Supreme emergency

How Britain lives with the Bomb

By Andrew Corbett

Supreme emergency


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4736-3
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: February 2022
  • BIC Category: Politics, Nuclear weapons, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Military Policy, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Comparative Politics, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain / 21st Century, Society & social sciences / Politics & government, Humanities / British & Irish history, Defence Strategy, Planning & Research, Nuclear Weapons


In Supreme emergency, an ex-Trident submarine captain considers the evolution of UK nuclear deterrence policy and the implications of a previously unacknowledged aversion to military strategies that threaten civilian casualties. Drawing on extensive archival research, the book provides a unique synthesis of the factors affecting British nuclear policy decision-making and draws parallels between government debates about reprisals for First World War zeppelin raids on London, the strategic bombing raids of the Second World War and the evolution of the UK nuclear deterrent. It concludes that among all the technical factors, an aversion to being seen to condone civilian casualties has inhibited government engagement with the public on deterrence strategy since 1915.


'As someone who went from the teenager carrying the "Ban the Bomb" poster to being in charge of Britain's nuclear deterrent and the world's biggest nuclear alliance, I know more than most about the heat of the nuclear deterrence debate. Andrew Corbett, as a former Trident submarine commander, knows the debate from another angle. In this fascinating and intriguing account of one of humanity's most important issues, he gives unique policy clarity and poses difficult questions for policy makers.'
Lord George Robertson, former Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary General of NATO

'Since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in 2017, there has been no extensive debate about this in the United Kingdom. As Andrew Corbett argues incisively and persuasively, a comprehensive discussion of this extremely complex issue is needed, in which the ethical dimensions must be addressed. This is too serious a business to be left to governments alone!'
Beatrice Heuser, Professor of International Relations, University of Glasgow


Introduction: an insider's view
1 'The War Game', a case study
2 Government, public and total war (1915-40)
3 Government, public and total war (1940-45)
4 From the Second World War to continuous at-sea deterrence
5 The Polaris replacement decision
6 Ethical considerations and wicked issues
7 British nuclear deterrence in the twenty-first century
Conclusion: dirty hands and the supreme emergency


Andrew Corbett is a Teaching Fellow with the Defence Studies Department of King's College London

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