British Atlantic Committee

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The British Atlantic Committee (BAC) was the British arm of an international network of pro-NATO groups established in the early 1950s.[1] In 1994 it merged with Peace through NATO to form the Atlantic Council of the United Kingdom.[2]


In 1952, NATO Secretary-General Hastings Ismay encouraged the British Society for International Understanding to start building an international pro-NATO network. This process began with an Atlantic Community conference at Oxford in September 1952. A second conference in Copenhagen the following year led to the formation of the international Atlantic Treaty Association.[3]

The BAC was created as a result of an agreement at the Oxford conference that an independent, non-partisan committee should be set up in each NATO member state.[4]

Historian John Jenks writes:

The British Atlantic Committee took shape in 1953 and became an umbrella for existing societies and 'ginger groups' for better international relations. such as the English Speaking Union, the United Nations Association and the Labour Party-backed Friends of the Atlantic Union. The BAC had impeccable establishment credentials, with the Foreign Office's endorsement and former Moscow ambassador Sir David Kelly at its head. Official and NATO propaganda continued, but the private entities now handled most publicity work."[5]

The BAC publication The Atlantic Community was distributed to most British secondary schools from 1957.[6]


According to authors Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, a small and short-lived IRD-style unit concerned with CND and defence issues was set up in 1981 following discussions between Ministers of State Peter Blaker of the Ministry of Defence and Douglas Hurd of the Foreign Office. Under Blaker's leaderrship, this unit established initial contacts with the BAC.[7]

In 1982, Foreign Office Minister Malcolm Rifkind told Parliament that the government had granted £33,185 to the Committee for 1981-82 and had so far granted £44,000 in 1982.[8]

Robin Cook raised the issue in the Commons again in a February 1983 question to Douglas Hurd:

Mr. Cook: asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much money is provided by Her Majesty's Government to the British Atlantic Committee; and what stipulation is made as to the use of the money.
Mr. Hurd: Parliamentary approval has been given to the payment of grant-in-aid to the British Atlantic Committee of up to £61,500 in this financial year, 1982–83. The purpose of the grant-in-aid to the British Atlantic Committee is to help this all-party organisation to promote knowledge and understanding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Mr. Cook: asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance with resources and speakers is provided by Her Majesty's Government to the British Atlantic Committee.
Mr. Hurd: Like other non-governmental organisations, the British Atlantic Committee is given, on request, some government publications and films. Ministers have on several occasions spoken at meetings organised by the committee.[9]
David Osler in Lobster 33, 1997, states that the BAC was funded by The Dulverton Trust whose Trustees listed for 1994 included Lord Carrington. 

In the context of the debate surrounding the Labour Party’s defence policy and membership of NATO, Stuart Croft states that in 1984 the BAC published 'Diminishing the Nuclear Threat', a report written by a number of 'distinguished former military officers' who argued that the notion of controlled escalation enshrined in flexible response was impractical. These he characterizes as "a group of analysts who may perhaps best be termed disenchanted orthodox thinkers, people who shared many of the orthodox assumptions and yet agreed with the alternative thinkers on this issue". This also touches on the 'special relationship;[10]

For the orthodox thinkers, the maintenance of NATO and the American nuclear guarantee of European security were fundamental concerns. Alternative thinkers, however, were willing to see NATO as a means to a very different end. They also saw the role of the United States in a very different light. The most explicit view came from the Alternative Defence Commission, which called for the decoupling of the United States and Europe, since the United States had been developing nuclear strategies likely to lead to war. Whereas the orthodox view stressed the influence that the United Kingdom had in Washington through the special relationship, alternative thinkers argued that no such special relationship existed. Booth suggested that ‘the unique Reagan-Thatcher personal relationship will soon come to an end; then it will be just a matter of time before the “special relationship” is fully revealed to be special only in its one-sidedness’. For Duncan Campbell, ‘The British political leadership has often deluded itself about the “special relationship” it believes we enjoy... ’ Martin O’Neill, later to be the Labour Party’s Defence Spokesperson, argued that the special relationship ‘is more a matter of sentiment than of reality. Certainly, we have a relationship in so far as we are both nuclear powers within the Alliance, but I don’t think it’s quite as significant as people seem to think’. The critics argued that the purpose of the ‘special relationship’ was to prevent the sort of events that had actually taken place during the 1980s, where British interests were often not seriously considered in the formulation of American policy: over, for example, the invasion of Grenada in 1983; the bombing of Libya in 1986; the near-agreement on nuclear issues at the Reykjavik super-power summit in 1986; and movement throughout 1987 towards the zero option in the INF Treaty.

The first episode of Duncan Campbell's[11] BBC documentary series 'Secret Society'(1987) called 'The Secret Constitution' offered a critique on covert groups and committees within the UK government, explored the secret decision to buy U.S. Trident nuclear submarines and the cabinet level dirty tricks campaign against CND and this included criticisms of the BAC, and the Coalition for Peace Through Security for keeping key decisions secret from MPs. It was banned by the BBC, although the programme on the 'Zircon' spy satellite tend to be the focus of reporting on the affair.[12]

Steve Dorril in (1984) Lobster 3 'American Friends: the Anti-CND Groups,' states that:

Ernest Lefever used the $200,000 given by USIA to help "highly placed and influential leaders in Western Europe to gain a solid understanding of US defence and arms control policies, with special reference to their religious and moral implications." One conference was organised in Britain in May (New Statesman 20th May 1983) with church leaders in attendance. It was sponsored by the British Atlantic Committee (BAC) and the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies.
Lefever was refused a position in Reagan's administration because his views on human rights were to the right of [Jeanne] Kirkpatrick's distinction between 'friendly authoritarianism' and 'hostile totalitarianism'. Lefever's Centre for Ethics and Public Policy received $250,000 in 1983 and is linked to the Heritage Foundation. He is co-author (with Roy Godson) of the apologist 'The CIA and The American Ethic'. Godson is a member of the Consortium for The Study of Intelligence (CSI) which includes 8 serving or former CIA officers. He is also a staff member of the National Strategic Information Centre (NSIC), Director of Georgetown University's International Labour Programme and a prominent member of CDM.
Sven Kraemer, Programme Director of the NSIC was at the May meeting. He is also a member of the CSI and a close family friend of General Rowney.

This also adds that the Administrator of the Ethics and Nuclear Arms Conference was Ken Aldred, General Secretary of the British Atlantic Committee's 'Peace Through Nato' campaign. And it also points out that many of the Labour right-wing were members and were linked to the similar American right at Georgetown, adding that his has been covered in CIA Infiltration of The Labour Movement by Militant (1982), and also in State Research No 16 1980.

Paul Rogers in Lobster 28, 1994 stated:

I remember going on one of the British Atlantic Committee briefing visits to NATO in the late 1980s and talking to a German civil servant attached to NATO's Nuclear Planning Group. He spoke with considerable enthusiasm about the feasibility of using very small numbers of air-burst nuclear detonations, perhaps as few as five, which would cause very few casualties but would demonstrate to the Soviets that NATO was serious. As far as I could tell, he really did believe that a limited nuclear war could be fought and won, and would not escalate to an all-out nuclear exchange.


The British Atlantic Committee became the Atlantic Council of the UK and is part of a nexus of 'Atlanticist' organisations which bring together the USA's, the UK's and European military-industrial-complexes although we can also add a political dimension to that. Some historical indication of their deliberations can be gained from the the European-Atlantic Group website[13]

Labour Committee for Transatlantic Understanding

Historian Hugh Wilford notes that the BAC was one of a number of Atlanticist groups of the early 1950s with Labour Party links, but that these connections were not universally welcomed inside the Labour movement:[14]

The flurry of Atlanticist organisational activity which occured in 1952 and 1953 was partly a response to growth of a new concern for the 'anti-anti-Americans', namely Bevanism.Although Anuerin Bevan and his followers frequently deined that they were anti-American, their repeated questioning of the Atlantic alliance struck many observers as posing a serious threat to American interests.[15]

The Trades Union Committee for European and Transatlantic Understanding began as the Labour Committee for Transatlantic Understanding and this organisation was connected to the BAC working to foster sympathy towards the aims and policies of the USA with Godson at the helm (who had returned to the UK in 1971). The Committee's membership experienced defections to the Social Democratic Party during the 1980s. One more contemporary figure in this network has been George Robertson:

A former secretary of the right-wing Labour Manifesto group (most of whose members defected to the Social Democratic party in 1981), Robertson joined the government-funded British Atlantic Committee in the same year that it was publicly attacking the Labour party's non-nuclear defence policy. He was on the Council of the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) from 1984 to 1991 and on the steering committee of the annual Konigswinter conference for much of that time. He has been a governor of the Ditchley Foundation since 1989 and was vice-chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy from 1992 to 1994.[16]



  • Sir Frank Roberts President (1968-81). [17]
  • Sir John Killick President (1985-1992)[18]
  • Hugh Hanning, Director 1975-1982[19]
  • Major General C.J. Popham: BAC Director 1982-1992.[20]
  • Sir Gilbert Longden Chairman[21]
  • Group Captain David Bolton[22]
  • Lord Neil Cameron: BAC President, Marshal of the Royal Air Force (Retd.) Asst. Chief of Defence Staff (Policy) in 1968. Senior Air Staff Officer, Air Support Command (1970-76), Chief of Air Staff (1976-77) and Supreme Chief of Defence Staff (1977-79). President of the British Atlantic Committee and Principal of King's Coll., London 1979-.


  1. Survey of Current Affairs, Volume 1, British Information Services, 1971, p.471.
  2. Major-General C.J. Popham, Sunday Times, 24 August 2005.
  3. John Jenks, British propaganda and news media in the cold war, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p.104.
  4. Survey of Current Affairs, Volume 1, British Information Services, 1971, p.471.
  5. John Jenks, British propaganda and news media in the cold war, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p.104.
  6. Alexandra Gheciu, [ p.272.
  7. Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, Britain's Secret Propaganda War 1948-1977, Sutton Publishing, 1998, p.174.
  8. Hansard, British Atlantic Committee, HC Deb 28 October 1982 vol 29 c474W.
  9. Hansard, British Atlantic Committee, HC Deb 28 February 1983 vol 38 cc30-1W.
  10. Stuart Croft (1994) 'Continuity and Change in British: Thinking about Nuclear Weapons,'Political Studies, XLII, 228-242.
  11. There is an interesting 1999 account of Campbell's investigations into several aspects of the 'secret state' Ferrets or Skunks? The ABC Trial and a New Statesman, 12 August 1988 article Somebody's listening
  14. Hugh Wilford, The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?, Frank Cass, 2003, pp.175-176.
  15. Hugh Wilford, The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?, Frank Cass, 2003, pp.175-176.
  16. Tom Easton, The British American Project for the Successor Generation
  17. The Papers of Sir Frank Roberts, Janus, accessed 20 July 2010.
  18. Alan Campbell, Sir John Killick, The Guardian, 16 February 2004.
  19. HANNING, Hugh Peter James (1925-2000), Aim25, accessed 20 July 2010.
  20. Major-General C.J. Popham, The Times, 24 August 2005.
  21. LONGDEN, Sir Gilbert James Morley, 1902-1997, Knight, MP, AIM25, accessed 20 July 2010.
  22. Tom Easton, The British American Project for the Successor Generation, Lobster 33, Summer 1997.