Part of the Studies in Military and Strategic History book series (SMSH)


The Paris Agreements of October 1954 saw Britain’s ‘formal acceptance of a large-scale, peacetime military presence on the Continent’.2 Four army divisions and one tactical air force were committed to NATO’s conventional defence of West Germany and Europe. For almost forty years, until the end of the Cold War, the peacetime deployment in Germany, and the prospect of conventional war on the Central Front, dominated operational and tactical thinking and equipment procurement, in both the British Army and the Royal Air Force (RAF). Britain’s 1954 commitment figures prominently in writing on the development of the West’s strategy during the Cold War, as a means both to counter-balance German rearmament and to allay French fears, and to ensure that NATO became the West’s main defence institution. The 1954 commitment also has some celebrity in the history of British strategy. The commitment was untypically bold and unequivocal, earning its description as ‘the one really substantial, firm contractual commitment in Britain’s postwar defence experience’.3 The 1954 decision also represents, for some, a departure from a largely naval strategic tradition in Britain, a tradition which meant detachment from the Continent in peacetime and reluctance to become involved in wars there. Yet British strategy has never been a clear choice between discrete options — ‘naval’ versus ‘continental’.


Paris Agreement Defence Spending European Security Occupation Commitment British Strategy 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    R.B. Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher: chairman, War Office Reconstruction Committee (‘Esher Committee’), 1903–4, subsequently permanent member of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Quoted in M. Howard, The Continental Commitment ( London: Temple Smith, 1972 ), p. 49.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    C. Bamett, Britain and Her Army 1509–1970 (London: Allen Lane, 1970), p. 492.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    D. Greenwood, ‘Defence and National Priorities Since 1945’, in J. Baylis, British Defence Policy: Striking the Right Balance ( London: Macmillan, 1989 ), p. 187.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    J. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (London: Brassey’s, 1988), p. 9.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    J. Gooch, ‘Maritime Command: Mahan and Corbett’, in C.S. Gray and R.W. Barnett, Seapower and Strategy(London: Tri-Service Press, 1989), p.37 (emphasis in original).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    H.A. DeWeerd, ‘Britain’s Changing Military Policy’, Foreign Affairs(34/1, 1955), p.103.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    J.W. Young, Britain, France and the Unity of Europe 1945–51(Leicester University Press, 1984), p.6. For similar arguments see C. Barnett, Britain and Her Army, p.482; C. Coker, A Nation in Retreat? Britain’s Defence Commitment(London: Brassey’s, 1986), p.61; R. Holmes, Nuclear Warriors(London: Jonathan Cape, 1991), p.196; and Howard, The Continental Commitment, p.146.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    M. Carver, ‘Continental or Maritime Strategy? Past, Present and Future’, Journal of the Royal United Services Institute(134/3, 1989), p.68. See also M. Dockrill, ‘British Attitudes Towards France as a Military Ally’, Diplomacy and Statecraft(1/1,1990), passim; R.J. Aldrich and J. Zametica, ‘The Rise and Decline of a Strategic Concept: the Middle East, 1945–51’, in R.J. Aldrich (ed.), British Intelligence, Strategy and the Cold War, 1945–51(London: Routledge, 1992), p.253; and J. Lewis, Changing Direction; British Military Planning for Post-war Strategic Defence, 1942–1947(London: Sherwood Press, 1988),pp.112ff.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See also P. Cornish, ‘The British Military and European Security’, in A. Deighton (ed.), Building Postwar Europe: National Decision-makers and European Institutions, 1948–1963 (London: Macmillan, forthcoming 1995).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    N.J. Wheeler, ‘The Attlee Government’s Nuclear Strategy, 1945–51’, in A. Deighton (ed.), Britain and the First Cold War ( London: Macmillan, 1990 ), p. 142.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    M. Evans, ‘Rifkind tries to hold line on £22bn defence budget’, The Times, 26 September 1994.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul Cornish 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Security ProgrammeRoyal Institute of International AffairsLondonUK

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