The prime minister 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 purposes of international defence of the Western Alliance in all circumstances.
21 December 1962
Harold Macmillan's statement was made during a visit to the Bahamas to meet President Kennedy, hurriedly arranged after the US government cancelled the air-launched Skybolt missile, which it had promised to sell to the UK. Macmillan persuaded Kennedy, in the face of opposition from the Pentagon, to sell the US's new submarine-launched Polaris missile to the UK instead, at a very favourable price, provided Britain supplied the submarines and the nuclear warheads. There was a further condition. Macmillan noted in his diary that 'I have agreed to make our present bomber force (or part of it) and our Polaris force (when it comes) a Nato force for general purposes. But I have reserved absolutely the right of HMG to use it independently for "supreme national interest".' So, in normal circumstances, the Polaris fleet was not quite 'our independent nuclear deterrent', as Tony Blair described it in his foreword to the December 2006 White Paper on the renewal of Polaris's replacement, Trident.
LRB 5 April 2007 | PDF Download