On Thursday last week, the British National Archives released the script for a hypothetical 1983 speech that would have been delivered by Queen Elizabeth II in the event of a Soviet-NATO nuclear war. The speech, written as if broadcast at midday on Friday, March 4, 1983, was drawn up as part of a war-gaming exercise conducted at a time of high tensions following Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech and NATO’s “Able Archer” exercise. The last words Britain would have heard from the Queen as it stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation have been widely reported in the UK media (e.g. The Independent, The Guardian and Daily Mirror). The briefing adds that the doctrine of ‘no first use of nuclear weapons’ was known among NATO officials as NOFUN. NATO has repeatedly rejected calls for adopting such a policy.
In the speech, the Queen would refer to her childhood during World War II and to the famous 1939 speech by her father, King George VI, announcing the outbreak of war with Germany. She would mention her own son, Andrew, who was then serving in the Royal Navy, and she would call upon the people to fight off a “new evil,” reminding them that they had done so twice already during “this sad century”.
In the war game, WINTEX-CIMEX 83 (the abbreviation stands for ‘Winter Exercise – Civil-Military Exercise’), the participating countries ran through the procedures necessary to arrive at full mobilization and practiced the protocol for transitioning to a ‘Defcon 1’ state of alert – which meant that nuclear war was imminent. Orange bloc forces (the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies) launch an attack on Britain with chemical weapons, while the Blue forces (NATO) retaliate with a ‘limited yield’ nuclear strike forcing Orange to sue for peace. Or as one of the UK diplomats who took part remembers it, “The corridor gossip had it that there had been a score-draw. After a short exchange of tactical weapons in central Europe, the two sides had stepped back from the brink and agreed peace terms”.
While the scenario may have been imagined, the fears underpinning it were all too real – with no certainty that the game would have ended as predicted in any real conflict. US historical records released last year revealed how a ‘limited nuclear war’ in Europe would likely lead to further nuclear escalation. Yet, US and NATO officials continued to plan for and contemplate their use.
The archive papers also reveal that senior officials in Whitehall feared Labour’s Michael Foot could end the ‘special relationship’ with the US and finish NATO if he won the 1983 election. Mr Foot was committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament. Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong wrote: “Manifesto commitments impinge directly on the interests of the US and NATO”. These ‘fears’ were never realised as Margaret Thatcher went on to win the election thereby enabling the UK to continue to be at the heart of Europe’s nuclear war gaming.
However, UK Ministers regularly played down the implications of the biennial NATO WINTEX-CIMEX exercises, as revealed by these two parliamentary questions about the 1985 and 1989 exercises:
Lord Jenkins of Putney: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the NATO exercise WINTEX-CIMEX will have any practical implications for civil liberties and human rights in the regions affected.
Lord Trefgarne: Certainly not, my Lords. Although details of the exercise are classified, I can say that it is designed to test military command and control procedures and is firmly based on NATO’s deterrence strategy. It is thus helping to preserve the civil liberties and human rights which we enjoy today.
Mr. Tony Banks (and two other MPs): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was
the extent of United Kingdom involvement in simulated nuclear war fighting in the recent
Wintex staff exercise.
Mr. Archie Hamilton: Exercise Wintex-Cimex is a NATO-wide command post-exercise
conducted by Alliance members. Its objective is to test command, control and
consultation plans and procedures and to exercise the appropriate crisis management
machinery which would be used in the defence of NATO countries in times of
international tension and war, including a nuclear phase. Details of the scenario and
the precise involvement of individual participants are classified.
The dishonesty in the almost throwaway remark about the transition to the “nuclear phase” to describe potential Armageddon is breathtaking, as were the earlier references to the exercise helping to preserve civil liberties and human rights. At least the author of the draft Queen’s Speech had the nerve to describe the “madness of war” and “the deadly power of abused technology”.
Following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989 and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO updated its concept for the deployment and use of nuclear weapons, and the US and Russian governments each took unilateral action to reduce their massive tactical nuclear weapon arsenals. Today, the number of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe has been significantly reduced from 7,000 to around 180 weapons on the territory of five European allies (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey), while estimated numbers of operationally assigned non-strategic nuclear warheads in the Russian arsenal range from around 1,000 to 2,000 weapons (during the Cold War, the Soviets possessed about 17,000 tactical nuclear weapons).
However, NATO is planning to modernise its nuclear posture over the next decade via an upgrade of both the nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. This not only contradicts key elements of NATO’s recent Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR), it is unlikely to help persuade Russia to further reduce its nonstrategic nuclear forces. Do we need to wait another 30 years for the release of UK foreign policy records to see that the minds of today’s nuclear decision-makers continue to be filled with contradictory arguments in defence of the indefensible? With Britain’s proposed Trident replacement programme also moving forward, there will no doubt be a mandarin in Whitehall tasked with preparing a nuclear war speech for the future King George – just as a precautionary measure, of course.
This is the full text of the Queen’s broadcast prepared for the WINTEX-CIMEX 83 exercise of 1983:
When I spoke to you less than three months ago we were all enjoying the warmth and fellowship of a family Christmas.
Our thoughts were concentrated on the strong links that bind each generation to the ones that came before and those that will follow.
The horrors of war could not have seemed more remote as my family and I shared our Christmas joy with the growing family of the Commonwealth.
Now this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.
I have never forgotten the sorrow and the pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father’s inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939.
Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me.
We all know that the dangers facing us today are greater by far than at any time in our long history.
The enemy is not the soldier with his rifle nor even the airman prowling the skies above our cities and towns but the deadly power of abused technology.
But whatever terrors lie in wait for us all the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength.
My husband and I share with families up and down the land the fear we feel for sons and daughters, husbands and brothers who have left our side to serve their country.
My beloved son Andrew is at this moment in action with his unit and we pray continually for his safety and for the safety of all servicemen and women at home and overseas.
It is this close bond of family life that must be our greatest defence against the unknown.
If families remain united and resolute, giving shelter to those living alone and unprotected, our country’s will to survive cannot be broken.
My message to you therefore is simple. Help those who cannot help themselves, give comfort to the lonely and the homeless and let your family become the focus of hope and life to those who need it.
As we strive together to fight off the new evil let us pray for our country and men of goodwill wherever they may be.
God Bless you all.
By Ian Davis, NATO Watch