The 1966 Defence White Paper was a major review of the United Kingdom's defence policy brought about by the Labour Party government under the Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The main author was the then Secretary of State for Defence, Denis Healey. In 1967 the government further announced the strategic withdrawal of British forces deployed East of Suez, which marked a watershed in British foreign policy.
The government decided on significant reductions in the defence budget, with defence being the primary target of the government's efforts to reduce public spending due to wider economic problems. It resulted in cutting a number of significant new capital projects, among which included the CVA-01 aircraft carrier and the BAC TSR-2 tactical strike aeroplane. The reasoning for this was the belief that the era of manned combat was at an end and that guided missiles were all that would be needed in future. Within a decade this philosophy became thoroughly discredited, but at the time, it may have made a great deal more sense in the climate of the cold war and mutual deterrence.
In the early 1960s, the Royal Navy began to plan for new aircraft carriers to replace its aging fleet. To the Navy, this was a perfectly legitimate and necessary common sense exercise, not in need of explanation. The Royal Air Force, however, saw the renewal as a chance to defeat the Royal Navy and win the budget share which would have been necessary for new carriers. In order to do this, they compiled a history of Royal Navy aircraft carriers and a history of Royal Air Force tactical bombers, comparing the two and finding in favour of bombers. They then submitted this to the Treasury, proposing the TSR-2 tactical strike aircraft in place of the RN's new generation aircraft carriers.
The Treasury then cancelled CVA-01 and TSR-2, showing that 'when the individual armed forces fight, only the Treasury wins'.
Professor Andrew Lambert has described the 1966 Defence White Paper as the 'perfect example of what happens if your enemy knows your history better than you do', the enemy in this case being the RAF. In order for individual armed forces to win budget rivalries and public opinion, it is necessary for them to own their own history, to understand what it is and how to employ it.
- ↑ Prof. Andrew Lambert, Lecture to King's College, London, 5 February 2007
- ↑ Prof. Andrew Lambert, Speech to Italian Navy Institute of Maritime Studies, Venice (ISMM), 8 March 2007
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