Post Imperial “Churchillian” Defence, and Economic British Foreign Policy

Post Imperial “Churchillian” Defence, and Economic British Foreign Policy

The hope of partnership between Britain and America, or the “special relationship”, as a result of Eden’s dominant role following Churchill’s ill health was dashed. After Churchill’s resignation, Eden became Prime Minister. During Eden’s premiership from 1955 to 1957, because of the Suez Crisis of 1956 (which arose as a result of Egypt’s nationalization of the canal), the relationship between America and Britain reached its lowest in the twentieth century. The Suez Canal was the main route between Britain and her Empire, mainly India. After India’s independence it became the leading route by which two-thirds of the oil produced in the Persian Gulf was shipped, and thus the Suez Canal was strategically important to Britain, W.Europe and the U.S..

However, Britain had dominated Egypt since the 1880s, and the Canal Zone was still, in the 1950s, important to her military presence in the eastern Mediterranean. On the other hand, America had become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf following the nationalisation of oil in Iran, and, therefore, Eden did not wish and American involvement at this time, in order to avoid any situation that might result in greater American influence in the area whilst diminishing the British position. Consequently, Eden did not consult the Americans and Britain proceeded independently. In 1955 Eden had told the cabinet:

“Our interest in the Middle East were greater than those of the United States because our dependence on Middle East oil, and our experience in the area was greater than theirs. We should not therefore allow ourselves to be restricted over much by reluctance to act without full American concurrence and support. We should finance our own policy in the light of our own interests in the area and get the Americans to support it to the extent we could induce them to do so.”9

Eden’s approach to the Suez crisis was compatible with his view that Britain could, if necessary, act on her own, without the assistance of the United States. The very fact that had been proposing the concept of a new “special relationship” to the Americans while at the same time trying to mislead them angered Eisenhower. After the Anglo-Franco-Israeli attack was launched on Egypt the Americans played a leading role in the United Nations in condemning Britain’s aggression and the Americans demanded British withdrawal from Egyptian soil. The Suez crisis of 1956 reflected a complete conflict of interest between Britain and America together with personality clashes between the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, and the American leader, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. As a result of ill health Eden, too, resigned his post as the Prime Minister in 1957 and was succeeded by Harold MacMillan who had been Eden’s Foreign Secretary for a while.

By the time MacMillan took office, due to the Suez crisis the hopes of creating a U.K/U.S.A. “special relationship” had diminished. At least, the ability of Britain to manipulate American policy, an effort that had begun during and after the war by both the Conservative and Labour to maintain Britain as a great power, was reduced. Britain viewed the United States as powerful but still immature in world affairs, and saw herself as a great nation with superior diplomatic experience. “As one anonymous writer put it during the 1945 loan negotiations:

In Washington Lord Halifax
Once whispered to Lord Keynes:
‘It’s true they have the money bags,
But we have all the brains.”10

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