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The British nerve agent debate: acquisition, deterrence and disarmament, 1945-1976

King, William David (2019) The British nerve agent debate: acquisition, deterrence and disarmament, 1945-1976. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis reveals the level of British engagement with, and debates over, controversial and lethal nerve agent weapons during the first three decades after the end of the Second World War. At the very heart of these secret debates were fundamental questions over whether Britain should acquire nerve agent weapons for potential firstuse against the Soviet Union, retain them purely for their deterrence value, or drive for either unilateral or international chemical weapons disarmament. These considerations and concerns over nerve agent weapons were not limited to low-level defence committees, nor were they consigned to the periphery of defence policy, but featured prominently at the highest levels of British government and defence planning. From Prime Ministers to grass-roots activists, nerve agents proved a heated and provocative subject which drew strong interventions from across the political spectrum. Even behind closed doors, debates over the role and place of nerve agent weapons was far from harmonious, causing internal strife between government departments and pitting the Services against each other. Central to these long-running and evolving debates included often stark divisions between defence officials and politicians, disagreements over interpretations of chemical warfare deterrence, the delicate balancing of secrecy and publicity, the influence of Anglo-American relations, and clashes between normative values and military utility. From discovery to chemical weapons disarmament, this thesis will examine the British adaptation to, and handling of, the opportunities and threats brought by the nerve agent age. This thesis will place the nerve agent debate within the broader framework of British politics and defence policy in the Cold War, and it will shed new light on the extent, nature and development of British policy towards lethal nerve agent weapons.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 William David King
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Jones, Matthew

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