Daily Telegraph

US 'planned nuclear first strike on Russia'. By Michael Smith.  Friday 15 June 2001

BRITISH intelligence warned in 1951 that the Americans were planning to wage a "preventative" atomic war on the Russians the next year with or without the support of their Nato allies.

The Director of Naval Intelligence said the United States military was convinced that "all-out war against the Soviet Union was not only inevitable but imminent". Vice-Admiral Eric Longley-Cook went on to say that the Americans had, accordingly, "gone ahead to prepare for an inevitable clash of arms with the Soviet Union, 'fixed' for mid or late 1952."

Details of the report, and the British concerns that their ally was about to provoke a third world war, are contained in a new book by Richard J Aldrich, Professor of Politics at Nottingham University. The Hidden Hand says Longley-Cook's report, so secret that only six copies were produced, was the culmination of two years of tension in which the Russians had exploded their first atomic bomb, four years before the earliest Nato intelligence prediction.

During that period, a succession of senior British officers had returned from visits to America expressing alarm over the apparent conviction among their United States counterparts that they should attack Russia. Longley-Cook said that the Russians were far too cautious to start a war themselves. The main threat to strategic stability and the security of Britain appeared to come from the United States where McCarthyism was in full flow.

"Many people in America have made up their minds that war with Russia is inevitable and there is a strong tendency in military circles to 'fix' the zero date for war," he said. "It is doubtful whether, in a year's time, the US will be able to control the Frankenstein monster which they are creating. There is a definite risk of the USA becoming involved in a preventative war against Russia, however firmly their Nato allies object."

It was not just the view of senior United States generals and intelligence officers, who seemed unwilling to endorse a threat assessment based on "factual intelligence" rather than their own prejudices. Many ordinary Americans shared their opinions. There was an apocalyptic view among the inhabitants of major American cities, "who visualise in their own concentrated home town the ruins of Hamburg and Berlin", Longley-Cook said.

"These and other Americans say, 'We have the bomb, let's use it now while the balance is in our favour. Since war with Russia is inevitable, let's get it over with now'. Some talk of an 'ultimatum from strength', but many more believe in the necessity for 'smashing the Russians' at the earliest possible moment."

There was certainly evidence to support the British assessment. One US general had said that the West could not afford to wait until Europe or even America was devastated by a nuclear holocaust. "We can afford, however, to create a wilderness in Russia without serious repercussion on Western civilisation. We have a moral obligation to stop Russia's aggression by force, if necessary, rather than face the consequences of delay."

Another US general said that his country was already at war with Russia. "Whether we call it a Cold War or apply any other term we are not winning. It seems to me that almost any analysis of the situation shows that the only way that we can be certain of winning is to take the offensive as soon as possible and hit Russia hard enough to at least prevent her from taking over Europe.

"If we plan and execute the operation properly, the weight of our attack in the early stages may be sufficient to compel Russia to accept our terms for a real peace. It will not be a preventative war, because we are already at war."

Most copies of Longley-Cook's report were ordered to be destroyed once read but one was passed to Winston Churchill after he returned to power in late 1951. He was initially highly dismissive, even suggesting that Longley-Cook must be a communist and ordering that "a sharp eye should be kept on the writer".

But in April 1952, after returning from Washington having failed to obtain a veto on US strikes from British bases, he had changed his mind. He told his private secretary: "I want to see the secret report prepared by the late Director of Naval Intelligence and sent to me by the First Lord when I was in America. Let me have it back again."

The Hidden Hand by Richard J Aldrich (John Murray)