Harold Wilson and Lyndon B. Johnson: a ‘special relationship’?
Gordon Walker, Stewart and Brown all supported the idea of close ties
between Britain and the United States, but Wilson’s input was such
that, as Richard Crossman commented, Britishforeignpolicy was
characterised above all by the ‘peculiarly Wilsonian touch’ of a
‘personal reliance on LBJ’. 27 The Foreign Office backed up Wilson’s support for
the continued close relationship with Washington and for the British
alternative to the traditional, power politics
or realist approach of Britishforeignpolicy, which had stressed national
self-interest. This alternative was internationalism, which stressed
cooperation and interdependence, and a concern with the international
as well as the national interest. In this, the most important influence
on Labour’s foreign policy were liberal views of international relations,
but Labour’s internationalism also arises from certain meta-principles
of Labour’s ideology, which have influenced Labour’s external principles and policies as much as its
relations. Likewise, for Henry Kissinger, ‘international relations cannot
be conducted without an awareness of power relationships’.37 Edward Heath
was equally frank in articulating that ‘realism’ had to be the bedrock of any
Britishforeignpolicy.38 The following chapters, therefore, provide an analysis
of the key political engagements between the two countries.
A strained partnership?
The context for US–UK relations
The Nixon presidency has long fascinated historians, political scientists, journalists and
-assessing foreign policy
such arguments. The Nixon administration’s indifference towards the special
relationship coupled with a Britishforeignpolicy pursuing a more European
path resulted in the special relationship becoming near redundant. It was only
once the consequences of the global economic and energy crisis of 1973–74
became apparent that the special relationship became prevalent again.6
Central in many of these accounts is the role played by certain individual
policy-makers. Henry Kissinger, in particular, is seen to have had a malevolent effect upon US
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 Britishforeignpolicy.
The Labour victory
President Johnson had never feared a
Labour victory in Britain, but he felt it necessary to ease any
service. This strategy sufficed to maintain British naval
supremacy, since all Choiseul’s efforts to rebuild the French navy
foundered on lack of materials, manpower, and money, and so did the
Spanish attempt. At the time of the Falkland Islands Crisis of 1770
some eighty British ships were soon fit for action, and there was every
confidence Britain could defeat the combined enemy fleets.33
If the conduct of Britishforeignpolicy posed more problems than
could be anticipated in 1760, the attention of both government and
Parliament was increasingly taken up by imperial
, Macartney in Russia, pp. 13–33. Scott, BritishForeignPolicy,
15 Escott, Thesis, pp. 66–100. Scott, BritishForeignPolicy, pp. 91–5.
16 Powell, Thesis, p. 110.
17 Walpole, Memoirs, II, 144–5.
18 Thomas, British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 132–6.
19 Thomas, British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 137–8. This view is
confirmed by Lord Hardwicke’s later comment. BL Add. MSS. 35428, fo.
22. For a more literal interpretation, see Langford, First Rockingham
Administration, pp. 80–2.
20 Thomas, British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 138
relationship with the USA
as part of the post-war settlement, arguing that Britain would be
unable to meet all its possible European and imperial commitments
without military support from the USA, particularly within the context
of an expansionist Soviet Union.
During the last few months of the war, Attlee and the Labour
ministers became increasingly involved in the development of the postwar international settlement. For Labour Party members, their expectations of change in both Britishforeignpolicy and in international
relations intensified as victory, and the prospect
A year of discord
No special relations. Correct. They’ll [Britain] have the relation
with the French.
President Nixon to Henry Kissinger, 9 August 19731
A year of discord
At the onset of 1973, the US–UK relationship was entering a new epoch. The
East of Suez withdrawal had lessened Britain’s global commitments and Britain
officially entered the EEC on 1 January 1973. Heath was determined to chart
a more Euro-centric Britishforeignpolicy, which would involve the creation of
common political, foreign, monetary and energy policies within the EEC. The
Sweden and the lesser powers in the long eighteenth century
Press, 1969); Michael Roberts, Splendid Isolation, 1763–1780: The Stenton
Lecture 1969 (Reading: University of Reading, 1970); Ingrao, The Hessian
Mercenary State, pp. 135–162; Jeremy Black, A System of Ambition? BritishForeignPolicy 1660–1793 (Harlow: Longman, 1991), pp. 204ff; Wilson,
‘The German’, 786–787; Wilson, German Armies, pp. 311–312, 326; Scott,
The Birth, pp. 146–147. Sweden received very substantial British subsidies
in 1805–1816; Åmark, Sveriges statsfinanser, pp. 594, 852–856; Sherwig,
Guineas and Gunpowder, pp. 366–368, passim; Jan Glete, ‘The