Casemate publishing continues its ongoing series of post-World War Two conflicts in Europe with an interesting volume that concentrates on Britain’s contributions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the last phase of the Cold War. This is an unusual volume in that the text is derived from the author’s Ph.D dissertation on the same topic. The volume is richly illustrated with color photographs, which I imagine would be well received by the modeling community. As with other publications in this series, it includes maps and 22 color profiles of vehicles, aircraft, and uniforms from this era.
The title of this work gives the reader a hint of where the author is going – examining the contributions that Britain made to the defense of NATO in the last half of the Cold War. As the rift between the western allies and the Soviet Union grew at the end of the Second World War, it set the stage for the antagonism between the east and the west that defined the Cold War. With both sides creating alliances to defend their respective territories, NATO in the west and the Warsaw Pact in the east, western powers were faced with a quantitative disadvantage in terms of conventional weapons and boots on the ground.
Flexible response was NATOs policy in attempting to deter and, if that failed, fight the Warsaw Pact. NATO commanders did not want to use nuclear weapons at the outset of a Soviet attack, so Flexible Response was an attempt to utilize conventional weapons to slow down any Soviet incursion into Western Europe. Great Britain committed most of its air, ground and naval assets to this response. Their area of responsibility was northern Germany with its main land force the British Army of the Rhine. The book takes a detailed look at British defense policy from 1967 to the end of the Cold War and makes the argument that Britain, along with many other NATO allies, failed to meet those obligations.
British defense policy changed depending upon which party occupied the Prime Minister’s office – either expanding or contracting the defense budget. Regardless of who was in office, there were constant challenges in keeping the necessary reserve forces and stocks of supplies needed for the opening stages of a conflict up to NATO standards. Since NATO could meet the Warsaw Pact with a quantitative edge, all of the western allies depended upon technology to maintain a degree of superiority to their adversaries. Modernization was a constant theme, but it was applied unevenly as the decades moved forward.
The author uses case studies from the Falklands and Gulf War as well as a potential war scenario to illustrate his points. British forces performed adequately, but weaknesses in logistic functions were apparent in both conflicts. While we can never know how successful NATOs defense of Western Europe may have been, the author questions the ability of Great Britain to meet their commitments. Peacetime policies balancing domestic needs with peacetime planning meant there was always a deficit in attempting to keep their army ready to counter a thrust from the Warsaw Pact. The desire to seek efficiencies in force structure were balanced against the cost of keeping regular and reserve forces to the levels that Flexible Response required. As mentioned in the beginning of the review, the author’s conclusions are telegraphed in the title. By implication, his conclusions about Britain can certainly be applied to other NATO allies; Britain’s struggles to meet peacetime demands as well as potential wartime commitments was a challenge to each member state.
The publishers of the Europe at War history have made a bold move in adopting the text of an academic work to a publication that is aimed to the ‘buff community’. I applaud them in moving beyond descriptions of equipment and formations to a deep dive into policy. Given the emphasis of the book, however, it may not appeal to everyone. Regardless, if you are interested in how a member of NATO could meet its obligations to the alliance, this is a welcome addition to any collection.
My thanks to IPMS and Casemate Publishing for giving me the opportunity to review this book.