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International Relations Essay

Dec 15, 2015

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The Anglo-American special relationship is widely understood to have experienced a series of strains following the Second World War. During the early 1960’s to late 70’s these strains involved the weakened British economy, America’s war in Vietnam, Britain’s focus on Europe, and the ultimate collapse of the Bretton Woods system. All of these strains were placed against the backdrop of the Cold War and the divergent roles within this war that the two countries sought respectively.
This essay attempts to explain these tumultuous years of transition within the Anglo-American special relationship between 1963 and 1973.

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IR: 3059 Anglo-American Relations since 1939: The Special Relationship

Professor: Dr. Gavin Bailey

Friends with Benefits

'I hereby declare that the attached piece of written work is my own work and that I have not reproduced, without acknowledgement, the work of another.

Word Count:4,862

Introduction

The Anglo-American special relationship is widely understood to have experienced a series of strains following the Second World War. During the early 1960s to late 70s these strains involved the weakened British economy, Americas war in Vietnam, Britains focus on Europe, and the ultimate collapse of the Bretton Woods system.[footnoteRef:1] All of these strains were placed against the backdrop of the Cold War and the divergent roles within this war that the two countries sought respectively. [1: Dobson, Allen. The Years of Transition: Anglo-American Relations 1961-1967. Routledge, 1995.]

This essay attempts to explain these tumultuous years of transition within the Anglo-American special relationship between 1963 and 1973. While the focus of discussion is framed between these dates, it becomes obvious that one must establish exactly from whence any such changes transitioned from. Accordingly, the first part of this paper will examine the Anglo-American relationship as characterized by Eisenhower and Macmillan between 1957 and 1960. This period, often referred to as the Golden Age[footnoteRef:2] of the Anglo-American relationship, is when a renewal of the relationship occurred following what Britain considered to be a serious US betrayal in Suez. This reconciliation is characterised by a renewed nuclear cooperation between the US and Britain, through the repeal of the MacMahon Act and Eisenhowers offer of the Skybolt missiles and Polaris options to Macmillan. Understanding the positive and renewed condition of the Anglo-American relationship between Eisenhower and Macmillan, provides the contrast necessary to explain the fractured relationship within the transition years between 1963 and 1973. [2: Ashton, Nigel J. Harold Macmillan and the Golden Days of Anglo-American Relations Revisited, 195763. Diplomatic History 29, no. 4 (September 2005): 691723.]

The second part of this paper will then explain the aforementioned strains which occurred within the Anglo-American relationship during the 1960s and 1970s. Again, such strains are thought to be an amalgamation of the Vietnam war, Britains entry into the European Economic Committee (EEC), and the ending of the Bretton Woods system. This troubling combination during the 1960s and 1970s is summed up by Allen Dobson: Much of the economic and defence framework, within which fruitful Anglo-American co-operation had taken place in the twenty-five years since the end of the Second World War, disappeared. The USA had turned more to the Far East and away from Europe, because of the war in Vietnam, the growing economic importance of Japan, and increasing irritation with her European allies.[footnoteRef:3] [3: Dobson, The Years of Transition, 138. ]

These tensions and strains within the Anglo-American relationship might also be considered through the perspectives of realism. If a realist perspective is to be taken, this transition period of Anglo-American relations is proof that any alliance which exists does so not because of a special relationship, but rather because of utility and mutual threat. A central example of this utility within the relationship would be the nuclear co-operation of the Polaris deal. While the key examples of mutual threat were obviously the Cold War and Vietnam. The essay will therefore conclude by considering whether or not this transition period from 1963 to 1973 is evidence of an Anglo-American relationship built completely upon utility and mutual threat. Eisenhower & MacmillanThe Suez crisis of 1956 is acknowledged as a very low point in the Anglo-American relationship. Anglo-Egyptian relations had been tense, with frustrations stemming from failed negotiations over British withdrawal of troops from the Suez Canal Zone base.[footnoteRef:4] Matters were made worse when Egyptian president Abdul Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company. Prime Minister Anthony Eden saw Nassers actions as being not only an affront on British prestige, but also an attack on vital national interests.[footnoteRef:5] The British and French sought to put an end to Nassers actions and leadership through negotiations and ultimately force if necessary. Eden sought diplomatic and military support from the US, support that did not come. [4: Fain, W. Taylor. John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan: Managing the Special Relationship in the Persian Gulf Region, 1961-63. Middle Eastern Studies 38, no. 4 (October 1, 2002): 95122. ] [5: Smith, Simon C. THE ANGLO-AMERICAN SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP AND THE MIDDLE EAST 19451973. Asian Affairs 45, no. 3 (November 2014): 42548.]

Near the end of October in 1956 Britain and France attacked Egypt, removing the Saudis occupying the Buraimi Oasis.[footnoteRef:6] This unilateral action was not well received by Eisenhower. This tension brought upon the Anglo-American relationship was largely in part due to Britain not having consulted America at all before attacking, as well as being the sort of gunboat diplomacy that might ruin Western attempts at the containment of Communism within the Third World.[footnoteRef:7] Eisenhower was then determined to stop the British and French by demanding withdrawal. The US placed pressure on Britain and France through the UN as well as selling sterling and blocking any aid from the IMF.[footnoteRef:8] The financial pressures of a ruined pound left the British no choice but to comply with Eisenhowers request for military withdrawal. [6: Smith, THE ANGLO-AMERICAN, 433. ] [7: Dobson, The Years of Transition, 118. ] [8: Ashton, Harold Macmillan, 693. ]

The Suez crisis left a very bitter taste in the mouth of the Anglo-American relationship. It seems quite clear that the specialness of the relationship had no bearing on the behavior of the US in regard to assumptive support of Britain. The Suez crisis is then a warning of what happens when the Anglo-American alliance fails to maintain a unity of interests, common perception of threat, and agreement on policy. Furthermore, the crisis seems to also be a clear example of the failure to communicate. While the British did not consult the US when it chose to unilaterally attack, Eden and Macmillan assumed that military and financial support would come from the US. In his memoir Macmillan said this in respect to the assumption of US backing: I was confident that if and when the moment for action arrived we should have, if not the overt, at least the covert sympathy and support of the Government and people of the United States.[footnoteRef:9] Likewise the US did not expect the unilateral military action of Britain, assuming that they would be consulted by Britain first before any use of force within the Suez. This failure of communication is in fact quite ironic. The irony comes from the fact that a special relationship is often qualified by tight-knit and clear communication between political and military structures; however, in the case of the Suez crisis the special relationship lent itself to many assumptions which ultimately resulted in a breakdown of communication. [9: Harold Macmillan, Riding the Storm, 19561959. London: Macmillan, 1971, p. 104.]

While the Suez crisis was most certainly a very low point in the Anglo-American relationship, a renewal was soon to come. This renewal came from the premiership of Macmillan in January 1957.[footnoteRef:10] It was at the Bermuda Conference in March of 1957 that Macmillan and Eisenhower seemingly repaired the Anglo-American relationship. This reconciliation came from the mutual utility of nuclear co-operation. Soviet nuclear threat during the Suez crisis left the US with a desire to ensure a stronger Western nuclear presence. At the Bermuda Conference the US proposed stationing intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Britain.[footnoteRef:11]Meetings at the Bermuda Conference allowed for the preemptive steps necessary for the Anglo-American nuclear co-operation that would culminate in response to the launch of Sputnik on October 4th 1957.[footnoteRef:12] The threat of Sputnik prompted further nuclear co-operation between the US and Britain, ultimately resulting in the repeal of the McMahon Act. An exchange of nuclear information and nuclear co-operation between the US and Britain of this magnitude had not occurred since the Second World War. Included within the negotiations between Eisenhower and Macmillan over nuclear co-operation were the agreements to sell Skybolt missiles to Britain, as well as the option for Britain to purchase Polaris missiles.[footnoteRef:13] In return, the US was able to secure the Holy Loch submarine base and the Fylingdales spy station from the British. The launch of Sputnik realigned a mutual utility and the mutual threat of Russian communism that was lost between the Anglo-American relationship during the Suez. The freshly mended Anglo-American relationship leading into the 1960s would soon face the difficult transition years. [10: Dobson, The Years of Transition, 118.] [11: Dobson, The Years of Transition, 120. ] [12: Ashton, Harold Macmillan, 699. ] [13: Blackwell, Stephen. Pursuing Nasser: The Macmillan Government and the Management of British Policy Towards the Middle East Cold War, 1957--63. Cold War History 4, no. 3 (April 2004): 85104.]

The Early 1960sThe early 1960s saw the young John F. Kennedy into the office of the US presidency. The personal relationship shared between Macmillan and Kennedy was to be one of high sentiment and mutual trust and support.[footnoteRef:14] Nuclear defence and the Skybolt missile crisis in particular, wer