The GLAWARS was set up in April 1984 during the height of the Cold War by the Greater London Council (GLC) to investigate the impact of a nuclear or conventional war on London. To date the GLAWARS has been the most extensive scientific investigation of possibilities for civil protection and civil defence of a metropolitan area in a modern war.
During 1979 the Government's perceived lack of readiness for such attack pushed the Home Office into publishing in May 1980 a public information series called 'Protect and Survive' on civil defence. It was intended to inform British citizens on how to protect themselves during a nuclear attack, and consisted of a mixture of pamphlets, radio broadcasts, and public information films. However many thought the publication misleading when confronted by the real outcome of nuclear war. In 1983 the GLC was required to draw up civil defence plans for the city under the Civil Defence Regulations and asked the Government for more information about the scale and nature of any likely attack, but met a refusal from the Home Office.
In 1984 Ken Livingstone's GLC commissioned the GLAWARS research project to consider the effect of an attack on London and Londoners. The brief was to establish how London would cope with an all-out attack, nuclear or otherwise, and what would happen to the capital's residents, the food, the water, roads, railways, houses and hospitals. The GLC appointed an international Commission of five experts guiding the direction of the study who were Dr Anne Ehrlich (Stanford University USA), Dr S William Gunn (International Red Cross/Head of Emergency Relief Operations, World Health Organisation), Dr Stuart Horner (DMO, Croydon Health Authority/British Medical Association Council Member), Vice-Admiral John M Lee (Assistant Director, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, retired) and Dr Peter Sharfman (US Congress Office of Technology Assessment).
At the same time, the GLC commissioned the Polytechnic of the South Bank (now London South Bank University) to carry out the GLAWARS study, under the overall direction of the Commission. In all 44 expert authors, including scientists, military experts and disaster-relief specialists, mostly from outside the Polytechnic, produced 33 separate research papers on topics such as Emergency Nursing Services, Nuclear Blast and Building Stress, Communication Destruction and Food Pollution. The researchers took as the basis of their report, five scales of nuclear attack ranging from eight megatons dropped on Britain by bombers carrying nuclear bombs and air-to-surface missiles to 10-35 megatons targeted on London alone by SS20 missiles. The report also addressed the possibility of a conventional, non-nuclear attack on London's services.
The final horrifying results were presented to the GLC in early 1986 and were subsequently published in June 1986 in a 397-page book entitled 'London Under Attack: The Report of the Greater London Area War Risk Study'. The book was highly critical of Government and Home Office policy on civil defence and with its specific and merciless statistics destroyed the fairy tale of survival after a nuclear attack. "The prospect facing those who initially survived would be fear, exhaustion, disease, pain and long, lonely misery. Avoiding a nuclear war is still the only way of avoiding this fate", warns the Report. The depth and breadth of the conclusions of the GLAWARS went far beyond any investigation previously available to any official body, country or organization, and have since been found applicable to most major urban centres.