The post Second World War period was marked by dramatic reduction in defence spending. However, after the start of the Korean War, amid fears of a general war with the Soviet Union, a dramatic expansion of defence spending took place.
From the mid-1950s defence spending increased. The defence review of 1957 led by the Minister for Defence, Duncan Sandys, acknowledged the likelihood of rapid escalation into nuclear war in the event of conflict with the Warsaw Pact nations. Spending was therefore concentrated on nuclear weaponry as a deterrent. During this period there was also a reduction in military garrisons in the colonies and West Germany, and conscription was phased out.
The immediate post-war years saw the introduction of an annual defence White Paper setting out defence policy. In 1963-1964 the merger of the War Office, Admiralty, Air Ministry, and the Ministry of Defence created a new 'super' Ministry of Defence.
By 1964 the United Kingdom had considerable worldwide defence commitments. These included former colonies in South East Asia and protectorates and allies in the Persian Gulf. British and Commonwealth forces had become engaged in a major counter-insurgency campaign in Malaysia and Brunei against Indonesian forces.
The great advances in military technology and spiralling cost of defence projects was an intolerable strain on finances in the fragile economic climate. A series of defence cuts and reviews instigated by the Defence Secretary, Denis Healey, cancelled major hardware programmes, which included the TSR2 and the CVA01 aircraft carrier.
The defence reviews committed Britain to withdrawing from its bases east of the Suez Canal by 1975.This withdrawal was later brought forward to 1971 as a result of a further spending review following the devaluation of sterling in November 1967. The purchase of the US F111 strike aircraft was also cancelled.
Succeeding governments continued the gradual downscaling of defence commitments and capabilities. A defence review in 1975 resulted in further withdrawal from overseas commitments and bases in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean. The focus of defence shifted towards forces operating within North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) requirements in central Europe and the Eastern Atlantic.