Zuckerman Archive: Air Ministry Strategic Scientific Policy Committee

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 1187 SZ/AMSSP
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 box; 4 files

Scope and Content

In April 1958 Solly Zuckerman was approached by Sir Dermot Boyle, Chief of the Air Staff, to chair a small group of scientists to advise on future air policy. Terms of reference do not appear to have been drawn up and the early minutes of the Group simply refer to the problem. The problem was the British independent nuclear deterrent and two related matters: the conduct of limited war, and the defence of the United Kingdom. At Zuckerman's request the Group did not convene until September 1958 and within weeks its name had been changed from the Scientific Policy Committee to the Strategic Scientific Policy Committee. The Committee membership consisted of Zuckerman, Professor William Hawthorne, Sir William Cook, and Professor M.J. Lighthill.

On 5 October 1959 Zuckerman submitted to the Chief of the Air Staff the first formulated fruits of our deliberations, covering general considerations affecting deterrent policy and suggesting the investigation of three alternative, but not conflicting, ways of maintaining the deterrent. He also reported that the Committee was still pursuing the questions of limited warfare and the defence of the United Kingdom.

Early meetings were taken up with briefings from personnel from the Air Ministry, RAF Commands, and the Foreign Office. By the beginning of December 1958 Zuckerman felt that it was appropriate to ask his team to consider the lines of enquiry which should now be followed. His own view was that the first task was to decide how the various factors and arguments with which they had been presented formed a cohesive whole, and whether any apparent anomalies were real or capable of logical justification. Agreeing, the Committee - assuming the need to maintain an independent deterrent - identified the requirements and problems of limited war as needing attention first. Associated problems to be dealt with included: the maintenance of British bases overseas; the value of deploying forces in support of allies rather than the maintenance of nationally controlled bases; nuclear sabotage of the deterrent; chemical and biological warfare; and the UK's NATO commitments.

By mid-April 1959 the Committee had produced a draft paper on limited war. Before reaching final conclusions however, the Committee felt the need to consider in detail the implementation of the deterrent and in particular to conduct further critical study of the doctrine that tactical nuclear weapons were an effective counter to the overwhelming Russian superiority in manpower, and essential to stiffen the N.A.T.O. shield-forces in Europe. During May and June 1959 the Committee met under the chairmanship of Sir William Cook, while Zuckerman was in the United States. Zuckerman's copies of the minutes of these meetings are heavily annotated in places and he was clearly at odds with some of the conclusions that his colleagues were reaching on nuclear warfare.

On Zuckerman's return, business focussed on the nuclear deterrent and evaluation of the risk that by 1970 the Blue Streak missile, on which Britain's nuclear deterrent capability was based, would have become vulnerable to attack by Russian missiles. This problem caused the Committee to turn its attention to the air defence of the United Kingdom and its relationship to the deterrent forces.

The correspondence is arranged chronologically and most of it is between Zuckerman and D.C. Humphreys, Secretary to the Committee, and his successor M.E. Quinlan. Other correspondents include: Sir Maurice Dean, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Air Ministry; Sir Geoffrey Tuttle; Sir Thomas Pike; Sir Dermot Boyle; the other members of the Committee; and Dr Andrew Huxley, whom Zuckerman and Maurice Dean wished to recruit to the Committee to fill the vacancy left when Zuckerman resigned on his appointment as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence.

Most of the papers in the file date from 1959 and, as well as drafts and final texts of those on limited war, the future of the nuclear deterrent (i.e. after 1970) - including a comparison of airborne and seaborne nuclear weapons, and the air defence of Britain, there are related press-cuttings, a memorandum East West Relations: is tension necessary?, a report of Exercise Prospect Two - a presentation on the role and responsibility of the Royal Air Force given at the Royal Empire Society, 6 May 1958, and an offprint of an article by P.M.S. Blackett Nuclear weapons and defence: comments on Kissinger, Kennan, and King-Hall, International Affairs, vol. 34, no.4, October 1958 .

File SZ/AMSSP/4 consists of bundles and loose sheets of MS notes in Zuckerman's hand.


  • SZ/AMSSP/1 Minutes, 1958-59
  • SZ/AMSSP/2 Correspondence, 1958-1960
  • SZ/AMSSP/3 Documents, 1958-59
  • SZ/AMSSP/4 SZ Notes taken at meetings, n.d.

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