55 Minute from Rowland1 to Barwick

Canberra, 12 February 1963


Nassau, President de Gaulle2 and Nuclear Deterrents

The United States Attitude

[matter omitted]

  1. Although the pros and cons of a European nuclear force have been discussed for years, the ultimate power of a decision on using nuclear weapons has remained with the owners of the warhead, the United States. Though Britain's atomic force is closely linked to the United States, British-built warheads and British-owned delivery systems now give Britain some independent nuclear power. In recent months, there has been increasing pressure to end the Anglo-American atomic monopoly, the main impetus being France's steady advance towards a 'national' nuclear capability.

    The Nassau Agreement

  2. President Kennedy3 and Mr Macmillan4 met in Nassau from 18 to 21 December 1962. A copy of the communiqué issued at the end of the talks, together with a joint statement on nuclear weapons policy, is attached.5 The main points of the latter are:
    1. The United States agreed to sell Britain the Polaris submarine-borne missile in place of the Skybolt airborne missile, work on which would be abandoned. The British would equip the Polaris with their own nuclear warheads and would design and build their own nuclear submarines to carry the missile.
    2. Britain agreed that the Polaris missile systems acquired in this way should become part of a NATO nuclear force and should have their targets designated by NATO.Mr Macmillan made it clear that 'except where Her Majesty's Government may decide that supreme national interests are at stake, these British forces will be used for the purpose of international defence of the Western alliance in all circumstances'.
    3. The United States guaranteed to match this British contribution to the proposed NATO nuclear force with 'at least equal United States forces'.

[matter omitted]


  1. We may expect that the United States will persist in its efforts to submerge the British and French deterrents in a 'NATO nuclear force'. Much attention is now being given to working out details of how this force might be composed, to the crucial question of control. The term 'control' covers a wide range of questions, including that of access to warheads and 'key of the cupboard' arrangements to the vital question of how the order to strike would be given and who would give it. A great deal of debate has raged round these matters in the past, and more is likely to do so. Whatever ingenious solutions may be proposed, two things would seem clear—that, as Mr Macmillan has said, the idea of 'sixteen fingers on the trigger' has only to be stated to be rejected; and that the effective decision to involve the whole alliance in war must involve Washington and most probably would be taken here.

[NAA: A1838, 919/14/1 part 2]