Britain and Disarmament

‘A meticulous, broad-ranging study of nearly 20 years of British arms control history, the book is highly recommended for anyone seeking to better understand how policies governing some the worst kinds of weapons have developed in the United Kingdom – and where Britain has come from as it contributes to the arms control debates of the present.’ VERTIC

John R. Walker’s book Britain and Disarmament: The UK and Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons Arms Control and Programmes 1956-1975 was launched earlier this year at VERTIC, at a well attended event. The book provides the first attempt to assess UK NBC arms control policy and practice during the Cold War, and is the result of around 25 years of research into official archives. The author looks at how successive British governments approached the subject of control and disarmament between 1956 and 1975.

This period reflects the UK’s landmark decision in 1956 to abandon its offensive chemical weapons programme (a decision that was reversed in 1963, but never fully implemented), and ends with the internal travails over the possible use of CR (tear gas) in Northern Ireland. Whilst the issue of nuclear arms control has been much debated, the integration of biological and chemical weapons into the wider disarmament picture is much less well understood, there being no clear statement by the UK authorities for much of the period under review in this book as to whether the country even possessed such weapons or had an active research and development programme.

Through a thorough exploration of government records the book addresses fundamental questions relating to the history of NBC weapons programmes, including the military, economic and political pressures that influenced policy; the degree to which the UK was a reluctant or enthusiastic player on the international arms control stage; and the effect of international agreements on Britain’s weapons programmes. In exploring these issues, the study provides the first attempt to assess UK NBC arms control policy and practice during the Cold War.

About the Author: Dr John R. Walker works in the Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK.

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