The approach to the summit
in A ‘special relationship’?
Open Access (free)

Labour's handling of the British economic crisis occasioned a great deal of concern on the part of the President, given the possibility that sterling might have to be devalued or that any rise in the Bank of England lending rate could precipitate a run on the dollar. There was also concern about the multilateral force (MLF), a matter due to be discussed at the planned summit meeting in Washington early in December. President Lyndon B. Johnson had never feared a Labour victory in Britain, but he felt it necessary to ease any concern in the world at large (especially in financial markets) about the British 'socialists' entering office. Britain's role in the world would depend in large part on the country's economic health. Some of Harold Wilson's colleagues disdained his efforts to gain American help for Britain's economic problems.

On 16 October 1964, Harold Wilson became Britain’s new prime minister, when the Labour Party gained power after thirteen years in opposition and by a slim margin.1 Wilson promptly turned to President Johnson for help in the British economic crisis which occurred soon after Labour assumed power, and he gained American assistance in obtaining a major bail-out for sterling. Labour’s handling of the British economic crisis occasioned a great deal of concern on the part of the President, given the possibility that sterling might have to be devalued or that any rise in the Bank of England lending rate could precipitate a run on the dollar. There was also concern about the Multilateral Force (MLF), a matter due to be discussed at the planned summit meeting in Washington early in December. The MLF was a US-sponsored plan to create a mixed-manned NATO fleet of surface vessels armed with Polaris nuclear missiles under an American veto.2 The basic idea was to give West Germany a greater sense of integration with the Western alliance, lest it seek a more independent and potentially destabilising course; National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy described the need for a ‘civilised way of keeping the Germans from getting more dangerous’.3 However, the project had effectively been on hold until the British general election, and a variety of military and political opposition meant that the MLF had garnered little support in the UK from any quarter, and Wilson expressed the opposition by presenting plans for a diluted version of the project known as the Atlantic Nuclear Force (ANF). By this means the MLF project might be disabled without antagonising President Johnson. Several emissaries came from Washington to London to try to win Wilson over on the MLF, some of whom tried to exploit his commitment to the White House by asserting that the President was resolutely in favour of the project. However, in a critical meeting the day before he was due to see Wilson, Johnson’s growing weariness with the project led him to assert his will over the scheme’s supporters in the State Department. This was a formative period in relations between the Labour government and the United States, characterised above all by Wilson’s determination to secure his ties with the White House, in keeping with his personal inclinations and his view that close cooperation with Washington was fundamental to British foreign policy.

# The Labour victory

President Johnson had never feared a Labour victory in Britain, but he felt it necessary to ease any concern in the world at large (especially in financial markets) about the British ‘socialists’ entering office. Although the news that China had detonated an atomic bomb and that Khrushchev had been ousted from power stole the international headlines in the United States, Johnson affirmed on television that Labour ‘are our friends, as the Conservatives before them are our friends, and as governments of both parties have been our friends for generations’. The response of official Washington to Labour’s success, noted a Foreign Office assessment, was ‘almost routine and without surprise’. Most US officials had long ago ‘conquered their earlier doubts about dealing with socialists on major foreign affairs problems’.4 Johnson telephoned his congratulations to Wilson as soon as the results were out, and suggested that they ‘would have to meet with each other as soon as possible’, to discuss defence issues.5 The President had not felt much enthusiasm for contacting the British leader; he was merely following Bundy’s suggestion to ‘make a phone call suggesting a meeting after the US election, since Harold Wilson couldn’t be kept away from the White House anyway and the President might as well take the initiative’.6 But Wilson responded effusively: ‘my colleagues and I are convinced that close friendship and cooperation between us is just as essential now as it has been in the past’. He looked forward ‘to continuing the close and confidential communication which you have already begun and which has existed between successive Presidents of the United States and Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom’.7

The Labour victory prompted Bruce to assess Wilson’s ‘possible attitude towards Anglo-American negotiations’. Washington would find him, Bruce said, ‘desirous of personally controlling all important aspects of British policy, foreign and domestic … The charge during the campaign that Wilson was a “one-man band” was fully justified’. As he was ‘intrigued by the manner in which the American President is served by a small personal staff, Mr. Wilson is likely to make a small scale adaptation of it for his own use’. Wilson would have, in the figures of Patrick Gordon Walker (Foreign Secretary), James Callaghan (Chancellor of the Exchequer), and Denis Healey (Minister of Defence), ‘appointees on whose judgment in affairs vital to their own departments and to the national security, he will not completely rely’. Washington should prepare itself ‘for a greater degree of high-level negotiation with the British than has been our previous experience’. Callaghan, Healey and Gordon Walker ‘may eventually be replaced by stronger individuals’, said Bruce, ‘but for the present their field of manoeuvre will be restricted’.8

# Towards the summit

we assume that the first thing we were to make our numbers one another [sic], that we make the first visit to establish broad lines of policy which is always done. It was done very successfully between Macmillan and Eisenhower, for example. And from that stage on, to work out what the other arrangements would be …13

Wilson gave much thought to how he was going to speak to the President. He told Bruce on 19 November that he was interested in discussing the problems of ‘political management … and how the British parliamentary system worked’, as a means of opening up cordial discussions. In addition to the MLF, Wilson wanted to discuss with Johnson ‘the general question of Britain’s role in the world’.14 Defence talks at Chequers on 19–22 November15 had ‘highlighted the fact that Britain was trying … to fulfil three roles – the independent nuclear deterrent role, the conventional role in Europe, and a world role East of Suez – without the necessary economic resources’. Knowing how to please the Americans, Wilson indicated that ‘the most important role for Britain for the future would be in the defence of Western interests East of Suez’. He thought that ‘the President and the Defence Department in Washington would have similar views’.16 His aims for the meeting were grandiose. He sought to make a plea for US–UK unity which would, he hoped, create an impact like that produced by Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946. Burke Trend, Secretary to the Cabinet, for example, suggested to the Prime Minister on 2 December that:

the overriding purpose of your visit … is to secure a broad meeting of minds between yourself and the President on what the world is going to look like from 1965 onwards and what the United States and United Kingdom jointly should do about it. Your object, as I see it, should be to sell to the President the basic philosophy of the Chequers weekend, your view of the world scene as a whole, both because it is right and because it is by worldwide collaboration that we shall preserve, unspoken, the ‘special relationship’.17

Wilson was delighted by Trend’s arguments: he jotted on the margin of the memorandum that ‘This is the best sense I have seen on this.’ He would keep the document on the top of his Washington briefs, ‘ready for quick reference’.

# British economic difficulties

Britain’s role in the world would depend in large part on the country’s economic health. David Bruce recognised that Wilson would be ‘confronted immediately with [the] over-hanging problem of difficult British balance of payment payments’. According to Bruce, these problems ‘may assume grave proportions, although much of it now seems suppressed, dealt with by short-term borrowing and hidden from public eye and consciousness’.19 Bruce also suggested that the slim Labour majority ‘may impede swift action aimed at eliminating sectors of the free enterprise system’, but, all the same, Labour’s ‘anticipated proposals for taxation are awaited with fear in the City’. If there were ‘radical changes … in fiscal management, as advocated by some of [Wilson’s] advisers, there will be a further diminuition of confidence, already impaired by a Labour victory, amongst Britain’s creditors’.20 On 24 October, Wilson confided his worries on such matters to Johnson, and in doing so he tried to assuage the President’s own concerns for the dollar. Wilson’s ‘first task on assuming office’, he stated, had been ‘to undertake … a thorough review of our present financial and economic situation’. The situation ‘is even worse than we had supposed’, with a ‘probable deficit on external account for this year which may be as high as £800 million’. Wilson was therefore ‘determined to take firm remedial measures’, and had ‘considered and rejected two alternative courses of action’. He would not even refer explicitly to the first alternative, which was to devalue sterling (then set at a parity of $2.80). Devaluation had been ‘rejected … now, and for all time’. He also opposed the second option, an increase in the Bank of England lending rate, ‘in principle both because of its restrictive effect on the economy and because of its impact on your own problems, especially at this time’, he told Johnson. The following Monday, Wilson told the President, ‘the government will be telling the nation what the situation is and announcing an eight point programme to set the economy moving on the right lines’. The plan’s key measures were a surcharge on certain imports and various export rebates, despite the fact that these actions contravened the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Wilson ‘thought it right’ to tell Johnson ‘what we propose in advance of any public statement, first, because I set great store by close and continuing co-operation with the American administration over the whole international field, economic and commercial’. Britain’s measures were ‘essential if we are to have a strong economy as a basis for playing our proper part in international affairs’ and retaining close bonds with the United States.21 The exigencies of the British economic situation were such that in his letter Wilson was not consulting but informing Johnson of the measures – so that ‘public statements’ by the US Government about them were ‘necessarily somewhat optimistic’ since it was ‘faced by [a] fait accompli’.22 Yet the President was pleased that sterling had not been devalued, for the move might cause serious disruption to the world trading system and undermine the United States’s own economic position. He believed that devaluation could ‘easily throw the world economy into the kind of vicious cycle that had been so disastrous between 1929 and 1933’.23 However, in late 1964 Wilson had overrated Johnson’s ability to help with the British economic crisis, as there was no intimation of any unilateral US government bail-out, which, it can plausibly be suggested, the Prime Minister had sought from the President. Lord Cromer, the Governor of the Bank of England, told Wilson on 18 November that ‘a precipitate appeal to the United States for direct help might prejudice next month’s talks in Washington’.24 In his dealings with Congress, whose consent would be needed for a unilateral US Government loan to the British, Johnson gave priority to his ‘Great Society’ programme of social legislation. But the initial British economic measures did seem to strike the right note in the White House. In a telephone conversation with the President on 24 October, Bundy expressed satisfaction that London had made no move to devalue the pound or to increase the Bank rate, and was pleased that the import surcharge was only a temporary measure: all told, the British were ‘playing ball’.25 Johnson sent Wilson a brief but supportive letter (drafted by Bundy) the same day, regretting ‘the recourse to restrictive measures’ but recognising ‘the need for strong action in defence of sterling’. The success of ‘protecting the pound … will reinforce the position of the whole free world’.26 Thus fortified, Wilson responded that his economic plan had ‘been very well received both at home and abroad’. Most commentators, he said, regarded it as a ‘sensible start to a vigorous attack on our problems’. Sterling was ‘already strengthening and the stock market is more than steady’. There had been ‘a few squeals from overseas, but these are mostly for the record’.27 Despite Wilson’s optimism, the British economic measures produced only a short-lived improvement. A British analysis noted that ‘the size of the [balance of payments] deficit and the hostile reception abroad of the import surcharge’ worried financial analysts. Various ministerial statements, including one from Gordon Walker on 27 October, indicated that the Government had no plans to raise the Bank rate. This, said the report, ‘seemed to confirm that the Government did not intend to deal with the payments problem by restraining domestic demand’. Reports spread of imminent devaluation, while the budget of 11 November was not deflationary enough to please the bankers.28 Referring to the renewed outflow of sterling, on 22 November Johnson suggested to Gardner Ackley, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, that the ‘thing that kicked it off’ was ‘a billion dollars worth of expenditure’ in the budget, which ‘just scared everybody’. Ackley responded by saying that the British had ‘handled it pretty ineptly’, including the fact that Wilson had intimated that the Bank rate would be raised but then failed to make an adjustment when expected.29 Two days later, Johnson commented of the Labour government’s indiscretions that it ‘Looks like we ought to get them to quit talking’.30 Wilson told the President on 19 November that sterling had been ‘under strong pressure for several days’, and that Britain intended ‘to draw at the beginning of next month enough of our IMF standby to repay the short-term credit we have received from the Federal Reserve and the other central banks’. Contrary to the Prime Minister’s previous assurance, it was also necessary to raise the Bank rate. He was ‘very reluctant to do this since it would run counter to the long-term policies we are developing for dealing with our basic economic problems’, and knew that ‘an increase in our Bank rate would be as unwelcome to you as it would be to us’.31 It would oblige the United States government to do likewise in order to prevent an outflow of dollars – Johnson noted in a telephone conversation a few days later that ‘When you agree to pay your investor 7 per cent in England he’s not very interested in 4 per cent in America.’32 In the letter of 19 November, Wilson told Johnson that ‘if we are to outmanoeuvre the speculators over the short term and to give our longer term policies the chance to mature, we need substantial reinforcement for sterling as rapidly as possible’. The British government therefore intended to ‘approach the IMF for a further standby of$1,000 million; and we shall greatly value your support’.33 The Bank rate was duly raised from 5 to 7 per cent on 23 November, and the lending rate in the United States also had to be raised. Johnson complained on 25 November that ‘our short-term’s gone up from 3.6 to 3.8. Every time you go up a point it costs us many millions and our interest on our debt’s going to go way up … money’s going to get tighter and our prosperity’s going to dip and our tax money’s going to dip, our expenses going up … we got a real serious thing on our hands’.34 That day Britain took a $3 billion short-term loan from, as Bruce noted in his diary, ‘European central banks, the United States, and others, which should be sufficient to put to rout speculators against the pound’. The United States ‘is providing$1 billion of these credits, a quarter from the Export-Import Bank, the rest from the Federal Reserve’.35 It was the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve that made the running to help Britain obtain the bailout;36 but Wilson bore an exaggerated sense of gratitude to Johnson himself, telling Bruce that ‘the support of President Johnson and the whole of the United States Administration … had been absolutely magnificent’. Britain’s financial crisis had ‘made clear’ just who were Britain’s ‘friends’. Wilson even invoked the analogy of nuclear war: the prospect of devaluation was like ‘look[ing] down into the abyss … much as President Kennedy had done in the nuclear context at the time of Cuba’.37

Some of Wilson’s colleagues disdained his efforts to gain American help for Britain’s economic problems. Housing Minister Richard Crossman noted in his diary in January 1965 that ‘By getting Lyndon Johnson firmly on his side [Wilson] has convinced himself at least that we can get through without the devaluation of the pound because we are now built into the American system’.38 Paymaster General George Wigg recorded in his memoirs Wilson’s argument that to devalue the pound would transfer Britain’s problems ‘without warning, to the Americans’, an approach which would have ‘angered President Johnson and endangered future Anglo-American relations’. Wigg contended that Wilson’s solicitude about Johnson’s reactions to the British economic measures was a ‘misjudgment’, as there was ‘no sign’ that Johnson ‘ever regarded Wilson’s policies with the respect they were supposed to have earned’. Wilson’s continued postponement of the devaluation of sterling until 1967 meant that Britain ‘paid a high price, a very high price in economic terms, for nothing’.39 But Wilson was sometimes less confident about the wisdom of refusing to devalue than he tended to appear. Economist Walter Heller told the President on 19 November 1964 that the Prime Minister had stated ‘somewhat wistfully’ that ‘we couldn’t devalue on the first day but it was then or never’. Wilson ‘sounded as though he wishes he’d done it the first day … that would have put [Britain] in a stronger competitive position’.40 It is clear, though, that Wilson’s desire to avoid devaluation was intimately connected with his interest in close Anglo-American relations and a continued major international role for the UK.41 In August 1965, for example, Wilson ‘reminded’ Richard Neustadt of his ‘concern’ for the United States ‘last October; [sic] Bank rate and devaluation decisions were influenced, he said, by Johnson’s situation politically’.42 Francis Bator of the National Security Council told Johnson in June 1967 that Wilson’s continued opposition to devaluation ‘reflected, in part, ‘our repeated warnings during the rough period in 1964–1966 that we regard devaluation as a mortal sin’.43 But while Wilson was keen to bolster his standing in the eyes of American policymakers there were concerns in Washington about the economic competence of the Labour government – in a conversation with Johnson on 24 November Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon questioned whether Wilson and his colleagues ‘know what they are doing’.44

# The MLF

Wilson’s account is overdramatised in order to show his resolution and singlemindedness against Ball’s pro-MLF zeal, and to demonstrate his resistance to the implicit threat of damaged relations with Johnson. Yet Wilson’s record that Ball indicated that ‘it would be better if I cancelled my visit’ if Britain was not willing to join the MLF rings true, not least because the Undersecretary was a keen supporter of the mutually reinforcing goals of the MLF and European political unity. Moreover, Wilson was right to doubt that Ball’s ‘line … had been authorised by the White House’.58 In his tough message to Wilson, the Undersecretary did not represent Johnson’s views, who at best saw the discussions of the American emissaries with Wilson as fact-finding missions. George Brown realised that Ball was overstepping the mark. He wrote to Wilson on 30 November to say that Ball had seen him, to ‘talk chiefly about the MLF’. According to Brown, Ball said that ‘on the authority of the President, he … did not foresee the possibility of any scheme going forward that did not involve UK participation in a mixed manned nuclear surface fleet’. Ball elaborated to say that Johnson ‘would not be interested in any development from your forthcoming talks if the UK did not accept such participation, and that no agreement was likely … unless this condition was met’. Prompted by David Bruce, who was present, Ball said that ‘he had not meant to imply that the talks were conditional on our acceptance of this outcome, but he did not really withdraw from the position he had taken’.59 Pressure from Ball and other figures for Wilson to give way on the MLF occasioned some criticism in London. Trend argued to Wilson on 2 December that ‘the recent reconnaissance trips of Neustadt and Ball … have obscured the wood by highlighting particular trees … advice on how to handle the President, the present rate of his pulse etc. etc. is useful’ but ‘too much of the recent toing and froing has smacked of lobbying by one interest or another no less insidious for being less fanatical’. It ‘should be strenuously resisted’.60

# Johnson and the MLF

On 13 November Nicholas Henderson, Foreign Office Private Secretary to Gordon Walker, told Oliver Wright of developments in the White House’s handling of the MLF. Chester Cooper, ‘a member of the CIA, who now works with Mac Bundy in the White House’, had indicated that ‘from now on the White House staff would be taking a much closer interest than hitherto in the multilateral force, and the responsibility for this subject which [Walt] Rostow and his co-fanatics in the State Department would be correspondingly diminished’. Johnson’s ‘interests, experience and preoccupations had inevitably lain in the domestic field since he became President, but now that he had secured an overwhelming public mandate it was likely that he would turn his attention to the foreign field’. The President was ‘thought to want to make an important move about the Atlantic alliance’. The ‘next few weeks would be crucial ones for him in shaping a policy’, and Wilson’s visit was ‘therefore most timely’.61 In a meeting at the White House on 10 April 1964, Johnson had warned against trying to ‘shove’ the MLF ‘down the throats of the potential participants’62 – a warning that seemed to have little impact upon Ball and other State Department advocates of the scheme. In a memorandum of 17 December, Johnson noted the MLF’s theoretical benefits:

1. … it will lead the UK out of the field of strategic deterrence and thus reduce by one the number of powers aiming at this kind of nuclear strength.
2. … it will greatly reduce the danger of any separate nuclear adventure by the Germans.
3. … it will advance the principle and practice of collective strategic defence, as against the proliferation of separate nuclear deterrents.63

Although he accepted that the MLF might benefit the Western alliance, the pragmatic Johnson grew less and less convinced that it was worth pursuing. His ambivalence precipitated a power struggle among his advisers to win him over on the best approach. Among those advisers Bundy was the most active in disseminating his views. On 25 November, he wrote to Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, expressing some pragmatic and well-considered views. In an influential paper, Bundy argued that Johnson should be persuaded to let the MLF ‘sink out of sight … we should now ask the President for authority to work toward a future in which the MLF does not come into existence’. It seemed ‘increasingly clear’, said Bundy, ‘that the costs of success would be prohibitive’. Bundy surmised correctly that Johnson ‘does not feel the kind of personal Presidential engagement in the MLF itself which would make it difficult for him to strike out on a new course if we can find one which he finds better’.64

Johnson certainly had no desire to antagonise Congress over the MLF, as the support of the legislature was essential for his vision of a ‘Great Society’. Some leading senators had warned Johnson that:

we are much concerned that instead of cementing the Alliance, the MLF might create further rifts and tensions within it … the proposal could at best be an Anglo-German-American force. But with the Labour Party in staunch opposition … British participation is at least uncertain. To coerce Great Britain into participation out of fear of a German–American pact is hardly consistent with an Alliance of sovereign and friendly states sensitive to mutual interests and viewpoints. Alternatively, without British participation, the MLF would become a German–American force whose potential implications would decidedly be drastic.68

In the 6 December meeting, Johnson upbraided his advisers, saying that nobody outside the administration ‘from right to left’ of the political spectrum at home or abroad wanted the MLF: the ‘French weren’t for it; the Italian position was obscure; and the British weren’t for it … one cannot push a thing if everyone’s against it’, he said. Johnson did not intend to have ‘a showdown’ with Wilson because if the Prime Minister and his European counterparts did not support the MLF, ‘then to hell with it’. However, the President would at first try to get Wilson to accept: ‘He’ll say no and then we’ll shove him a bit and agree that both have to talk with the Germans’, who would not support the British ANF proposals.69 Johnson had turned away from the MLF irrevocably, and the meetings with Wilson would surely reflect this.

# American reservations towards Wilson

There was little enthusiasm in Washington for Wilson’s visit. Richard Neustadt wrote that he expected the Prime Minister to ‘arrive … with recollections of the Anglo-American relationship and hopes for his own personal relationship which are quite different from perceptions of reality held by many American officials’,70 who regarded the ties between Britain and the United States in purely functional rather than sentimental terms. On 29 November, Neustadt told Derek Mitchell, Wilson’s principal private secretary, that ‘the Prime Minister should not bank on everything going his way when he got face to face with the President’. Although there was much goodwill in Washington ‘towards the UK and its representatives’, Johnson was ‘not looking forward to the talks with anything approaching the same eagerness as the Prime Minister’. The President had ‘many other problems on his mind, for example Southeast Asia and a number of personnel matters. Thus preoccupied he looked forward to next weekend as more of a chore than a major act of policy’.71 The White House understood, said Neustadt:

that the Prime Minister had received a strong impression from his personal meeting with the President which he had when he was leader of the Opposition; and that he had been moved by the warmth of the message which was sent to him when he took up office. But the President himself had not the same recollection of the earlier meeting and the warm message of greeting was no more than the result of an instruction to officials to draft a warm message of greeting.72

No one in Washington was ‘quite sure what kind of treatment the President would offer’. It might be the ‘overwhelming friendliness treatment’, either ‘genuine or simulated’. It could also be the ‘arm around the shoulder, talking eyeball-toeyeball treatment’. In this approach ‘the President’s gaze usually went through the other persons head’. Alternatively, Johnson could dispense the ‘Gary Cooper Treatment’, rocking back and forth in his chair and listening ‘with such gruelling patience that his opponent was usually driven into the sands of silence’. Regardless of Johnson’s personal approach, the White House feared that Wilson would “do a Macmillan” on the President; that is to say, that he would lead the President up the garden path in the way that his predecessor had been led up the garden path over Skybolt’ in 1962 – the view was that in the run-up to the Nassau conference Macmillan played up the crisis caused by the American cancellation of Skybolt in order to put pressure on the Administration, and there were fears that Wilson might in some comparable way try to exploit the vulnerability of the White House on the matter of the MLF. Mitchell responded to Neustadt by explaining that Wilson ‘assumed he had a personal affinity with the President and that if he were disabused of this in too rude or unfeeling a way he might take it very hard’. This could result in ‘a disillusionment about Anglo-American relations which would be damaging to both parties’.73

Prior to the visit, Bruce warned Washington that the Prime Minister was ‘too steeped in the early fifties, too devoted to outmoded dogmas, too suspicious of the motives of others. It may well be that he believes in the necessity for class warfare to extirpate residual privileges’. ‘Certainly,’ argued Bruce, ‘he detests the Conservative Establishment, and regards bankers, financiers, industrialists and large landowners as leagued in the desire to oppress the commonality’.75 Equally misplaced was a bizarre report to Bundy from Richard Helms of the CIA, ‘concerning the rumours current in London of the impending divorce of Harold Wilson’s personal secretary [Marcia Williams] and its possible political implications’.76 One writer indicates that Johnson revelled in this hearsay about Wilson.77 Bruce, however, noted that when discussing the Prime Minister’s impending visit on 30 November, the President ‘made no allusion to what I had been confidentially told was his prejudice against the Prime Minister, largely founded on gossip that he had conducted an irregular connection with his secretary’.78 But the salaciousness of the CIA report could only have exacerbated Johnson’s reservations towards Wilson.

An aide in the administration, Douglas Cater, was concerned that Johnson should assert himself vigorously over the MLF, otherwise Wilson would exploit the opportunity to claim himself as a victor in the talks. Cater recognised that Wilson was keen to present himself as a statesman as well as a politician, and used as a parallel the alleged opportunism of Harold Macmillan, who:

tried to create an image of himself as mediator and world statesman. He was not particularly successful – as when he tried to claim credit for getting talks going on the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. But he had to compete with President Kennedy, who effectively asserted the natural dominance of the United States in Western affairs. The longer the President delays demonstrating his grasp of the problems of the Alliance … the greater the chance that Wilson will gain an advantage in the mass media – possibly even making the President look like a ‘me-tooer’ before he has a chance to get his own initiative going.79

On 6 December, Bundy advised Johnson to warn Wilson ‘about the destructive effects of painting [it] his way’, as did Conservative Prime Minster Alec Dou-glas-Home on the Cuban buses issue earlier that year. The key principle ‘on every issue should be that it is a matter of exploration and discussion without decisions’. Thus Wilson could not say that he had torpedoed the MLF, nor would the United States’s other European allies gain the impression of an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy to achieve the same end. There was little affection for Wilson in Washington, but how this attitude would influence the summit meeting would soon be revealed.

1 Labour won 317 seats, the Conservatives 304, and the Liberals 9.
2 For accounts of the MLF see Philip Geyelin, Lyndon B. Johnson and the World (London: Pall Mall, 1966), pp. 159–80; Helga Haftendorn, NATO and the Nuclear Revolution: A Crisis of Credibility (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 115–23ff; Donette Murray, Kennedy, Macmillan and Nuclear Weapons (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), pp. 122–43; and John D. Steinbruner, The Cybernetic Theory of Decision (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974).
3 LBJL, tape WH6411.29, citation 6472, Johnson–Bundy telephone conversation, 9.15 am, 24 November 1964.
4 PRO, FO 371/174282, AU 1051/10, ‘US Press Reactions to the Election Result’, 19 October 1964.
5 PRO, PREM 13/110, transcript Johnson–Wilson telephone conversation, 16 October 1964; LBJL, NSF: Subject File, Box 39, Presidential Contacts with Foreign Leaders 1963–67 (3/ 3),‘Contacts with Prime Minister Harold Wilson of Great Britain’, undated.
6 NSC Meeting, 16 October 1964, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964–1968 , vol. XIV, The Soviet Union (Washington DC: USGPO, 2001), p. 125.
7 PRO, PREM 13/103, Wilson to Johnson, 17 October 1964.
8 Embassy to State, 16 October 1964, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964–1968 , vol. XII, Western Europe, pp. 464–7.
9 LBJL, NSF: Country File, Box 214, UK Meetings with Wilson 3/2/64, Rusk to Johnson, 28 February 1964.
10 LBJL, NSF: Country File, Box 214, UK Meetings with Wilson 3/2/64, ‘Tour d’ Horizon with Harold Wilson’, 1 March 1964.
11 PRO, PREM 13/2445, Palliser to Wilson, 26 February 1968.
12 NARA, Subject-Numeric 1964–66, POL 2.1 UK, Joint Weekas UK 12.64, Joint Weeka No. 47, 4 December 1964.
13 John F. Kennedy Library, Boston (JFKL), Harold Wilson oral history interview conducted by Richard Neustadt, 23 March 1964, p. 70.
14 PRO, PREM 13/103, ‘Note for the Record’, 27 November 1964.
15 For an account of the talks see Saki Dockrill, Britain’s Retreat From East of Suez: The Choice Between Europe and the World? (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 55–64.
16 PRO, PREM 13/103, ‘Note for the Record’, 27 November 1964.
17 PRO, PREM 13/105, ‘Strategy for Washington’, 2 December 1964.
18 Ibid. This document is partly reproduced in John Baylis (ed.), Anglo-American Relations Since 1939: The Enduring Alliance (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), pp. 150–2.
19 Note 2, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XII, p. 467.
20 Embassy to State, ibid.
21 Wilson to Johnson, 24 October 1964, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964–1968 , vol. VIII, International Trade and Monetary Policy (Washington: USGPO, 1998), pp. 27–8.
22 Johnson to Wilson, 24 October 1964, ibid., p. 30.
23 Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963–1969 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), p. 316.
24 PRO, PREM 13/261, Wilson–Cromer conversation, 18 November 1964; see also Kenneth O. Morgan, Callaghan: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 215–16.
25 LBJL, tape WH6410.14, citation 5962, Johnson–Bundy telephone conversation, 7.00 p.m., 24 October 1964.
26 Johnson to Wilson, 24 October 1964, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. VIII, p. 29.
27 Wilson to Johnson, 27 October 1964, ibid., pp. 31–2.
28 Bodleian Library, Lord George–Brown Papers, Ms. Eng. C. 5009, ‘Enquiry into the Position of Sterling, 1964–1965’, 1 June 1966.
29 LBJL, tape WH6411.26, citation 6441, Johnson–Gardner Ackley telephone conversation, 10.41 a.m., 22 November 1964.
30 LBJL, tape WH6411.29, citation 6476, Johnson–Douglas Dillon telephone conversation, 11.14 a.m., 24 November 1964. Dillon, Secretary of the Treasury, said that the Labour government was ‘always talking to their election audience’ when they should have been ‘talking for a world-wide audience’. Ibid.
31 Wilson to Johnson, 19 November 1964, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XII, pp. 472–3.
32 LBJL, tape WH6411.30, citation 6481, Johnson–Jim Wright telephone conversation, 7.29 p.m., 25 November 1964.
33 Wilson to Johnson, 19 November 1964, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XII, pp. 472–3.
34 LBJL, tape WH6411.30, citation 6481, Johnson–Jim Wright telephone conversation, 7.29 pm, 25 November 1964.
35 Virginia State Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia (VHS), Diary of David K. E. Bruce, MSS 5:1B8303:50, entry for 25 November 1964.
36 James Callaghan, Time and Chance (London: Collins, 1987), p. 176.
37 PRO, PREM 13/103, ‘Note for the Record’, 27 November 1964.
38 Richard Crossman, Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, vol. I, Minister of Housing 1964–1966 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1975), p. 117, entry for 3 January 1965.
39 Lord Wigg, George Wigg (London: Michael Joseph, 1972), p. 309.
40 LBJL, tape WH6411.24, citation 6419, Johnson–Heller telephone conversation, 7.13 p.m., 19 November 1964.
41 Ziegler suggests that as well as concerns about American reactions Wilson was reluctant to devalue sterling because of ‘pride in his own reputation, fears as to the effect it might have on the Labour Party, doubts whether it was needed or would be efficacious’. Philip Ziegler, Wilson: The Authorised Biography of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993), pp. 253–4. See also Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London: Harper Collins, 1992), p. 412.
42 LBJL, NSF: Name File, Box 7, Neustadt Memos, ‘Round-up on Trip to England’, 9 August 1965.
43 LBJL, NSF: Country File, Box 216, UK: Visit of Wilson 6/2/67 (2/2), Bator to Johnson, 1 June 1967.
44 LBJL, tape WH6411.29, citation 6476, Johnson–Dillon telephone conversation, 11.14 am, 24 November 1964.
45 Harold Wilson, The Labour Government, 1964–1970: A Personal Record (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971), p. 40.
46 VHS, Diary of David K. E. Bruce, MSS 5:1B8303:50, Embassy to State, 19 October 1964.
47 State to Embassy in Bonn, 29 October 1964, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Western Europe Region (Washington: USGPO, 1995), p. 94. For an account of Gordon Walker’s talk with President Johnson, see FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XII, pp. 469–72.
48 LBJL, NSF: Country File, Box 214, UK Wilson Visit I 12/7–8/64, ‘Wilson’s Problems with the Mixed Manned Surface Fleet’, undated.
49 Bundy to Johnson, 8 November 1964, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XIII, p. 104.
50 Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 40–1, 44.
51 PRO, PREM 13/018, Trend to Wilson, ‘Defence: Chequers Discussion’, 19 November 1964.
52 State to Embassy in Bonn, 29 October 1964, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XIII, p. 94.
53 PRO, PREM 13/103, ‘Speeches in the United States’, 5 December 1964.
54 State to Embassy in Bonn, 29 October 1964, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964–1968, vol. XV, Germany and Berlin (Washington: USGPO, 1999), p. 139.
55 LBJL, NSF: Memos to the President, Box 2, McGeorge Bundy vol. 7 10/1–12/31/64 (2/3), ‘Excepts from Neustadt Memcon with Wilson’, 25 November 1964.
56 Ball to State, 2 December 1964, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XIII, p. 94.
57 Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 46.
58 Ibid.
59 Bodleian Library, Lord George-Brown Papers, Ms. Eng. C. 5002, Brown to Wilson, 30 November 1964.
60 PRO, PREM 13/105, ‘Prime Minister: Strategy for Washington’, 2 December 1964.
61 PRO, PREM 13/106, Henderson to Wright, 13 November 1964.
62 ‘Memorandum of Discussion of the MLF at the White House … on Friday, April 10 1964’, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XIII, pp. 35–7.
63 National Security Action Memorandum No. 322, 17 December 1964, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XIII, p. 167.
64 LBJL, NSF: Memos to the President, Box 2, Bundy vol. 7 10/1–12/31/64 (2/3), Bundy to Rusk, McNamara and Ball, 25 November 1964.
65 Bundy to Johnson, 6 December 1964, FRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XIII, pp. 134–7.
66 LBJL, tape WH6411.29, citation 6472, Johnson–Bundy telephone conversation, 9.15 a.m., 24 November 1964.
67 LBJL, NSF: Country File, Box 214, UK Wilson Visit I 12/7–8/64, ‘Wilson Visit and the MLF’, 6 December 1964. For Bruce’s account of this meeting, seeFRUS 1964–1968 , vol. XIII, pp. 133–4.
68 NARA, Lot Files, Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for MLF Negotiations, (68 D 301), Multilateral Force, Congress, MLF 1 Policy, Plans.
69 LBJL, NSF: Country File, Box 214, UK Wilson Visit I 12/7–8/64, ‘Wilson Visit and the MLF’, 6 December 1964.
70 NARA, Policy Planning Staff, Policy Planning Council (71 D 382), Neustadt, Misc. Records 1959–1972.
71 PRO, PREM 13/108, Mitchell to Trend (re: conversation with Neustadt), 30 November 1964.
72 Ibid.
73 Ibid.
74 LBJL, NSF: Country File, Box 214, Wilson Visit I 12.7/8.64, Bundy to Johnson, ‘Harold Wilson’s Personal Commitment to this Visit’, 5 December 1964.
75 LBJL, NSF: Country File, Box 214, Wilson Visit I 12.7/8.64, ‘Prime Minister Wilson’, 6 December 1964.
76 Stephen Dorrill and Robin Ramsey, Smear! Wilson and the Secret State (London: Grafton, 1991), p. 56.
77 Anthony Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (London: Corgi, 1994), pp. 427–8.
78 VHS, Diary of David K. E. Bruce, MSS 5:1B8303:50, entry for 30 November 1964. See also Pimlott, Wilson, p. 366.
79 LBJL, WHCF, Box 75, CO 305 UK 11/1/64 – 12/31/64, Cater to Hunter, ‘Memo #4 on Foreign Policy’, 24 November 1964.
80 LBJL, NSF: Memos to the President, Box 2, Bundy vol. 7 10/1–12/31/64 (2/3), ‘Last Minute Papers for the Wilson Visit’, 6 December 1964. On Douglas-Home and the buses episode, see Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 46.

# A ‘special relationship’?

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