Thursday, January 17, 2013


"Like Churchill, Macmillan had an American mother, and his delusion about the Anglo-American relationship had been further encouraged by his connection with the Kennedy family: his wife Lady Dorothy Macmillan was the aunt of Lord Hartington, killed in action in 1944 shortly after he married Kathleen Kennedy, the future president’s sister. And Macmillan it was who had said in 1943 that ‘we are the Greeks to their Romans’. The Americans were ‘great big bustling people’, he patronisingly said, who needed to be mentored and guided by the worldly-wise English as Roman households had been by Greek tutors (who were in fact slaves, unhappily for the metaphor). This was and remained nonsense. Those ‘bustling’ Romans had no wish at all to be guided by the sophisticated Greeks across the Atlantic, in 1943, or 1962, when Kennedy had politely telephoned Macmillan during the missile crisis, but in no way whatever sought British advice, not when American Boeings armed with hydrogen bombs were flying along the Arctic coast of Russia on the stage of alert immediately below war, and not when the crisis was defused by Robert Kennedy cutting a secret deal with the Russians on his brother’s behalf, by agreeing to withdraw American missiles from Turkey.... A month after that, in the new year of 1963, de Gaulle announced a French veto on the British application. Since Churchill had told de Gaulle in 1944 that he would always follow the Americans rather than the French, it’s scarcely surprising if de Gaulle wasn’t a doting anglophile. But then neither was Acheson, despite his origins, appearance, and many English friends like the Berrys. In 1950, the secretary of state had learnt that American and British officials were working on a document to define the ‘special relationship’, a phrase he abhorred, and Acheson ordered that all copies of the ‘wretched paper’ should be destroyed, not least because it would encourage ‘the McCarthys’ if it could be suggested that ‘the State Department was the tool of a foreign power’.... Still, Acheson was right about Great Britain, and Macmillan’s clutching at American friendship seems in hindsight a poignant or even pitiful fantasy, though not one that ended with him. Charles Williams puts this very well in his recent biography of Macmillan. Like other prime ministers before and since, he persuaded himself that there was some mystical bond between the two countries, quite failing to see that ‘the United States, like all great powers, would in the end follow — without necessarily much regard for others — what it perceived from time to time to be its own interests’. Or as Palmerston said, in words of which Mikhail Gorbachev once reminded Margaret Thatcher, not that she needed reminding any more than de Gaulle did, nations have no eternal friends and no eternal foe, only eternal interests. That truth will never be ‘about played out’'
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "Not-so-special relationship: Dean Acheson and the myth of Anglo-American unity." The Spectator. 5 January 2013, in
"Throughout these talks....we were treated as partners, unequal no doubt in power but still equal in counsel".
Prime Minister, Clement Attlee to Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, 10 December 1950, in PREM 8/1200, PRO, Kew.
"The United Kingdom was in a totally different category as far as United States policy was concerned, to any other power in the world".
John Foster Dulles [quoted in], Minute by John Colville [Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister]. 7 January 1953, in F.O.371/103519/AU1053/1, in PRO, Kew [copy in author's possession].
The skepticism expressed by Geoffrey Wheatcroft about the 'Special Relationship' is one that is paraded about from time to time by scholars, the lay educated and general public. The usual cynicism that the skepticism is formulated in, seems to give currency to the thought processes behind the same. However, once one truly investigates the facts empirically, one sees the following: i) that there has been, faite de mieux as per description, indeed something akin to a 'special relationship', between the United Kingdom and the United States since World War II; ii) that this relationship, au fond involves the United Kingdom being given unparalleled access and input into the (laborious and or twisted) decision-making processes in which American Foreign Policy is made. This obviously did not and does not result in American policy always being made in ways which unusually favored the United Kingdom. Albeit one can quite easily recall various instances when American policy did show a good degree of favoritism towards the UK, viz: the in essence bailout of the UK in 1949 in conjunction with the depreciation of Sterling; the 1957-1958 decision to share nuclear technology with the UK; Kennedy's decision to share Polaris with London; the assistance provided to the UK during the Falklands War, et cetera. Regardless, the truth of the matter is, that the 'Special Relationship' between these two countries is founded on this degree of unparalleled British access and input into the American decision-making process. Something afforded non other country. I repeat: no other country. Perhaps the very best example of this historically speaking is the fact that as the American historians, Ernest R. May and Phillip Zelikow note in their definitive book on the transcripts of the Executive Committee which decided American policy during the Cuban Missile Crisis:
"It is obvious from these records that Macmillan and Ormsby-Gore [Sir David Ormsby-Gore, British Ambassador to the US] became de facto members of Kennedy's Executive Committee 1."
Another example, one that in some ways boggles the mind, was revealed most non-chalantly by none other than by that famous (or infamous) practitioner of Realpolitik, Henry Kissinger in volume two of his memoirs, who stated that he borrowed a Foreign Office 'Soviet expert, Sir Thomas Brimelow', to assist in the drafting of responses to Soviet proposals dealing with nuclear diplomacy involving the two Superpowers in 1972 2. These cases may perhaps to some like Wheatcroft seem inconsequential. I challenge them though to offer up a vision or indeed a reality which has seen a greater degree of intimacy between two sovereign powers in the post-Westphalian world than the UK and the US since 1945.
1. Phillip Zelikow & Ernest R. May. The Kennedy Tapes (1997), p. 692.
2.Henry A. Kissinger. Years of Upheaval. (1981), pp. 190-192.


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