PRESIDENT TRUMAN, in his message on the State of the Union, described the principles for which the United Nations are fighting in Korea as "the foundations of collective security." He was stating, in my view, a simple truth. But that it should be uttered by the Chief Executive of the United States at this time of decision in world history is a matter of profound significance. Until now, collective security has never been more than a concept, idealistic but abstract. Its effective interpretation, as we in Europe have confirmed in the acid test of experience, insists that the diplomacy of the peacemakers must have the backing of arms. Only in such a way can collective security perform its essential function, which is to avert war instead of merely permitting some to survive it.

The first invocation of collective security was in the days of the League of Nations. Maybe it did not fail by a very large margin. But it did so because of a reluctance, understandable enough though misguided, to use force. A contributory factor throughout the League's history was the nonparticipation of the United States. I do not think that there would be much dispute today as to the immense psychological influence which America's absence brought to bear on the calculations of potential aggressor and potential defender alike. It is therefore not surprising if present events are seen by some Americans as nearly a complete reversal, in a comparable situation, of the pre-1939 relationship between America and Europe. We in Europe now appear, in the eyes of the pessimists, to be the "absent," while the burden, psychological and actual, of giving effect to collective security seems to them to rest solely on the United States. This feeling is understandable, but it is not justified. Yet even as a minority view it deserves attention.

No country has better reason than Britain to know the reasons for such a mood in America today. We have had long experience of being both overburdened and misunderstood. For centuries Britain, as both a European and a World Power, was accustomed to provide security—almost single-handed in proportion to the heavy obligations of that rôle—to territories both of family and of friends. Britain's boundaries of responsibility and influence may seem to have shrunk in recent years, and phrases such as "the sun never sets . . ." gain no more than an occasional backward glance.

Yet are they so outmoded, after all? It does not seem so when we look, even now, at the dispersal of British strength in Korea, Hong Kong and Malaya, in the Middle East, in Austria and Trieste, and nearest home in Germany. It is at once obvious that these British forces are stretched, in relation to the availability of trained men and modern arms, more tautly than those of any other country, ally or enemy.

I would be the first to admit that we must improve upon this contribution to the collective security of the free world. At the recent Pilgrims' dinner in London to welcome Ambassador Gifford I urged that we must pitch our defense efforts at the maximum, not the minimum; that we must marshal all our resources and unite our endeavors in every sphere and at every level. We are not doing that yet. However, a review of the disposition of Britain's armed forces at this moment may be salutary for those who decry the extent of our present efforts, and at the same time it may provide the most realistic basis on which to plan priorities in expansion.

But first there must be a preface. If the free nations of the world are to recognize the part which the British peoples can play, the nature of the British Commonwealth of Nations and the way its strength can best be applied must be fully understood. Two-thirds of the area of the Commonwealth and Empire lie in lands whose shores abut on the Indian Ocean; there are parts of three Dominions and other vast territories which touch the Pacific; yet the chief centers of its skilled manpower, industry and war potential face the North Atlantic.

Britain is the heart of this unique complex of free peoples, and as the strength of our island lies in its command of the approaches to Western Europe, so also does its vulnerability. Our very proximity to the Continent stresses the dangers of a mortal blow by sea or air. Moreover, it must be remembered that Britain is not likely to become, at the very best, more than 60 percent self-supporting in foodstuffs. By far the greater part of our meat, wheat and fats comes from such far-flung sources as Australia, tropical Africa, the East Indies, Canada and the United States. Nor must our staple comforter, tea, be forgotten. Of raw materials, coal alone is normally produced in quantities sufficient to meet the needs of British industry. Yet the products of these raw materials, when converted into machinery, and in war into warlike stores, are vital both for the existence of many of the nations which supply them and for the fighting services wherever they may be in action. It is therefore true to say that the crucial aim of our strategy is the maintenance of the nerves and arteries of our family of nations—the lines of communications. But there are also other factors which exert a special influence.

Although oceanic in its general nature, our Commonwealth system has to take account of nearly 20,000 miles of land frontiers with foreign nations. Sometimes there are smaller nations behind the frontiers, as there are behind India and Pakistan, and these are liable to be influenced or even absorbed by other Powers. Siam, Tibet and Afghanistan, for example, stand in such a relation to Communist China and Soviet Russia. Indeed, some of our most important naval bases have land frontiers with foreign countries; Gibraltar and Hong Kong are both so situated. Lastly, the great area and variety of the Commonwealth produce diverse social and economic problems which Communism has persistently sought to exploit through the fevered readjustments of the postwar world.

Let me then summarize the main framework of the strategy which governs the siting of our forces. We must recall that there also exist, beyond this essential framework, our commitments in support of the United Nations, our obligations for mutual defense under the North Atlantic Pact, as well as our special bilateral treaties such as that with Jordan. Outside these commitments the vital points are as follows:

a. The maintenance of free movement on the oceans.

b. The defense of Britain, the heart of the Commonwealth and Empire, primarily from the air.

c. The defense of the land frontiers of the Empire.

d. The maintenance of internal security, with which is linked to some extent defense of important Commonwealth interests in certain foreign lands.

Look for a moment at what is involved in sea power alone. This depends upon the security of naval and air bases and of harbors for merchant ships. Since the main shipbuilding and industrial center is Britain, the destruction by air attack of our major war potential would cripple our sea power throughout the world. The treaty arrangements with the Western European countries impose upon us responsibilities for the provision of forces on the Continent. To that extent they are liabilities, but when viewed against the background of Commonwealth defense they may also be advantageous in providing depth to the air defense of the British Isles. Finally, unrest in certain colonial areas, or failure to uphold significant interests in other parts of the world, may deprive ourselves and our friends of some vital raw material without which our efforts would be hamstrung.

It is the direct responsibility of the British Government to control the foreign and defense policies of those colonial territories that fall under its authority. These comprise colonies which are at various but incomplete stages in their progress towards self-government; the protectorates which are, generally speaking, the least developed areas; and the trust territories under British administration. The self-governing Dominions, on the other hand, have of course absolute control over their own defense and foreign policy. Concerted action between them and Britain, together with the colonial group, is obtained only by consultation and agreement. Nevertheless, certain general principles have been formulated at Imperial conferences and other meetings between our statesmen. Perhaps the most important of these is the maxim that the defense of the whole Commonwealth is of common concern to all its members, but that the primary contribution of each must be its own local defense.

In order to carry out our responsibilities towards the colonial group, and for the additional reason that in peacetime the Dominions group can hardly raise naval forces sufficient for more than their immediate local defense in war, Britain has to maintain a large standing navy and air force. This must be remembered in considering the extent of the land forces Britain can raise, their rôle and locations. The British Army is the only force in the Commonwealth which contains a large "regular" core. On this regular army, assisted by trained national service men during the latter part of their two years' compulsory service, fall the following important tasks—apart from any occupation forces stationed in Europe:

a. The provision of garrisons at naval and air bases and defended ports along our sea and air lines.

b. The provision of forces needed for the land defense of certain overseas territories to the extent required by our interest in those territories and the possibility of a threat to them.

c. The maintenance in the United Kingdom of a highly trained nucleus in a state of readiness to take the field. This force has to be available for immediate dispatch wherever it may best be employed to hold the danger until the territorial army formations can arrive to help.

To fulfil these tasks, where must our army be located and what are the appropriate numbers employed today for that purpose? The enormous geographical range can be seen from a brief review of only one set of commitments: the garrisons for naval and air bases on the main lines of communications. These include Bermuda and Kingston in the West Indies; the defended port of Freetown in West Africa, flanking the routes to South Africa; Gibraltar, at the opening of the Mediterranean, and Malta, Aden and Suez; Ceylon, where under the Independence Act of 1947 the United Kingdom may station such forces as are required to assist in the joint defense of port installations and communications; Singapore, the gateway to the Far East proper and to the Pacific, but so closely connected with its hinterland, Malaya, that the British garrison will be included, for my purpose here, in the estimate for Malaya as a whole; and Hong Kong.

Although for security reasons it is impossible for anyone outside government circles to be in possession of the full military facts, and although the situation changes from day to day as requirements in one theater necessitate movements of men and matériel from another, it is yet possible to give an approximate picture of the way in which we are fulfilling our varied commitments. These are round figures:


Bases, etc. (excluding Singapore and Hong Kong) 20,000
Areas of vital interests: Malaya 17,000, Hong Kong 20,000  
  (including certain elements for Korea) 37,000
Middle East 45,000
Great Britain (including strategic reserve being built up after  
  certain units had been sent to Korea) 230,000
Germany (existing units being brought up to strength and another  
  division being formed) 50,000
Austria and Trieste 10,000
Korea 12,000

The United States is proposing such an enormous increase in its defense expenditure that there is danger some Americans may feel that our contribution falls short of their own high standard. It must be remembered, however, that the British economy is already fully stretched, with a higher level of taxation than any other country in the world. Before we begin to pay for our rearmament program, 43 percent of the total national income is already being taken in taxation by the local and central government. This can be compared with something over 35 percent of the national income which will be taken by the United States taxation authorities if new taxes are voted to cover the proposed budget of 71.6 billion dollars. What this means in terms of the individual can be understood when it is remembered that income tax and surtax in the United Kingdom on the highest range of incomes is 19/6d. in the pound, and this excludes substantial local taxation. There are now only 86 people in this country with a net income of over £6,000 a year, compared with 6,560 in 1939. Indirect taxation, which more particularly affects lower income groups, is levied on such necessities as soap, stationery, razor blades, and in fact on practically all commodities except food and some clothing and furnishing fabrics.

It is clear, therefore, that there is no reserve of taxable capacity on which to draw. Setting entirely aside any question of hardship, an increase of taxation over and above its present level would have a directly inflationary effect. I use the word inflationary advisedly, for in my view existing British taxation has already passed the stage at which it can achieve the effect of deflation. On the contrary, a further increase in taxation must result in individuals drawing on either capital or savings in order to try to balance the rising cost of living against their diminishing resources. Furthermore, such an increase would undoubtedly have a seriously disheartening effect on effort in every range of income. More particularly would it discourage overtime by workers who are not now liable for direct taxation but whose extra earnings would immediately put them into the range of those who pay 5 shillings in the pound income tax. It is understandable that men and women are unwilling to do this even in conditions of crisis, short of actual war. All this does not mean that Britain cannot afford to pay for rearmament, but it does mean that our problem is different from that facing the United States.

Not only are the budgetary difficulties appallingly complex in this country, but the diversion of physical resources from civilian to military production is also more intricate than in the United States. Both men and machines are fully employed, and in neither is there a reserve capacity as there was in 1939. If men are to be transferred to the armaments industry and its auxiliaries, some reduction in exports will probably be necessary as well as a cut in expenditure.

The diversion of some of our production from exports to armaments must have an adverse effect upon our balance of payments problem. As must be only too well known to everyone in America, this has been our dominating economic preoccupation since 1949. The year 1950 saw a temporary solution. For the first time since the war the United Kingdom had a surplus in her balance of payments, even without Marshall Aid. This is threatened, however, by the rearmament program. It is true that in 1950 there was a surplus of something like £250,000,000 in our overseas account, but the terms of trade have steadily moved against us. A volume of imports such as we bought in 1950 would cost something like £ 300,000,000 a year more today, and the rearmament inevitably calls for increased imports.

I do not think it is generally realized that, while the enormous rise in prices of raw materials produced in the Commonwealth has been an aid to us in that it has increased our gold and dollar reserves, these belong to the sterling area. The position of the United Kingdom has thus, in certain respects, been made more, not less difficult. Huge sterling balances have accumulated in London in the accounts of countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Malaya. It is perfectly true that these balances are held chiefly by Australia and New Zealand, nations which have always exercised the greatest restraint and showed the greatest consideration for the interests of Great Britain and of the Commonwealth as a whole. But debts are debts, even when they are owed to creditors within the family. The demands of rearmament will fall first upon the engineering and vehicle-producing industries and must, even with a yet stricter rationing of civilian consumption, mean some drop in our exports. The balance of payments may once again become a serious problem. Connected with this question is the shortage of raw materials which hits the United Kingdom as hard as any other country in the world—or harder—since, with the exception of coal, all our raw materials have to be imported.

The United States is bravely accepting a heavy sacrifice, and no doubt many Americans, tormented by anxiety about husbands or sons in Korea, feel inclined to blame the United Kingdom for a seeming unwillingness to face the facts of the international situation. But they can be assured that now that the extent of the effort needed is known to the British people they will respond freely and fully. They can also be assured that even apart from those who are called up to serve in the armed forces, every citizen of the United Kingdom will be bearing an extremely heavy burden in taxation and other spheres.

For many years now a peculiar strength of Anglo-American relations has been the knowledge that we can speak our minds to each other, and this not merely because we speak the same language. But this does not absolve us from the responsibility to choose our words. There are, no doubt, critics in Britain who feel that the United States is comparatively inexperienced in international affairs. But it is still less than a century ago since the American people fought on their own soil one of the greatest and most gallant wars in history and achieved through it a miracle of unity. To recall this is to realize that no nation could come through such an experience without putting adolescence far behind. Leaders of the caliber of Lincoln and of Lee brought a luster to the young American tradition which has shone more brightly rather than faded with the years. Such men as these, who showed themselves willing to fight to the death for a principle, laid the foundations of America's maturity.

The whole trend of events, whether we view them from Europe or America, points to the supreme importance of Anglo-American unity. This is no longer an idealistic conception of small groups but a practical policy of governments. If it can be founded upon that rare intimacy which enables good friends to be also each other's severest critics, so much the better. The growth of interdependence between nations cannot be carried too far so long as it develops by free consent.

On this side of the Atlantic those nations which are determined that the cradle of Western civilization shall not also be its grave turn today to the United States. Nothing, in my view, can be more natural, for there is little in the American way of life which cannot trace a way back to European origins. I believe that the United States turns equally naturally to us, understanding that if either should fail in the supreme tests ahead, both must lose immeasurable treasure of freedom and send the world reeling back to an age of darkness.

I use the word "darkness" deliberately, for I believe that if we fail to meet and turn the challenge that confronts us, all the peoples of the world must live and have their being without hope. And what is darkness but utter hopelessness? And where, if the bastions of the free world should fail, could there be any hope for those who remain?

The most effective means of meeting any danger is first to comprehend its nature. By this I do not mean abstruse academic analyses of this or that philosophy, but a down-to-earth understanding of the facts of the matter. I believe that there are four types of people who easily respond to the appeal of the destructive Communist faith. There are certain idealists, sensitive to any blueprint promising a better world. There are the immature, who crave a crusade and to whom the sacrifices demanded of a Communist seem a kind of personal fulfilment. There are the discontented and the dupes who will accept any theory which throws responsibility upon others and guarantees uniformity for all. And there are the seekers after power who know that they can win command over others only through common desires or common fears.

To all these Communism is designed to appeal. Its doctrine has been presented as some species of philosopher's stone, as a glittering revelation of fundamental truths about society which gives to believers the keys to both understanding and action. The glitter is spurious, but so dazzling that the disciples are blinded and the truth hidden from them.

It is perhaps not irrelevant to mention the one kind of man who invariably rejects Communism almost without a second thought. The true nonconformist finds no appeal in Marxist dogma. He is inherently against subjection to any hierarchy and spontaneously rejects all doctrines of infallibility. To him, democracy is a necessary form of human dignity. By instinct he understands that the decision to become a Communist is usually the last decision a man ever makes for himself.

Communism stalks men in the guise of a religion; it demands sacrifice and self-denial for an ultimate, collective redemption. Communism enlists men in the uniform of militancy; it imposes discipline and austerity and spreads a skein of subterfuge. And so the needs of both the mystic and the practical man appear to be met. Once a man has been "indoctrinated," even seeing is not believing. A Communist cannot be convinced by argument because he cannot imagine such an anomaly as an adversary in good faith; to him, anyone who dissents is merely disloyal.

The Communist-led millions—and they are nearly half the world—are not permitted to see that it is they and their institutions which are in chains. How can they realize that it is not the citizens or workers of the West who are fettered, but those of the Communist states? By the rule of the system the faults of the system must go unquestioned and unchecked. Within a true democracy the individual is still free to fulfil himself and the promise of his abilities, and the individual and his faith are the only means by which anything on earth is ever done.

With all its faults, the Western system has infinite possibilities. The fact that it recognizes that it has faults is one of its greatest distinctions. It does not foreclose change. Yet because democracies limit liberty, while proclaiming it, is no reason to embrace a faith which wholly proscribes it. Without freedom, there is no risk, no challenge and, in the long run, no progress.

The West can survive only to the extent that individuals accept their obligations as members of a free community. As such, our duty is clear. First, last and all the time we must stand together. In this task there can be no excuse for failure, no room for misunderstandings and no scope for sabotage of the efforts of one nation by the ignorant of another.

All over the globe the British peoples have obligations. We are striving to fulfil them. I do not claim that our efforts are without mistakes of planning, judgment or execution. But in the same way that the American people are entitled to have others think that they are doing their best in a difficult job, so, I believe, are the British.

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  • ANTHONY EDEN, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1935-38 and 1940-45; also, on occasion, Lord Privy Seal, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, and Secretary of State for War; Conservative M.P. since 1923
  • More By Anthony Eden