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Deterring Future Aggression

Digested by the MILITARY REVIEW from a copyrighted article by Admiral Sir Reginald
A. R. P. Ernle-Erle-Drax in the "Journal of the Royal United Service Institution"
(Great Britain) February 1956.

IT HAS been pointed out by Rear Admiral Sir A. Buzzard, Captain Liddell Hart, and various others that we badly need an agreed strategy which will fill the present gap between conventional war (nonatomic) and all-out bombing with nuclear weapons. Any future defensive war should, in fact, be "graduated" so that the tactics and weapons employed adequately meet the scale of attack, in order to defeat each act of aggression in a minimum of time with the minimum of force necessary.

It should be made clear to all potential aggressors that once an act of aggression has been committed, the United Nations reserve to themselves the right to take whatever steps may seem best to achieve that end. They would naturally use atomic cannon and atom bombs if it seemed that they could not achieve success quickly without them. They would no doubt avoid the use of the hydrogen bomb unless the aggressor had attacked with such strength that victory appeared difficult without it. And naturally they would try the atom bomb before using its big brother.

Taking Korea as an example, it would seem that no hydrogen bomb should have been necessary, but one or two atom bombs suitably placed near the Korea-Chinese border probably would have compelled the ignominious retirement of the entire Chinese Army. It is perhaps a pity that this was not done, for circumstances were well suited for such action.

A large Chinese Army had committed a flagrant act of aggression; in fact, the Chinese Government, reluctant to take full responsibility, had described them as "volunteers." There was an ample area where such bombs could have been dropped without causing serious civilian losses, and there would have been no objection or difficulty in warning civilians beforehand that they should leave the selected area.

The Risk Involved

No one can make successful war without taking risks, and there was, of course, some risk that China or Russia might retaliate with similar bombs. Certain governments, including the British, were un

duly alarmed about this. They would not even agree to let General Douglas MacArthur drop conventional bombs on military targets north of the Yalu River, which, particularly if backed by a threat of atom bombs to follow later, might well have ended the war and saved thousands of American lives.

Similar action could have been applied to other cases of aggression in the past if atom bombs had been available. The German armies that invaded Belgium, Denmark, and Holland in the 1914-18 and 1939-45 wars might have found it impossible to press on, or even to retain their conquests, if American atom bombs and missiles were being dropped at intervals on their depots and lines of communications. And if the Germans had retaliated by dropping atom or hydrogen bombs on the big cities of France, there would have been nothing left worth conquering.

The Italian invasion of Abyssinia could have been stopped at once by similar treatment, or by the bombing of their disembarkation ports.

In all these cases, if the atom bomb had been available in time, such support would have immensely encouraged the defending armies and would probably have enabled them to resist with success.

It is desirable that the intended policy of the United Nations in these matters should be made clear to all the world. It is, therefore, suggested that the principal powers of the United Nations should meet together and agree on a statement of policy as outlined in the chart on page 75.

This statement of policy calls for a certain amount of explanation or comment.

Clauses 1 and 2.-Agreement on these, and careful adherence to them, would save millions of lives on both sides.

The question has been asked "why 100,000?" But this figure is entirely a matter for the great powers, or the United Nations, to negotiate. If it is fixed too low, say 10,000 or 1,000, agreement would be

most unlikely and compliance difficult. The figure must be as lo sible, but 100,000 would be a us step, and agreement even on tha fully adhered to, would save m lives on both sides. Such agreem not mean that we accept the bo smaller cities, for it is to be h belligerents usually will have othe of greater importance and will to waste their major bombing eff medium-size town or city unless i to contain some target of unusual importance.

Clause 3.-Sometimes, time is vital importance that when events ing swiftly one cannot delay ev few minutes. But, in general, it s entirely feasible to warn the inh of a frontier town some hours, if or two days, before bombs are dr

Clause 4.-The size and streng invading army will largely depen strength of the defending forces t be expected to resist it. If the str the invaders is small, the United might be able to repel them with tional weapons. If it is large, reasonably hope that there will be airbases, or important points on i of communications where two o atom bombs would cause complet ganization.

Clause 5.-Great care should b to use no bomb that is bigger than sary, but the weapons used should as to show that the United Natio and will obtain complete tactical m in the area under dispute. They finish the job quickly and decisively ing sure that there is no repetition ignominious deadlock that continued long in Korea.

It must be admitted that much d on the exact area where the aggi occurs. Abyssinia and Korea were where we could have forced a fav decision quite quickly. But if the a

1. Unless forced by the enemy to retaliate, we repudiate all idea of murder-bombing on large cities.

2. We are willing to agree to a list of all cities, in all countries, whose population exceeds an agreed figure of, say, 100,000. These cities shall be immune from bombing unless an aggressor violates this rule, or a particular town occupies a vital position in relation to the advance of an aggressive army.

3. The latter case would arise if the town in question contained a road or rail junction, airbase, or supply depot on which the aggressive army is largely dependent for its maintenance. As a general rule the inhabitants would be warned before any such town is bombed, although for obvious reasons this could not be guaranteed in all cases.

4. We assume that, as with numberless cases in the past (Abyssinia, Austria, Belgium, China, Holland, Korea, and others), any major aggression will usually be supported by an invading army. Our aim will be to exert against this army all the force necessary, and no more, to compel it to withdraw to its homeland.

5. Air or naval forces actively supporting the work of aggression will probably have to be attacked, but in every case we shall use no more force than necessary. When using nuclear weapons we shall hope to use only the atom and not the hydrogen bomb.

6. We shall not use any form of biological or chemical warfare unless forced by the enemy to retaliate.

7. We wish to make it clear that, using atomic weapons when necessary, the United Nations have ample power to enforce their decisions against any armed forces which attempt to invade or occupy some particular area. Admittedly, there might be a limited number of exceptions to this rule.

8. We solemnly warn any nation found guilty of aggression that, if an agreement has been reached to forbid the bombing of large cities, they must, in their own interests, adhere to it with scrupulous care. Any bombing of such a city, even by accident, will call inevitably for instant retaliation; and once started, limitation may be impossible.

There is then serious danger that the people of the aggressor nation would be exterminated by tens of millions.

No doubt the slaughter might extend on both sides until half the human race had been destroyed, but this would be no consolation to the nation whose aggressive action had started the trouble.

9. Obviously, the simple, and indeed the only, solution is for every government, in the conduct of its international relations, to make quite sure that it could never be branded by the United Nations as an aggressor.

dispute is fairly close to the enemy's main centers of military strength (for example, suppose the Communist bloc attempted to annex Greece), there might be a struggle, particularly in the air, that would approach the scale of a major war. The danger in such a struggle obviously would be very great.

Clause 9.-This is the only real solution of the problem. Indeed, it may not be too much to say that until this condition is universally complied with our civilization will be in grave peril.

There would be many advantages in a code of simple rules such as set out here. It should be clear to any aggressor that the prospect of success would be absolutely nil if they were to use nuclear weapons against the full strength of the United Nations whenever they thought it necessary to do so.

If he wished for a trial of strength on the biggest scale the aggressor could, of course, resort to all-out bombing. But this would put on him instead of on us the onus of initiating this form of warfare, and it would probably ensure a process of mutual suicide where tens of millions would be killed on each side.

Even in dictator countries it would seem that public opinion, faced with this prospect, should be able to restrain an aggressive government from such acts of mad


Further, it should be possible to make good use of public opinion before the invading forces are set in motion. On any frontier where trouble is threatened there are bound to be towns with airbases, depots, and road and rail junctions which would be in grave danger of bombing when fighting started. On the first signs of possible conflict it should be the duty of the Secretary General of the United Nations. to get in touch, by letter, telegram, or radio, with the mayor and people of towns in the danger area. He should then con

vey to them a message saying so follows:

From the unusual concentratio tary forces along or near your f has seemed to the Security Co your government may be planni them for some aggressive actio therefore, my duty to point ou that, if this were done, the United would be likely to order puniti against all forces that are mov your frontier.

The precise action necessary d foretold with any certainty, but viously would be grave danger hold up aggressive movements y would have to be bombed. If t ments continued, or were strong forced, it might even prove nece use atom bombs, in which case the ties in your town might well amor or 90 percent of the population. therefore, urge you to exert all pressure upon your government t that they avoid any movements tary forces which might cause the Nations to brand them as aggress

If some policy such as the abo to be adopted, it is important to the probable reaction to it of an ag nation.

The Reaction

It is useful to note that in Se 1955 Russia put forward the sug that atom bombs should not be u less an act of aggression had bee fied by the Security Council. At fir this would seem to indicate that c act of aggression had been estal Russia would be willing to support prove the use of atom bombs. U nately, however, she also possess power of veto in the Security Coun could equally prohibit their use f duration of hostilities.

If public opinion failed to prev the reaction of the aggressor g

ment would be a matter of great importance once the fighting began.

Aggressor military leaders would at once say to their chief:

You want victory: therefore, we cannot be tied by these paper agreements about not bombing large cities. We want to bomb New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and those large cities of Great Britain which contain some 80 percent of her population.

To this we may reasonably hope that their government, or their dictator in control of it, would reply as follows:

To such action we cannot possibly agree. We are engaged in a local aggression which you must win if you can, to give us possession of certain territories that we covet. But if you cannot win in that area you must give up and retire.

We prohibit any wider extension of the conflict and any violation of the existing agreements about bombing. For if we violate them, our opponents may well resort to all-out bombing a few hours or even a few minutes later. If their principal target should be our great cities, tens of millions will die and those who survive may die later from disease or starvation.

Even if the United Nations restrict their bombing to military targets, most of our biggest cities are liable to be attacked and many millions will certainly die.

Neither we nor our people can possibly contemplate such results.

If all our hopes of agreement fail, it is, of course, possible, although not probable, that all-out bombing on both sides may ultimately result. But if so, we shall at least take much longer to reach that last and fatal stage in the conflict than we should if we adhere to the present plan whereby, as soon as anyone is attacked, we use nuclear weapons when and where we please without, so far as the public is aware, any limitation or restriction.

All the information we possess is the somewhat alarming statement made by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in London in October 1954, and never since contradicted, that:

... we at SHAPE are basing all our operational planning on using atomic and thermonuclear weapons in our defense. With us it is no longer: 'They may possibly be used.' It is very definitely: ‘They will be used if we are attacked.'

But this is almost a policy of despair, for it is becoming increasingly evident that massive retaliation equals mass-murder equals mass-suicide.

It seems urgently desirable, therefore, to replace the present crude policy of massive retaliation with strategic and tactical plans designed to deal effectively with the many different types of aggression that may arise in the future. It would be interesting to ask our “all or nothing" planners: "What precisely would be your proposed action if aggression, or heavy fighting, were to occur suddenly this year in Korea, the Formosa Strait, or Indochina?"

The Alternatives

Either aggression is not met with atom bombs, in which case aggression probably succeeds and the United Nations forces are quite likely to be defeated, or we let loose the hydrogen bombs and so destroy most of Great Britain and all of Europe! Surely these are two very unsatisfactory alternatives?

To conclude, it must be admitted that although graduated is better than unlimited retaliation, it can only be a palliative for a situation that should never arise. Serious danger exists as soon as the United Nations go to war with any powerful aggressor, and we, therefore, should not forget the grim warning given to us by that great historian Arnold Toynbee. His Study of History contains the record of some 21 civilizations which mostly have

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