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Holding the Bridge in Troubled Times: The Cold War and the Navies of Europe

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European navies made a fundamental contribution to the Cold War at sea, ensuring the effectiveness of deterrence even as Soviet naval forces grew to ominous proportions. European fleets were tasked with containing a Soviet attack until US forces could arrive on the scene. Many European navies pursued essential niche capabilities tailored for their own unique maritime environments. Others made important contributions to broader NATO efforts in the high-stakes arenas of sea control, power projection and even nuclear deterrence. Contentious issues did arise, for example concerning burden-sharing, but true to its name, the alliance succeeded collectively in wielding formidable sea power. This paper is based on the premise that the maritime players in the Cold War at sea were by no means restricted to the US and Soviet navies. The navies of Western Europe and Canada had major roles to play as well within the NATO area. They contributed a great deal to the political cohesion crucial to an essentially maritime alliance, and in many cases had a real operational contribution to make as well. What follows, then, is the Cold War at sea from a European point of view.

Keywords: Cold War; Europe; France; Germany; NATO; Naval History; Soviet Navy; UK; burden-sharing

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Defence Studies Department, King's College London at the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College

Publication date: April 1, 2005

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