amounts to approximately 70 million persons, of whom about 45 millions are in Britain. Also in Britain is concentrated most of the industrial potential.
It is not at present a realistic conception to suppose that the British Commonwealth as an effective warmaking organism could survive the conquest of the British Islands. It is true that if the Nazis had succeeded in invading Britain in 1940 (not that they seriously intended to do this till after the conquest of Russia), members of the Government and the Fleet would have retired to Canada. But unless the U. S. A. had entered the war nothing very effective could have been done against a Germany in complete control of the continent of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the British Isles.
The United Kingdom is still materially and to a large extent politically the heart and core of the Commonwealth, and upon its effective defense depends the existence of the Commonwealth as we now understand it. Moreover, let me say here that I believe the British Commonwealth to be the most remarkable and promising political experiment ever attempted and considerably advanced by man. Its existence is the outward and visible sign of an inward way of life convenient to call democracy. This is worth preserving, and it is because, for example, Canadians felt that it was worth preserving that they rallied to the cause in 1939 and disdained to seek shelter in the shadow of U. S. A. neutrality.
I am not sure that some people in Britain, who lived half an hour by plane from Nazi Germany, and were content to appease Hitler for three years, quite realize the breadth of vision shown in 1939 by Canadians who lived 3,000 miles or more away from the centre of the evil things.
In a Nutshell
I have now shown two things. First, that the conflict most to be guarded against during the next decade is one between Britain (with or without America) and Russia. Secondly that in that conflict the British need would be (as usual) control of sea communications.
In the case of a war with Russia the clash so far as Britain is concerned would take on the familiar picture of dealing with a great land army which endeavors to conquer Europe as a preliminary to conquering Britain.
Such land powers, whether they be led by Napoleon, the Kaiser or Hitler, always also endeavor to get at British sea communications by capturing the Middle East. This is why Mr. Bevin spoke harshly about Russia’s increasing interest in the Middle East as a tendency to “get across the throat of the British Empire.”
So far we’ve ignored the atomic bomb. We must now examine the extent to which this discovery shatters preconceived and traditional notions of imperial defense.
The Mighty Atom
The atomic bomb is simply a powerful development of the existing use of explosives in war. It can be dropped from a plane, projected from a cannon, carried through the stratosphere in a rocket, or, most sinister of all, deposited in a suitcase by an enemy agent in the cloakroom of a hotel.
I am informed by those who know about nuclear energy that the experiments carried out at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are very small beer compared with what can and will be done
I am also told that though at present the production of the ingredients is a massive operation beyond the capacity of small powers, this state of affairs is not likely to last.
It is quite impossible to avoid the conclusion that in time of war large urban conglomerations are simply standing crematoriums. There is only one reasonably certain method of physical defense and that is dispersion of persons and buildings. A second but less sure defense is the complete and thorough occupation of all areas in which the bombs can be made or from which they can be projected.
But, as I have remarked above, the
bombs (which need not be very large) can be introduced secretly into a country, and in the not very distant future may not require large-scale industrial plants for the manufacture of their ingredients. Moreover, it is also evident that if a belligerent intends to use atomic bombs he will not waste time but probably use them just before the declaration of war.
If we examine the position of Great Britain in the light of these incontestable facts we find that she is in a very precarious situation owing to the existence of London. If it is hard to imagine the Commonwealth being able to conduct effectively a major war without Great Britain, I find it quite impossible to suppose that Great Britain could continue to exist as a national unit, let alone make war, if London was a devastated, smoking, charnel house.
I will not inflict upon you a medley of statistics to show the economic significance of London in the life of Britain. It is enough to write that the port of London is the mouth of Britain, and that approximately 20% of the inhabitants of the U. K. live in the London area. About 10 bombs (1945 variety) would put London and the U. K. out of business. If and when this occurred—and obviously it is likely to take place as the first blow in war—of what use is a fleet to protect sea communications to an island laid low by the disappearance of its capital city?
Britain is the only one of the Great Powers which can thus be knocked out at a single blow. The loss to the U. S. A. of New York and Chicago would be grievous, but not fatal; remove Moscow and Leningrad and no irreparable injury is done to the war-making strength of the Soviet Union.
In terms of old-fashioned military
thought Great Britain is moving today, and moving rapidly, into a position analogous to that in which she would have found herself in the past if her Navy had suddenly disappeared.
Tonight, as I write these words in my English country home near Bordon, where the snowdrops are heralding the spring, and where, as I have this afternoon ascertained by premature and illicit sample inspections, 5,000 daffodils (paid for by readers of Maclean’s Magazine—thank you!) are putting up their shoots underground in preparation for a riot of color in April, I and all my compatriots are at the mercy of the Americans. They’ve got the bombs and we have not. In Air Force slang, if Congress sent us an ultimatum tomorrow and ordered us to be the 49th State in the Union, “We’ve had it!”
So far as I am aware, Professor Kapitza and his colleagues in the U. S. S. R. have not yet reached a stage in their investigations into nuclear energy which would place me at the mercy of the Kremlin. But it won’t be long before we are in that position, and so far as I can see all the King’s horses and all the King’s men and all the King’s scientists cannot put the British Humpty Dumpty up on his sea wall again.
Defense Is Fantastic
It is a principle of war that to every means of offense there is a defense. Some people have gone so far as to say that the atom bomb has smashed this principle. This is not so. What it has done is to prove that the principle has not been fully understood. It has been assumed, by those who are now bewildered, that the practical application of this principle is confined to the material section of life. Such persons think of war exclusively as a battle of the bodies, a bashing contest.
One day, long after you and I are but very faint memories, man will marvel that so few of his savage and barbaric ancestors could understand that war is primarily a clash of ideas and a conflict of brains. When the Home Secretary announced in the House of Commons on Nov. 5 (Guy Fawkes day!) that the A.R.P. organization was to be retained in being, pending investigation of the effect of bombing on Germany, he was preparing for the future in terms of the past. He was thinking of material defense. As I have remarked above, the only possible physical defense for Britain against the atomic bomb is dispersion. There is no room to do this in Great Britain, and the solution would be to evacuate about 35 millions of our people to Canada and maintain Britain as a kind of garrison town and fortress on the outskirts of Europe. We need not pursue this fantasy any farther.
In order to find the defense to the atom bomb, we must pass beyond the category of material defenses, of dugouts, balloon barrages, detecting apparatus, etc., etc., and explore the stratosphere of psychological defense. This is not as complicated as it sounds.
Why are we not afraid of being at the mercy of the U. S. A. tonight? Because nothing will make me believe that in any circumstances I can imagine would a President of the U. S. A. authorize the dropping of a bomb on London.
Why is this event in the category of the top improbables? Because of certain common principles of life and behavior shared by the Americans and ourselves. That and nothing else is our defense against atom bombs from America. One cannot see it, one cannot handle it, one cannot buy it, but it is very real and very sure. It is as real and as reliable as the complex of ideas which defends 12 million Canadians
from the possible aggression of some 130 million Americans on the other side of the longest unfortified frontier in the world.
Clauzewitz’s remark, “War is a continuation of policy by other means,” must be reversed as a result of the arrival of the atom bomb. It should now read: “Policy is a continuation of war by other means.”
In short, the only safe and certain defense which Britain must seek against the atom bomb is to create in the minds of all those who might use the bomb against her the same complex of ideas which in American minds protects Britain from American atom bombs.
We are safe from attack by the U. S. A. Can the same be said of Russia? I’m saying no. I want it to be crystal clear that I do not attribute any aggressive intention to the Russians. What I am afraid of is that the Russians will become alarmed about their security. I am afraid of this because it is my conviction that the Russians are still in the power politics stage of political development. The Russians believe, quite sincerely and with a good deal of back history (1919-1940) justification, that to be safe one must be strong. It is not a very big step from this assertion to argue that to be safe one must make others afraid. That is the curtain raiser to war.
Wars Must Be Peaceful
The conclusion of the whole matter is that, apart from small naval, military and air forces necessary for the maintenance of internal order and the suppression on the orders of the Security Council of small wars, the atom bomb has made large-scale defense forces obsolete so far as Britain is concerned as long as London is what
it is in the social setup of Britain. For the time being the U. S. A. and Russia, and later on China, are not in the same predicament.
The only defense left to the British in the United Kingdom is to throw all their influence onto the side of the peaceful settlement of disputes, and this means in effect that we must strive with might and main to develop world government. The extension of the idea of morality in world affairs is no longer a luxury for Britain, or even a major convenience calculated to avoid the efforts and sacrifices involved in world wars. It is a gospel which we must preach and practice with the fervor and zeal of the convert who in the flash of the atomic bomb has seen the warning light and heard the answer to the prayer: “What must I do to be
As an immediate step I should scrap our battleships or immediately offer them to the U. S. A. as part repayment of the loan. We should keep cruisers and destroyers for police work. Our long-range bombing force is obsolete and should be scrapped. We could do some experimental work with stratospheric rockets. Our Army should be limited to the requirements of police work in the Middle East and such areas. A standing Army of about 10 divisions should be ample, as I trust we shall be out of India by 1948.
On the political side we should take every possible action to open up and develop close relationship between the Russian and British peoples. Until the Russians mean the same thing by the word “democracy” as it means in an English pub, and an American or Canadian bar, peace is in jeopardy, and if there is a world war in the atomic era it will be the last war in which Great Britain will ever participate.