Professor Buchan had completed the manuscript for this article before his death. Minor revisions and editing were completed by his close friend, Herbert G. Nicholas, Rhodes Professor of American History and Institutions at Oxford since 1969, and the author of The United States and Britain and other works.

Social scientists write many books and papers nowadays about the development of "transnationalism"-meaning the impact on interstate relations of unofficial contacts and communications-as if this were something new on the face of the earth. Actually, over the long reach of history, it is the autarkic state or society that is the rarity. Certainly no interstate relationship has been more permeated or effectively influenced by transnational factors than that between Britain and the United States. No two societies have had a more profound impact upon each other, in terms of racial stock, political and juridical concepts, culture in all its meanings. And personal dealings have repeatedly affected specific historical events since American independence-for example, British banking houses largely financed the Louisiana Purchase, while private messages between Richard Cobden and Charles Sumner defused an imminent confrontation between the two governments over the Trent affair in 1863.

This interpenetration is a palpable fact and will, I have no doubt, be explored in depth in many different places during 1976. There is also no dispute about the fact that over the past hundred years the relationship has swung through an arc of 180 degrees, that the economic and cultural dominance of Britain over America in broadly the first century gave way to a position of increasing American dominance-first economic, later strategic, political and in many ways intellectual-over Britain as the second century advanced. There have been periods of marked alienation in the relations of the two countries, notably just after the Civil War and even more markedly between the world wars, but there has never been any serious discontinuity in political and economic relations, except briefly in the war of 1812-14; no equivalent of the Gaullist "ice age," the long estrangement between the United States and China, or the wars with Germany and Japan.

Has this continuous and pervasive contact which has swelled in volume in the past generation damaged or strengthened the two countries? Has the one society been able to prevent the other from making serious mistakes or to contribute to its learning process? Have the two countries lured each other into needless adventures, inspired a false sense of confidence in each other, distorted the other's perspective; or has the relationship been as benign as much Bicentennial oratory will no doubt maintain?


One way of reexamining the first century of the Anglo-American relationship is to think of it in terms of the first "adversary partnership" that the republic had to manage. This phrase too comes out of the social science jargon of the past decade, applied primarily to contemporary Soviet-American relations. At first sight there seems no useful analogy between the relations of the young United States, still not in full possession of its own half-continent, with the powerful mercantile state from which it had hived off, and the relations of an enormously powerful America having both to confront and cooperate with a Soviet Union almost entirely foreign in political and social values, both armed with a vast stock of long-range nuclear weapons. But if one inverts the partners one can see the similarity: to early nineteenth-century Britain, still an aristocratic polity and fearful or skeptical about democracy, the young United States had many of the characteristics of a revolutionary society (though, of course, the role of major challenger was initially reserved for France). More than that, Britain as the conservative world power with a global navy-exerting a policy of containment from its bases in Canada, the Caribbean and Central America-must have seemed to many Americans as the postwar United States has looked to Russians.

Above all, Canada had an almost identical role in their relations to that of Western Europe in the postwar era: to some Americans it represented a British Trojan horse on North American soil, just as the American postwar military presence in Europe was seen in Moscow as intrusive and aggressive until the solution of the German problem. But also, to successive American Administrations from the early nineteenth century to the settlement of the Alaskan boundary dispute in 1903, Canada represented a hostage to British good behavior, just as Khrushchev once described Western Europe as his hostage.

It is true that, after Yorktown, it was clear that Britain could never again attempt to conquer the United States even if she had wished to. Conversely, the United States has had no motive, except in moments of anger, for declaring war on Britain (though both powers had war plans for armed confrontations with each other until well into the twentieth century). In other words, they were in strategic terms mutually deterred, so that the credibility of the British commitment to Canada was never fully tested any more than that of the United States to Europe has been; the historical difference was that there was nothing like the force of technological change to bedevil political confidence. On the other hand, the extent to which American soil could be used as a base for the subversion of Canada-as it was with the rebellion of 1837 in the days of Jacksonian radicalism, and in the Fenian raids of 1866 and the Riel Red River rebellion of 1870, in the heyday of Republican radicalism-together with the whole cult of Manifest Destiny, bore a certain resemblance, making allowance for scale, to the impact of Lenin's dicta about the inevitable victory of communism or to Khrushchev's espousal of wars of national liberation.

The essential point is that throughout much of the nineteenth century the relationship was partly an adversarial one-on questions of territory, or tariffs, or freedom of the seas-but with an increasing perception of common interests. Castlereagh said it first in 1820: "There are no two states whose friendly relations are of more practical value to each other and whose hostility so inevitably and so immediately entails upon both the most serious mischiefs . . . [than] the British and American nations." This dual character was properly exemplified in the Monroe Doctrine, adversarial in appearance, cooperative in essence. Under James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, the prickly young republic rejected Canning's attempt to formulate their common interest in keeping the rivalries of the continental European powers out of the Americas as being too maternalistic; "mother and daughter" standing "together against the world." Instead, it posted a "hands-off" sign outwardly as applicable to the British as to anyone else. But although the Monroe Doctrine was a unilateral declaration, it would have been meaningless without the concurrence of the British and the dominance of their fleet.

But day-to-day diplomacy had to battle with a more hostile climate of mutual dislike and incomprehension between arrogant John and avaricious Jonathan. Trade policy had a great deal to do with it; the interest of the young United States as primarily an exporter of cotton and other raw materials had originally been in free trade while Britain was still mercantilist. But America became more protectionist as she industrialized-and long after-while Britain's espousal of free trade became dogmatic and remained so until the twentieth century. Rivalry in the North Atlantic was a persistent factor, especially where New England's interests were involved. Britain and the United States were natural competitors here -in the carrying trade, in doing business with the enemy (when there was one), in recruitment for their merchant marines and navies. This was what the War of 1812 was largely about, as were the isthmus disputes, the Trent affair, the Alabama claim, etc. For each country this was their ocean, to the mutual exclusion of a third party.

If a common ocean bred disputes, a shared culture could nourish animosities. Scabrous comments on each other's societies became an increasing source of friction as books and newspapers circulated more widely. James Fenimore Cooper in 1826 talked of English maidservants as being in "less enviable condition than Asiatic slaves." To Bronson Alcott in 1842 every Englishman was a "fortification. Organized of blood he finds necessity for spilling it." And Horace Greeley wrote in 1851 that "the British are not in manner a winning people. Their self-conceit is the principal reason."1 These were typical reactions, even though Emerson, Hawthorne and even Henry Adams might paint a different picture.

American critics met their match in Mrs. Trollope and Dickens, but the relationship has never been symmetrical and a succession of British visitors were as much intrigued as they were repelled by the new form of society, especially the frontier. (The most biting British critics of American society, Kipling, Wells, G. K. Chesterton, belong to a later period, to the era of the trusts and the big city machines.) American contempt for British complacency and class consciousness, British high-minded condemnation of slavery and corruption: this was the leitmotiv of much of the nineteenth century. But in the words of a British historian: "In America it was a case of an Anglophile minority and an Anglophobe majority; in Britain of anti-American and pro-American minorities, and an indifferent majority. But as the cause of democracy triumphed, so did popular awareness of America and her increasing power grow. . . ."2

For a full century after 1776 it was politically very easy to whip up anti-British sentiment. Even as the older animosities faded, the Irish began to flood in. In this situation, the various Canadian border settlements were a triumph of what we now call "arms control." The Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 on the demilitarization of the Great Lakes, which held through the Civil War and other periods of high tension, was an explicit recognition that Anglo-American relations were not a zero sum game, and a triumph for what Harold Nicolson later described as the British tradition of "civilian" diplomacy.3 And the Ashburton-Webster Treaty of 1842, which not only settled the Maine boundary but the axis of the border as far as the Lake of the Woods and thence across the continent, was negotiated in a situation in which both Congress and the Canadian legislatures were voting war credits. Like the negotiation of SALT I in 1972, the principal achievement of both Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton lay in persuading their own governments rather than in reaching agreement between themselves. And in 1846 the settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute, at the other end of the continent, was remarkable for being achieved despite the bellicosity of President Polk and the "54.40 or fight" emotion that he played upon: it showed, as later negotiations have, how a sensible Secretary of State, Buchanan, could sort matters out if given some discretion.

Meanwhile, in the hostage country, Canada, there was a running debate-about the credibility of its guarantor, about whether its own interests might be sacrificed in the process of détente that followed the Civil War-analogous in many ways to what we have witnessed in Western Europe in the 1970s. The Canadian leaders identified their interests more with Britain than with the United States, but they knew that some British politicians like Cobden, Bright and Gladstone expected that eventually the new Dominion of 1867 might become part of the United States, might become "Americanized"; and that in the last instance they must look after themselves. Here too the parallel may be instructive.

There is another aspect of the old Anglo-American adversary partnership that is more disquieting if it should have the force of precedent or parallel today. In the first hundred years, peace in the successive crises was preserved largely because the older power with the more complex interests was prepared to give way to the dynamic regional one, not only over the border, but over Texas, over navigation on the Columbia, over the Alabama, because it had so much at stake elsewhere in the world.


A new age of Anglo-American relations opened after the Civil War, and between the Centennial and the First World War something like an entente developed. The old arguments over slavery or the Canadian border were disposed of. The United States had found that it could organize its fast-growing manpower and industry in such a way as to become a serious military power. By 1850 its population had surpassed that of Britain; by 1880 at the latest it had a larger economy. Writing in 1879, Gladstone considered that "it is she [the United States] alone who, at a coming time, can and probably will wrest from us our commercial supremacy. . . . We have no more title against her than Venice or Genoa or Holland has had against us."4 This was the era of transnational equilibrium when American companies and gadgets flowed into Britain, and British capital into the United States. This was the time in which Henry James aspired "to write in such a way that it would be impossible to an outsider to say whether I am . . . an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America."5 On the one hand, American heiresses fought for the hands of English lords but, on the other, the volume of British emigration to America was still running high, enough to create a multiplicity of personal relationships (assisted by a special cheap postal rate). It was the epoch of burgeoning intellectual and political friendships, spreading out from the intimacy between Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Stuart Mill to John Morley, Leslie Stephen and Matthew Arnold on the one side, William James, Henry Adams and William Dean Howells on the other. British intellectuals and liberals came to the United States to discuss the social and political implications of the democracy that was rapidly evolving in their own country. Their American counterparts, still primarily of British stock, crossed the Atlantic to share in a widened circle of comment and discussion in London, Oxford or Cambridge. And the Reverend Endicott Peabody embarked on the education of potential American statesmen at Groton in the manner of Thomas Arnold at Rugby a generation earlier.

This was the era in which James Bryce wrote The American Commonwealth (1888), which was for many years regarded by Americans as being the authoritative account of their own political system. In it he unconsciously put his finger on the reason for this placid relationship, the absence of diplomatic controversies: "We have hitherto found no occasion to refer to them [foreign relations] save in describing the functions of the Senate; and I mention them now as the traveller did the snakes in Ireland, only to note their absence. . . ."6 Only the Venezuela incident of 1895 and the grumbling issue of the American desire for dominance over Central America, which the issue of the Panama Canal elicited, seriously disturbed relations between London and Washington. At the turn of the century, men as different as Joseph Chamberlain, Andrew Carnegie, A. V. Dicey (the British constitutional historian), and W. T. Stead were advocating one form or another of Anglo-American union.

Ironically, in view of later attitudes, the period of late nineteenth-century expansion in both countries excited very little criticism in the other. "As a partner in the white man's burden," as Herbert Nicholas has written recently, "the USA was indulgent, in a quite novel degree, to British colonial aspirations."7 The Boer War and the annexation of the Philippines created internal divisions within each country, but not between them. The Open Door in China, the subject nowadays of such fierce revisionist attack, was essentially an Anglo-American policy, though, like the Monroe Doctrine, unilaterally American in its official formulation.

One reason for this mutual compliance, one reason why Alfred Thayer Mahan was feted in London in the 1890s, was the growth of the German navy which, if it proved a direct threat to British isolationism and security, could also be seen as an eventual threat to American autonomy and isolation. It was in an American magazine, McClure's, that Rudyard Kipling first published his "White Man's Burden," and its injunction was addressed in the first instance to the North American branch of the White Man's missionary church. It struck answering chords in the missionary breast of many an American: William McKinley, John Hay and Teddy Roosevelt most obviously, but "Marse" Henry Watterson, Walter Hines Page and Brooks Adams as well.


This gilded age might have ended in any case with the growing political influence of Irish- and German-Americans. But 1914 snapped it shut by resurrecting an issue that had traveled beneath the surface of Anglo-American relationships for nearly a century and a half, that of belligerent and neutral rights in time of war. There is no analogy between American behavior in the First and Second World Wars. In 1914 no leading American suggested, in public at any rate, that the war could involve the United States. Though Colonel House found much more in common with Edward Grey, during his diplomatic exploration of the belligerent capitals in 1915, than he did with Bethmann-Hollweg-indeed the germ of the League sprang from the Grey-House conversations, though the idea has a much longer ancestry-Wilson saw himself as a mediator until the end of 1916. There were by then powerful economic interests in the United States behind the victory of the Allies, from J. P. Morgan and Co., which had floated massive loans to Britain and France, to the steel, the engineering and the nascent aircraft industries; and there was a growing awareness of a potential threat to America of a German-dominated Western Europe. Yet these had to a large extent been politically neutralized by the effect of the Easter rising in Ireland and the strength of the German-American vote. Had the Allies rebuffed, and had Germany accepted, Wilson's peace appeal of December 1916, the United States would, as Wilson admitted to House, have found itself fighting at Germany's side.8 As it was, the German Admiralty, taking a gamble on the necessity for a quick victory, announced the opening of unrestricted submarine warfare and the Germans started making overtures to Mexico. Just 59 years ago the United States entered its first European war.

When peace came, there was little understanding and no mutual respect between Wilson and Lloyd George, and a high degree of mutual hostility between articulate opinion in both countries. What the Hearst press gave, the Beaverbrook press returned. In the circumstances, it is remarkable that the Anglo-American treaty of guarantee of the French-German border should have got as far as the floor of the Senate and been defeated by only ten votes; if it had passed it might have completely changed the course of world history. Given the lack of real confidence between London and Washington, certainly at the top, the extent to which the Versailles settlement, in Eastern as well as Western Europe, bore an Anglo-American rather than an Anglo-French imprint was a sign of how relatively easily international lawyers and diplomats in each country communicated with each other below the surface of political suspicion.

Gladstone's perception of 40 years earlier that the United States was destined to replace Britain as the great industrial power had proved correct. Much greater respect was paid in London to American views. But British policy became increasingly affected by American policy at a time when there was little wisdom in Washington and Britain was still powerful enough to sustain a global foreign policy of its own. After the Senate's rejection of the League of Nations, America's absence became a frequent excuse for tentative and half-hearted British policy in its councils. American isolationism fostered British isolationism and vice versa. The isolationists in America were matched in the 1920s and 1930s by what D. C. Watt well calls "the irresponsibles" in Britain, who displayed, in particular, "an almost criminal neglect of Anglo-American relations."9 The old symbiosis that had led to mutual condonement of expansion asserted itself in a different form.

Moreover, though Britain still had by far the larger navy, fear of an immense American postwar naval building program (for which Congress would have been unlikely to vote the funds) led Britain to become interested in an Anglo-American naval limitation treaty. And, when the American price proved to be the abrogation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902, in which both Britain and Japan had invested considerable diplomatic capital, Britain gave way to American (and Canadian) worry about Japan, at a time when she still had greater economic interests in the Far East than did the United States. Both, in their eagerness in 1922 and again in 1930 to balance each other's strength on the high seas to achieve "parity," did so with little consideration of world order as a whole.

As the interwar years progressed, Japan's rancor at this formal ratification of her secondary status (there were other irritants as well) increased, while the actual disposition of American and British naval power, in fact, offered her a free hand in East Asia and the southern and western Pacific. Neither the Hoover Administration nor the British National government had any serious intention of bringing Japan to book over her invasion of Manchuria, though a good deal of diplomatic energy was expended on each side to create such an illusion. Later under Roosevelt, when the "Manchuria incident" was succeeded by the war with China, and both a British and an American gunboat were sunk by the Japanese, the United States would entertain no idea of a joint protest.

The interwar years witnessed other causes of alienation between the two countries, despite the fact that the problems they faced in the 1930s, recession and unemployment, were very similar. One was the whole issue of war debts; the United States, now the strongest economy in the world, refused to acknowledge the centrality of its position and persisted in the habits of a debtor nation, demanding repayment of both debts and reparations which London, in effect, became responsible for collecting. Repayment was made particularly difficult by the Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922, while the Hawley-Smoot Tariff of 1930 was a major factor in Britain's development of the imperial preference system at the Ottawa Imperial Conference of 1932. At the transnational level, the virtual end of American immigration in the early 1920s meant the weakening of personal ties, while prohibition on the one hand, and the rise of figures like Al Capone and Huey Long on the other, made it easy to mock American society. Each country turned inward to brood upon its own troubles.

British and American politicians had little to do with each other, despite the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union which, for instance, brought James Byrnes to Europe for the first time in 1937. There were only three resident British journalists in Washington in the latter 1930s and, though there was a larger and more distinguished group of American journalists in London, their parish was Europe as a whole and not just Britain. The foreign services of the two countries tended for the most part to patronize each other. And what was true of diplomacy was even more true of the armed services. The two navies, which had been friendly in World War I, developed a cordial dislike of each other, largely as a consequence of the Naval Agreements, exemplified later on the American side by the views and personalities of Admirals King and Leahy. The two armies had very little contact, partly because the U.S. Army led an isolated existence even in its own country. Only the two air forces were on terms of friendship, partly because their environment imposed a common language on them, partly because the U.S. Army Air Force (as it then was) looked to the Royal Air Force as a model and exemplar in establishing its right to be a separate service.

Moreover, the intellectual communities of the two countries had only intermittent links, despite the growing admiration of students of the 1930s for the achievements of the New Deal. A few British writers and historians, John Buchan and Harold Nicolson in one generation, John Wheeler-Bennett in the next, knew the United States well, and Denis Brogan was an Americanist in the great tradition of Tocqueville and Bryce. Moreover, few American intellectuals knew Britain well or appreciated its social accomplishments. Unfortunately the British authors who enjoyed the largest readership in the United States were far removed from the earlier tradition of the novel as a vehicle of social realism; they were satirists like Huxley or sentimentalists like Galsworthy. Conversely, though these were the years when the British public took to its heart the new American realism of Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Faulkner, these were in the main the apostles of disillusionment whose picture of America was drenched in their own bitterness and frustration. Significantly it was in Paris, not London, that the expatriates among them found spiritual refuge.

Harvard and Oxford, Columbia and London had an established tradition of hospitality to each other's scholars, and figures like Samuel Morison, Allan Nevins or Wallace Notestein were well-known in Britain. But the two scholarship schemes that had been founded to strengthen links between the two countries had not yet produced many figures of significant influence within their own countries. Ironically the most influential ex-Rhodes scholar was Stanley Hornbeck, head of the Far Eastern division of the State Department, who was passionately committed to the resurrection of China as a great power and as strongly committed to the end of the European empires in Asia. Ernest K. Lindley, Roosevelt's favorite journalist, and Clarence Streit, whose Union Now made a powerful impression on my generation of British and American students, were also Rhodes scholars. The Commonwealth fellowships, founded by Edward Harkness to enable British graduates to travel widely in the United States, had by the war produced only three men of influence: William Penney, the nuclear physicist and engineer; Geoffrey Crowther, Bagehot's greatest successor as editor of The Economist; and a young Cambridge-educated Lancastrian who was making a reputation in the new techniques of radio reporting, Alistair Cooke.

Only three communities of interests in each country had any tradition of continuous communication with each other. One was that of the law, for though the United States was not then a member of the International Court, British and American lawyers had long been interested in the development of each other's common and statute law; since lawyers are even more influential in American public life than in British politics, this was an important contribution to communication. A second community was the merchant or investment banking fraternity in Wall Street and the City. Despite his distrust for Wall Street, FDR had always been clear that, if war came, he would have to draw on its talent, and his recruitment of figures like James Forrestal, Paul Nitze, and many others brought in a group of men to whom London was a familiar place. The third Anglo-American community was the entertainment industry: actors, singers, producers. But to judge what role Noel Coward, Bob Hope, Douglas Fairbanks, Leslie Howard, Sir C. Aubrey Smith, Vivien Leigh, or Gary Cooper played in the evolution of mutual "images" that permitted a close wartime and postwar relationship would take one into a realm of sociological speculation for which, alas, the field work has never been done.


Behind these limitations on each country's perception of the other lay a deep-seated difference in their view of the international community and their role in relation to it. In 1920 the United States had opted out of the evil "balance of power" problems of Europe and had left the task entirely to Britain and France. This opting-out, in turn, represented the retention by the United States of an evangelical and somewhat above-the-battle attitude to the more grubby problems of power, while British thinking, however "contractionist," as it generally was in the era of appeasement, was nonetheless habituated to the issues of power and maneuver.

It is worth stressing this basic factor-the alienation of the interwar years-so as to underline the magnitude of the change in the nature of the Anglo-American relationship that occurred during 1941 and the four years thereafter. The change was not accomplished easily; for, though Roosevelt never sought to don Wilson's mantle of the mediator, once his tentative effort at diplomatic intervention in early 1938 had been rebuffed by Chamberlain-"it is always best and safest to count on nothing from the Americans but words"-he was hemmed in by a powerful structure of neutrality legislation which had been constructed by Congress. The way in which Roosevelt gradually dismantled it, including first "cash-and-carry," then the destroyers-for-bases deal which satisfied a long-felt aspiration of the U.S. Navy, and finally Lend-Lease is well-known. What is still unclear is whether, if the United States had not been attacked by Japan and if Hitler had not then declared war in consequence, FDR would have led the country into full belligerency on the side of Britain. Despite the extraordinary grass-roots success of William Allen White's Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, despite the sympathetic reporting of the bearing of the British people under adversity, despite the much greater threat to American security that Hitler's victory would have posed by contrast with the Kaiser's, despite his easy-going relationship with Churchill, Roosevelt himself seemed repeatedly a victim in 1940-41 to a kind of paralysis of decision, as if waiting for events to make his mind up for him. Of course stubborn isolationist resistance in Congress was a factor never to be underestimated, but one senses in FDR's phases of irresolution something more-an awareness of what Woodrow Wilson had meant when he said, "It is a fearful thing to lead this country into war."

Nevertheless, the period of what Robert Sherwood called "the common law alliance"-the months of 1940 and 1941 when soldiers and sailors hammered out common tactical and strategic concepts, when officials resolved differing practices-laid the groundwork at levels far below the summit for the extraordinarily rapid growth of the joint war machine once the United States was formally committed.

Much has been written about the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt, and it was indeed a remarkable accident of history that two such experienced, self-confident and masterful individuals should have risen to the leadership of the two countries at that particular moment in history; suppose it had been Wallace and Baldwin, or even Willkie and Halifax. Their friendship was the most significant intimacy since the end of the dynastic era. It was they who took all the major decisions, but even more remarkable was the system of combined chiefs of staff, field commands and combined boards that they imposed, so that there was a miniature Whitehall of 9,000 British officials in Washington at the peak of the war, and its counterpart in London. Much of the success of this was due to individuals: on the military side to George Marshall and John Dill, to Eisenhower and Tedder and Spaatz; on the civil side to Maynard Keynes, Averell Harriman, James Byrnes and many, many others. And it was they and their juniors who carried the legacy of mutual affection, knowledge and respect into the postwar years-with consequences that were not necessarily as beneficial as such virtues might suggest. And below this level there were hundreds of thousands of personal contacts: American servicemen training for Normandy in Britain, British aircrews training in the United States, combined forces fighting the Germans in Italy; scientists, engineers and intelligence experts.

But beneath the achievements of combined command and procurement which led to victory in Europe, and contributed to it in Asia, to the occupation of Germany, and the founding of the United Nations, there smoldered a number of resentments and frustrations on one side or the other. First and foremost, the wartime relationship had been, like earlier ones, asymmetrical. Not only had the United States been the "arsenal of democracy," which meant that the British services became increasingly dependent on American equipment, but, even though the United States achieved this by mobilizing only a portion of its manpower (and unlike Britain not conscripting women), the fact that it had a population over three times as large meant that the United States could put larger forces in the air, on the ground and in the water. Yet Britain was the unsinkable aircraft carrier without which the United States could not attack continental Europe. This fact that each ally had a stranglehold over the other contributed to the bitterness of the military debate about a Second Front in 1942 and 1943. It was not difficult to start an argument that the Americans were prepared to fight to the last Englishman, or that the British were using American forces in the Mediterranean to prop up the remains of the British Empire. At times this suspicion of each other's motives reached the level of paranoia, as General Marshall once ruefully recalled:

On one occasion our people brought in an objection to something the British wanted. I didn't see anything wrong with the British proposal, but our planners explained that there was an ulterior purpose in this thing. . . . Later [Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles] Portal said that he had drafted the proposal and that it was taken from a memorandum of ours. And it was a fact; he showed it to me. . . . Our own paragraph was the key to our own objections.10

In the immediate postwar period, there was a sense of apprehension in Britain that Roosevelt's insistence at Teheran and Yalta that American troops would be withdrawn from Europe two years after the war (a decision which Truman did not reverse at Potsdam) meant that the task of developing a balance with the Soviet Union in Europe would fall primarily on British shoulders. "Such a task would be far beyond our strength," wrote Churchill.11 Living, as their predecessors had done throughout Britain's history, cheek by jowl with the European continent, Churchill and his wartime team thought instinctively about what balance of power would be left across the Channel when victory had been won.

It took four years of erosion of American optimism about Russian intentions before this gap between British and American attitudes closed. The revulsion that Hull felt in 1943 at Churchill's percentage deal with Stalin in the Balkans was typically American. Writers like Walter Lippmann, whose U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic was a bestseller in 1943, might argue the necessity for a postwar Anglo-American alliance; officials in the Pentagon might encourage continuing military cooperation with Britain (there was a discreet meeting of British and American military planners in late 1945 under the guise of a conference on military history). But official American policy remained concentrated on the United Nations and on Four Power machinery for the control of Germany, or on such pieces of paper as the Declaration of Liberated Europe. Western Europe was Britain's affair, and this view was expressed even more forcibly by the radicals of the American Right and the Left (such as Henry Wallace) in the ensuing year.

Throughout the latter half of the war the British government had felt trapped between an American assumption that America could devolve her own responsibility for European security onto the proposed world security organization, and persistent American opposition to any attempt by Britain to fill the vacuum this would leave. This was, and had been throughout the war, particularly evident in the American attitude toward France, which Roosevelt and Stalin at Teheran had decided to treat almost as an enemy country. "The President suspected," in the words of an American historian, "that Churchill's interest in seeing France restored as a military power was part of the Prime Minister's misguided infatuation with the discredited principle of the European balance of power."12 As early as May 1944, the U.S. Joint Chiefs had warned the State Department of the dangers of a European balance in which Britain was much weaker than Russia and which would lead to a new European war in which the United States would get sucked in on Britain's side.

One issue on which the bureaucracy in Washington was as hostile to Britain and as suspicious of British intentions as the White House, was that of the future of the British Empire and of colonialism in general. "One thing we are not fighting for is to hold the British Empire together," declared Life in October 1942. A few weeks later Wendell Willkie's call from Chungking for an end to imperialism and Roosevelt's endorsement of the statement gave rise to Churchill's famous remark: "I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire."

The first phase of the battle between London and Washington centered on the future of India in which Roosevelt appeared to be trying to edge himself into the position of a mediator between Britain and the Congress Party. But attempts to confront Churchill with the issue led to such scorching rows that by the end of 1943 Roosevelt had decided to drop the subject. Instead, he used the more devious tactic of privately discussing the future of the colonial empires first with Stalin at Teheran and then with Chiang Kai-shek at Cairo at the end of 1943. The latter was in fact FDR's trump card in dealing with Churchill on colonial questions, and the fact that Chiang was a bitter critic of British policy in India and elsewhere in Asia was one of the reasons why Churchill so distrusted Roosevelt's continuous effort to elevate China to the status of a great power. Though there were American opponents of the Administration's position on India, they were mostly academic and, if Clement Attlee had not unilaterally defused the Indian issue by granting independence in 1947, it would have been difficult to sustain any intimate Anglo-American relationship in the postwar era.

On the general issue of U.N. trusteeship for colonial territories, too, there was a good deal of British resistance to what was regarded as American libertarian high-pressuring-e.g., on the issue of whether "self-government" (the British preference) or "independence" (the American preference) should be held out as the eventual U.N. goal. The argument was further sharpened by the ambivalence of U.S. positions-on the one hand, "liberation" for all subject peoples, on the other, U.S. insistence that some of its own requirements for overseas bases should be met by the creation of "strategic trusteeships" placed under the Security Council, where the American veto would apply to keep meddlesome third parties from interfering.

The relationship between the Foreign Office and the State Department, which was one of close collaboration on the appraisal of Soviet policy as it had been of Japanese, was one of ill-concealed hostility where the Middle East was concerned. Though the Middle East was, under the rough division of responsibility drawn up after American entry into the war, a British sphere, the United States early established an independent relationship with Iran. The principal focus of Anglo-American hostility was Saudi Arabia where, during the war, the two ministers in Jidda accused each other of double-dealing, and to which the United States attached great importance because in the mid-1940s the Department of the Interior had convinced itself that American domestic oil reserves were running out. It was only in 1944, after some two years of internecine strife, that an agreement to respect each other's oil concessions was negotiated by two of the toughest characters on either side of the Atlantic, Harold Ickes and Lord Beaverbrook.

But it was in Palestine that the real seeds of Anglo-American trouble lay. The trusteeship formula might give the U.S. Navy satisfactory control of the Pacific Islands, but it provided no relief from the responsibility for Palestine which Britain had assumed in 1920 when its relative strength was much greater. Roosevelt, impressed by his conversation with Ibn Saud on his way back from Yalta, had inclined toward the Arab case in the last months of his life. But as Germany went down to defeat, with Allied troops uncovering the full horrors of Nazi treatment of the Jews, a wave of public pressure for the mass emigration of at least 100,000 European Jews into Palestine struck President Truman, pressure to which he reacted like an ordinary humane man and not as a statesman. In August 1945, the British-their plan to divide the area into a Jewish state, a Jerusalem state under international protection, and a trans-Jordan compensated and enlarged by fusion with the southern part of Syria, knocked sideways-suggested that the United States bear responsibility for its policy by participating in an Anglo-American Commission of Enquiry; it is just 30 years since its report was issued favoring the continuation of a mixed Palestinian state.

The fourth source of postwar conflict was the complex and sorry muddle over atomic energy. In the course of the first year of peacetime, the Administration appeared, in contemporary British eyes at least, to tear up two wartime agreements on postwar cooperation and to distort the meaning of the Anglo-American-Canadian agreement of November 1945, for the sake of a piece of legislation, the McMahon Act, that would ensure civilian control. In fact, it has become clear that British handling of the question left a great deal to be desired; that at the very point when British research was moved from the United Kingdom to the United States in 1941 there was a choice between a cooperative and a combined operation (as with other industrial projects) and that the former was mistakenly preferred; that Churchill had no real appreciation of the extent to which the threads of policy on this subject were not in the hands of Roosevelt; that key figures around Truman, notably James Byrnes, had been determined from an early date that the United States would not share military nuclear technology with anyone; and that the Attlee government made a serious diplomatic mistake in concentrating its efforts on bilateral and trilateral agreements with the United States and Canada rather than making a constructive contribution to the problem of international control, that is, relations with the Soviet Union, which was the Administration's real preoccupation. At the same time, the Administration thought that Britain was trying to cling to a cooperative arrangement for commercial reasons, when in fact security was the issue. In part, it was a bureaucratic muddle in both capitals, since influential legislators or officials knew little or nothing of the wartime story. But it was also a clear indication of how little bargaining power Britain now had in Washington, other than its control of certain uranium supplies and even these brought a diminishing return as American access to uranium expanded.13

Finally, there was the acidulous debate over the future of global economic relations, the intellectual duel between Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White at Bretton Woods in 1944, the battle fought by Will Clayton against imperial preference, the precipitate cut-off of Lend-Lease in 1945, and the stringent terms of the British loan negotiated in the latter months of that year. Some Englishmen had seen this coming for a long time and in an article for Foreign Affairs written some months before America entered the war, Geoffrey Crowther warned his countrymen of the gathering weight of American opinion against preferential and bilateral trade agreements.14 As the war progressed, more and more of them came to see the force of this argument and that Britain would profit from an open trading system. The real difference concerned timing: The British government, conscious of the profound weakness of the economy, its industries run down, its work force tired, its external assets exhausted, envisaged a long transitional period before the application of full multilateralism, during which the maximum assistance would be needed to regenerate the British economy. The Administration believed otherwise-that if the moment of postwar convalescence was not exploited to refashion the international economic order, deep-rooted national habits of protectionism would reassert themselves in all the industrial countries-and the stronger power won.

In consequence, the British had to swallow the considerable pride in their wartime achievements, accept a final settlement of Lend-Lease which was generous by American terms but still left Britain with a debt of $650 million to repay, and above all to negotiate a loan of $3.75 billion; though this had a low interest rate, early convertibility of the pound was its central condition. If one wishes to plumb the depths of postwar mutual suspicion, one has only to turn up the Commons debate of December 13, 1945, in which only just over half the votes were cast in favor of the loan, or the much longer congressional hearings and debates of the next few months, with their evocative refrain that once again Uncle Sam was being asked to pull Britain's chestnuts-Socialist chestnuts this time-out of the fire.

In July 1947, Foreign Affairs printed an article by the Director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics in Moscow. Its gist was that:

[Anglo-American] relations, viewed in perspective, appear a peculiar combination of antagonism and cooperation, as a result of which the United States is constantly gaining ascendancy over Britain, reducing her more and more to the status of a second-rate power in both economic and political respects. This process began nearly a century ago, but owing to the different effect of the war on the economies of the two countries it has been immensely speeded up.15

At this point many Englishmen of the Right as well as the Left would have agreed with him. But bitter necessity left them little choice, except to retreat into an austerity as severe as that which the Soviet Union had experienced in the interwar years.


It was not unnatural that the term "the special relationship" should first surface in Churchill's speech at Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946, which also contained the famous phrase, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." This is not to argue that Churchill or anyone else in Britain deliberately exaggerated the Soviet threat in order to mitigate the pains of American economic hegemony, or draw the United States back into Europe. But during the war Churchill, and after it Ernest Bevin, the Churchill of the Labour Party, were generally more skeptical of Soviet intentions than Roosevelt had been and Truman, Byrnes and Marshall initially were. Indeed, in the early meetings of the Security Council in 1946, Byrnes found himself often mediating between Bevin and Molotov over Indonesia, Greece and the Middle East. Despite continuous explanations to Stalin and Molotov by American emissaries from 1942 onward that the "Anglo-Saxons" did not form a bloc in world politics-explanations that were received with polite skepticism in Moscow-despite the American desire for a free hand in refashioning an international order of which she was now the core power, the perceptions of London and Washington on the issues of 1946 such as Germany, Iran or the Dardanelles, were much closer to each other than they were to those of any other country (Canada, perhaps, excepted ).

More than that, as the cold European winter of 1946-47 demonstrated how fragile all the West European economies were, it became necessary, on the one hand, to consider a broader rejuvenation of them than simply bilateral commercial loans; on the other, it also became clear that, if the United States were to exert the direct leverage of military confrontation against the Soviet Union in Europe, it was only Britain who possessed the facilities to do so.

The Truman Doctrine of March 1947 was the result of an abdication of power by an economically beleaguered Britain which caught the United States unprepared. America had never grasped the extent to which Britain was overextended, nor faced up to the implications for American policy of a British withdrawal in the eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, even after Truman had accepted the consequences in principle, America successfully pressed Britain to keep troops in Greece until the beginning of 1950.

As Acheson's memoirs make plain, the success of the Marshall Plan, by contrast, owes much to the speed and imagination with which Britain under Ernest Bevin picked up and developed the American initiative of June 1947. Here, thanks to the intimate cooperation of Bevin, Acheson and Bidault, the plan became an instrument for the rehabilitation not just of Britain but of Western Europe as a whole. Although the British and French postwar loans were running out like quicksands, the countries that were politically in most urgent need of economic assistance were Germany and Italy. The development of the Committee for European Economic Cooperation in Paris, and the stimulus to European trade that the Marshall Plan was designed to provide, were remarkable, not only for eliciting a great deal of both European and American enthusiasm for European integration and even political unification, but as the first moment in the 170 years of Anglo-American relations in which the United States treated Britain as an integral element of Western Europe rather than as a particular island off its shores, "anchored" as Emerson had said "at the side of Europe." (Documents on strategic planning, however, continued to differentiate the two until the early 1950s and perhaps later.) Churchill and Smuts had floated the balloon of a West European "Commonwealth" during the war, only to have it sharply punctured by the American doctrine of universal interests; now it was revived under a different name by products of the British connection like William Fulbright and Walt Rostow, Charles Bonesteel, George A. Lincoln and Lincoln Gordon.

What created a "special" Anglo-American relationship between 1947 and 1952 within the broader and later strategic nexus between the United States and Western Europe were three factors in particular. One was a change in the British style or technique of dealing with the United States. As long as the British considered themselves a Great Power, or as long as the United States considered Britain one, it was almost as natural to transact significant business in London as in Washington. Thus, John Winant, Averell Harriman and Lewis Douglas, the wartime and postwar American ambassadors in London, had been nearly as important links in the chain of diplomatic interchange as Lords Lothian, Halifax and Inverchapel, their counterparts in Washington between 1939 and 1947. But with Britain greatly weakened and London therefore less important, with the process of American policymaking becoming more complex as a Republican Congress demanded a powerful voice and the bureaucracy expanded, Washington clearly became the place where serious business must be transacted. Misunderstandings over atomic energy had been a fearful warning of the consequences of not mastering, and indeed influencing, the American executive-legislative relationship.

Thus it occurred that the imitation Virginian manor house on Massachusetts Avenue that is the British Embassy was converted into a powerhouse of British official talent under the leadership of a tall, calm philosopher, Oliver Franks, who had played the leading role in organizing the distribution and provision of Marshall aid. The quality of the Franks Embassy can be measured at the diplomatic level by the fact that almost every First Secretary retired as a very senior ambassador or its counterpart during the early 1970s, and at the military level by the fact that the ambassador's advisors were full-ranking generals and admirals, with a marshal of the RAF in the person of Tedder as an active participant for a good deal of the time. More than that, there was a unique coincidence of temperament and outlook between Franks and Dean Acheson. Franks may have read Castlereagh's advice to the outgoing British Minister to Washington in 1819: "The first precept which I will recommend is to transact your business with the American government as far as possible by personal intercourse with the Secretary of State rather than by writing notes. . . ." But in fact there was no need to press the point, for Acheson and Franks became such intimate interlocutors that it was hard to say where the one man's train of thought ended and the other's began. "No comparable relationship," Acheson's first biographer has written, "between a Secretary of State and an ambassador can be found in American history."16

The second element in the original postwar intimacy resulted from the growing militarization of the East-West balance of power in Europe in the late 1940s. The Soviet rape of Czechoslovakia in February 1948 and the beginnings of the Berlin blockade that summer undermined-rightly or wrongly-the assumption that what was at issue was a diplomatic and political confrontation with the Soviet Union in central and southern Europe. If it became necessary to organize collective security in Europe, Britain had unique assets. By reason of the differing rates of demobilization and its continuance of conscription, Britain was nearly as strong a military power, in terms of force in being, as the United States, though not yet possessing nuclear weapons and with much of its army still dotted about the imperial map. By reason of the war, British senior officers and officials had experience of working with Americans in combined staffs and commands which France, the only other major European military power, lacked. And by reason of geography Americans had, as a Yale political scientist had expressed it during the war, "an additional stake in Britain's island base because it offers a unique opportunity for American power to make itself felt on the other side of the ocean."17 This first became evident in peacetime through the move of three B-29 squadrons to East Anglia during the Berlin blockade; it became increasingly significant as American military strategy turned from one of defense to one of deterrence. Moreover, the ethnic groups in the United States that had traditionally been hostile to any Grand Alliance with Britain-the Irish and the Germans-were even more hostile to communism.

Bevin, moreover, had already laid the groundwork of a European collective security system, first by negotiating the Treaty of Dunkirk with France, a 50-year treaty of full mutual support in the event of hostilities with Germany, and a year later the Brussels Treaty which embraced the Benelux countries. Britain had for the first time in many generations got involved in permanent European commitments in time of peace; what the British could do, so could the Americans. Britain had created the core of the system and it merely required the cooperation of certain small countries such as Portugal and Iceland-what the position papers of the time called "stepping stone countries"-to convert a collective security system into an American command and reinforcement system, as happened some 20 months after the signature of the North American Treaty in the wake of the alarm caused by the Korean War. Contemporary American writers like Lippmann argued that the British had been pressing for an American alliance through much of the twentieth century. This was not quite accurate; Britain had been trying to get the United States to play a role in maintaining a European power balance; with NATO this seemed to have been achieved.

The third reason for the original "special relationship" was that the United States, as the only great, undamaged power after the Second World War, found it extremely difficult to set limits on American influence and presence. Acheson and Forrestal tried to limit American commitments or to argue that American interests were concentrated primarily on Western and Southern Europe, Iran and Japan. But for a country of the resources of the United States, private as well as official, the gravitational power exerted by the international system as a whole was irresistible. In consequence, Washington-which had had only a rudimentary intelligence service before the war, a high-powered but amateur operation, OSS, during it, and thereafter a CIA that had very limited resources until the Korean War lifted the lid of government expenditure-found a desperate need to understand and be informed about areas and places that had hitherto been visited only by stray American botanists or anthropologists. Later this gap was filled by a dramatic increase in the scope of the major American universities, but in the first instance Washington relied heavily on the knowledge of the old imperial powers, principally Britain. British military technology, especially on aircraft and carrier design, was imported by the United States. Ideas flowed in both directions also, for it is generally acknowledged that the concept of nuclear deterrence in the sense of a bomber fleet in being, capable of instant and massive retaliation, originated with Sir John Slessor, the British Chief of the Air Staff.

This does not mean that the Truman years were plain sailing for the Anglo-American relationship. Its intimacy was primarily between officials, not legislators, still less the general public in either country. It encompassed the quarrel over Iranian oil, a grumbling argument over atomic energy, the refusal of the British government to participate in the European Coal and Steel Community, and, above all, conflicts of policy over China. The last-named was the most serious for it aroused the strongest passions in American opinion.

Britain had acquiesced in American dominance over the occupation of Japan and American postwar attempts to mediate single-handed in the Chinese civil war, despite Australian misgivings, for lack of resource to do otherwise. But the Attlee government saw no reason to depart from its policy of de facto recognition when the Chinese Communist regime became established in Peking in 1949, whereas American policy responded to public pressure and withheld it. Moreover, Britain had solid commercial interests in the Far East which it refused to relinquish (except for strategic goods) when a communist regime took over, exposing itself to accusations of trading with the enemy on the part of Senator Knowland, Representative Judd, and the old China lobby. The breach was not between Bevin and Acheson but between British and American public opinion.

The Korean War accentuated these problems, not because Britain did not support the principle of U.N. action to resist aggression but for three reasons in particular. First, the high-handed conduct of the war by MacArthur, coupled with the onset of McCarthyism, seriously weakened British public confidence in the quality of American public policy. (I can remember as the correspondent of a London paper in Washington in those years being badgered by an editor deeply sympathetic to the United States for some good news instead of bad.) This reached its nadir, getting entangled with another old quarrel, when President Truman on November 30, 1950, made an incautious statement at a press conference that implied the possible use of American nuclear weapons in Korea, leading to Attlee's agitated flight to Washington. A second reason was the skeptical, even cynical, American attitude toward the validity of the Commonwealth relationship which the war brought to the surface. The Attlee government took a proprietary pride in the new Commonwealth, embracing India, Pakistan and Ceylon, as well as the older white dominions, and when the Indian government's accurate reports of developments on Chinese policy were ignored in Washington, there was a grinding of teeth in London as well as in Delhi, confirming simultaneously Britain's distrust for Washington's handling of the war and regret that the voice of emancipated India should be so little regarded. The third reason was the American insistence on German rearmament after September 1950, which was less of a body blow to Britain than to France, but was still difficult to accept for a country that had been unique in fighting the Second World War from the first day to the last.

Although I, like many of my compatriots, feel that the easy entree which London has enjoyed in Washington over the past 30 years has distorted British perspectives, it is not easy to find fault with this postwar "era of good feelings." Britain was a seriously weakened country in the postwar years; the threat of Soviet power loomed large over Europe in Stalin's day and in Bevin's eyes; although the Commonwealth was still an association of considerable vitality, there was much to be said for helping the United States assume effectively the mantle of global power; the political and economic unification of Europe as an alternative frame of British interests was at best a gamble and the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, which embraced some sixteen countries, had little prospect of providing the matrix of it. Britain, moreover, was not the "running dog" of American policy in those years that the Left has often alleged. Britain took issue with the United States not only on Far Eastern questions but also on relations with the Soviet Union, witness the attempt of Churchill in 1952, back in office again, to make the Administration take seriously the Soviet offer of renewed negotiations on a German peace treaty.


The process of mutual adjustment to the expansion of American power moved for several reasons much more unevenly throughout the Eisenhower Administration than during its predecessor or successor Administrations. It was not merely a question of personalities, of the well-known mutual antipathy of Eden and Dulles. Eisenhower was an Anglophile, and there were thirteen Anglo-American "summits" during his eight years in office as compared with three in the eight years after Potsdam.

One reason was the yawning disparity in military strength that emerged as American military expenditure quintupled after the Korean War while British rearmament was necessarily much more circumscribed. Moreover, with the development of the B-52, and the building of Strategic Air Command bases in North Africa, Saudi Arabia and Okinawa, Britain's utility to the United States as Airstrip One diminished. A second reason was a growing conflict of view as the European Coal and Steel Community showed that the idea of European unification held promise. Britain was ready to play a role analogous to the United States in encouraging this from the outside, but in Washington it was increasingly felt that Britain itself should participate in the process, that Britain was a European power not a global one. The fact that perhaps the major diplomatic triumph of Anthony Eden's career was in rescuing the possibility of German participation in NATO after the collapse of the European Defense Community in 1954, by negotiating the Western European Union, mitigated but did not eliminate this conflict of perspective.

A third reason was Dulles' growing preoccupation with Asia and the Far East, the area where the two governments had seldom viewed the threat to international order or the means of fortifying it through the same lenses. One charge against Britain is that it acquiesced in the negotiation of SEATO, an organization in which it did not really have confidence; but the role of Australian diplomacy in urging membership on Britain, and London's sense that it provided compensation for Britain's earlier exclusion from ANZUS, must be taken into account. Fourth, there was the growing sense in Washington that Britain was losing its validity as a coalition partner by reason of the crumbling not so much of the Commonwealth as of the still large colonial empire and the British position in the Middle East. As early as May 1953 Dulles confided to himself in a note written after his first official tour of the area:

British position rapidly deteriorating, probably to the point of non-repair. Generally in the area, India and Jordan being partial exceptions, we find an intense distrust and dislike for the British. The days when the Middle East used to relax under the presence of British protection are gone. . . . We must convince the Arab states that the U.S. operates on a policy of its own with regard to this problem [colonialism].18

Whether Dulles was right or wrong is less important than the fact that he undoubtedly reflected a growing American conviction that British imperial control and influence no longer provided a usable instrument for the containment of Soviet power. Paradoxically it was a British attempt to reassert its imperial role, at Suez, that provoked the most open and resonant Anglo-American clash of the postwar years. Yet one can now see that Suez was not a considered development of British policy. It was a spasmodic reaction to one of history's mistimings; imperial influence was actually declining in advance of America's realization of what was happening and of what the full implications were for American policy. Britain reacted at the end of what Eden and his close colleagues thought was a series of American haverings over her responsibilities in the Middle East. Britain thereby accomplished-at considerable embarrassment and pain to itself-an eventual clarification of the American role in this area. In that sense Suez was not all loss, which may explain why it left so slight a permanent scar on the Anglo-American relationship.

Vis-à-vis Russia, by the 1950s there was another significant shift of roles between Britain and America. Whereas in the immediate postwar period it was Britain that had the clearer and stronger sense of the Soviet threat, by the 1950s British weight was being thrown more and more in the direction of restraint and negotiation. British opinion had never shared in the hysterical anti-communism of right-wing American thinking but, more than this, the less moralistic code of British policymaking left Prime Ministers freer than Presidents to advocate open dealings with the mammon of unrighteousness. And no doubt it was a help to Churchill, in pressing for summit negotiations-as he did tirelessly from 1951 to 1955-that his anti-communist credentials stretched back to 1917.

Yet beneath the surface of this growing divergence of official preoccupations and positions, a contrary process was at work. Despite the international damage done by McCarthyism, Englishmen and Americans were growing increasingly attracted to each other's company. This went far beyond official relationships, intelligence or military liaison, for the alienation of the prewar years had given place to a host of new interactions, among journalists, academics and businessmen. What Geoffrey Crowther accomplished with the American Survey of The Economist in making American politics and policy comprehensible to serious Englishmen, radio and television did for a wider audience. The fear or distaste for mass society which had been one of the earlier causes of anti-Americanism began to erode as the pattern of British life and habits changed. Though Britain was still the second most powerful state in the West and was so regarded in the mid-1950s by informed opinion not only in Britain but in France and Germany,19 all but a small minority on the Left and Right of British politics had accepted her secondary status and the reality of American leadership. The process, however, was an asymmetrical one; with certain honorable exceptions, American press coverage of Britain has been more superficial than the converse.

In my view, it was this roseate transnational relationship, rather than the fact that Harold Macmillan had an American mother or had been a wartime friend of Eisenhower's, which accounted for the rapidity with which Anglo-American good relations were restored after the debacle of Suez, despite the gross incompetence of British and French planning or the failure of Anglo-American communication that it had demonstrated. There were other factors at work as well: the declining health and influence of John Foster Dulles; the continuing importance of mutual information about developments in the far reaches of the world; the restoration, after a decade of estrangement, of a confidential relationship on nuclear energy and atomic weapons.


It was on these foundations that the second "era of good feelings" or special relationship (a phrase rarely used by British politicians and by only two American Presidents who did not believe in it, namely Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon) was constructed. But it was different in character from the first, even though the personal friendship between Macmillan and Kennedy may have been as intimate as that between Bevin and Acheson. For one thing the differential in military power had widened even further by the early 1960s. Britain had a military budget that was one-tenth that of the United States' and had only about one-seventh as many men under arms. For another, the diplomatic and political significance of the other European powers had markedly increased and they were climbing the ladder of economic growth with strides, where Britain was only plodding upward.

But above all, Macmillan's conception of the Anglo-American connection, espoused though it might be among his colleagues and officials, was based upon a central fallacy. Years earlier, when he was the British representative in Algiers during the war, he had said to Richard Crossman:

We are the Greeks in this American Empire. You will find the Americans much as the Greeks found the Romans-great big, vulgar, bustling people, more vigorous than we are and also more idle, with more unspoilt virtues but also more corrupt. We must run [this headquarters] as the Greek slaves ran the operations of the Emperor Claudius.20

This Greek-Roman analogy continued to inform his approach to Washington. It assumed that Britain had no Roman role to play even if on a greatly narrowed stage. But more than that, it overlooked the fact that Americans had, 20 years after the assumption of a central role in world politics, acquired the ability to be Greeks to their own Romans by mobilizing the vast intellectual resources of their continental state.

Not just in terms of brute economic and military power, but of the development of the natural and social sciences, America had become the mother and Britain the daughter society. The RAND corporation, the think tanks, the Harvard-MIT arms control seminar and a host of other devices had brought intellectuals into the center of American policymaking. Though Britain had, and has, an excellent public service, no serious attempt was made to harness the universities to the needs of British policymaking. And Macmillan's concept also overlooked the fact that the wartime generation of officials and politicians who knew each other's cast of thought was beginning to disappear from public life.

The consequence was a process of British self-delusion just at a time when stocktaking of the country's position in the world was most required. In some small degree it may have retarded British recognition of the significance for Britain of the European Economic Community (EEC). More importantly, it fostered the illusion that Britain could have the best of both nuclear worlds-an "independent deterrent" and, at the same time, a much greater say in American nuclear strategy, both on such things as targeting and on arms control, than in reality she had. The anti-Americanism thrown up by Suez in Macmillan's own party was half encouraged, half bought off by this. But in fairness, another side existed even to that rather dubious coin. Macmillan and David Ormsby-Gore deserve credit for persisting with the proposal for a nuclear test ban from 1958 onward in face of sustained hostility from Dulles and initial skepticism from the Kennedy Administration. And in the Berlin crisis of 1958-62, a real Anglo-American cooperation was sustained throughout, with British influence exerted somewhat in the direction of negotiation all along.

Nonetheless, the priority given to the nuclear relationship with the United States was not only instrumental in hardening de Gaulle's opposition to the entry of the British Trojan horse into the EEC. It led also in 1962 to what Arthur Schlesinger christened the "Pinero drama of misunderstanding" over the Skybolt missile, which led in turn to an increasingly dependent British strategic relationship with the United States as Macmillan persuaded Kennedy to substitute the Polaris system for it.

The Nassau Agreement of 1962 and the transatlantic confusion that preceded it should have been a warning to Whitehall of the rapidity with which the Anglo-American relationship was changing. Macmillan himself perceived this, I think, despite the affection which Kennedy felt for him and the value he found in the older man as a sounding board for his own decisions and ideas, including moments of swift action and great stress such as the Cuban missile crisis. But his departure from office in 1963 a month before Kennedy's assassination was followed by a period not just of British but of mutual delusion.

On the one hand the British general election of 1964 brought back to office a Labour government most of whose leading members, Harold Wilson, George Brown, Anthony Crosland, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins, were profound admirers not only of Kennedy and his Administration's effort to move toward détente with the Soviet Union, but of the older concept of "Atlantic Community." They had backed Robert McNamara's attempt to introduce an element of flexibility into NATO strategy, by greater emphasis on conventional forces, an attempt of which the Tory government had been skeptical; and they were prepared to place the British nuclear force at the disposal of NATO, thus allaying the American fears of a German demand for a nuclear deterrent of its own. It is arguable that Labour "moderates," at any rate, know the United States better than their opposite numbers on the Conservative benches, and certainly have a more successful relationship with most Democratic Administrations.

But Johnson was not Kennedy, and Wilson and he certainly effected no marriage of true minds. Neither shared in the tradition, experienced or inherited, of the wartime partnership; each had his heart set on a narrow concept of the national interest.

However, on the crucial issue of Vietnam, Anglo-American divergencies had an earlier inception. Washington wanted, from the beginning, to believe that relevant aspects of the Commonwealth relationship could be made to relieve the loneliness of the American position in Southeast Asia. They believed, as few people in Britain did after the 1950s, that there was not only an analogy but a continuity between the British role in Malaysia and the American role in Vietnam.

Thus as early as February 1962 McNamara told a Senate subcommittee that "the United States strongly favoured the continued deployment of British land, sea and air forces in a broad area of Asia,"21 and this same view was pressed upon the Labour government. Consequently, the latter, finding itself merely tagging in the wake of American policy on central issues of great power relations such as the nonproliferation negotiations, continued to maintain a high level of commitments in Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf at a time when the troubles of the British economy and the weakening position of sterling made it increasingly onerous to do so.

Lyndon Johnson did not get what he wanted, namely a British commitment, however symbolic, to the Vietnam War. The transnational relationship, the extent to which informed British opinion was becoming affected by the doubts of informed American opinion about both the wisdom of the Administration's policy or the prospects of victory, made that impossible. But, whereas Wilson found his attempts to mediate between Washington and Hanoi, notably at the time of Kosygin's visit to London in February 1967-to move as it were into the high politics of the Vietnam War-quite abortive, at the same time Johnson brutally used the dependence of sterling on the dollar to exact Wilson's support for American policy in Vietnam, except for the bombing of the North. In the end, Wilson failed in both his objectives: to maintain the parity of sterling and to retain any leverage over American policy in Asia. Both countries suffered in the process.

By the late 1960s a new element was entering into the relationship, namely the huge growth of American investment in Europe but particularly in Britain. By 1966, the year before the second British application to join the EEC, the Prime Minister was speaking of "industrial helotry," and trying to find a basis of common ground with the Six on the protection of the European technological industries. However, it was characteristic partly of the element of mutual flattery in the Anglo-American political relationship, partly of the extent to which the United States was losing interest in the development of the Community as superpower relationships took precedence over Atlantic partnership, that when Edward Heath suggested in the 1967 Godkin Lectures at Harvard that, where British officials had always thought first what would be Washington's reactions to a proposal, they would soon think first about the reaction of Paris, Bonn or Rome, he was considered to be anti-American.


The British Defence White Paper of 1969, the first year in a decade in which British defense estimates actually declined, was described by Denis Healey, the Defence Secretary, as setting "the seal on Britain's transformation from a world power to a European power." To the extent to which this was true-some of it was reversed temporarily by the Conservatives when they retained a presence "East of Suez" on coming to power in 1970-it may be said to parallel the "retreat from empire" which Robert E. Osgood and others have identified as the dominant theme of the first Nixon Administration.22 Certainly the years that followed displayed a profound change in the objectives and techniques of American diplomacy: the bilateral negotiation of a Vietnam peace settlement (and, if by any intermediary, more by France than by Britain); the prolonged, bilateral and secret negotiations on strategic arms limitations with the Soviet Union; the unilateral "opening to China." On the British side they have witnessed entry into the EEC, the endorsement of it by a large majority in a referendum, and the gradual emergence of the Nine as a working political entente on several issues of world politics; the open dispute with Washington at the time of the Yom Kippur War; and a grumbling divergence of opinion about the proper way of confronting the developing world in the United Nations and elsewhere.

Although there was much about the Nixonian "retreat" that British opinion welcomed, most conspicuously of course the end to the long, demoralizing and diversionary attrition of the Vietnam War-although there was much about the pursuit of a "multipolar" world that was similarly acceptable, particularly the "opening" to China-yet for various reasons these were not happy years for the Anglo-American relationship. There was, running through them all, a basic distrust of the Nixonian presidency which, even when taking its inception in a non-diplomatic context, spilt over onto the diplomatic stage. There was an uneasy awareness that some of the success in moderating old enmities was achieved at the price of neglecting old friends. The Guam (or Nixon) Doctrine was felt to embody a somewhat chilling assertion of American independence. The old bipolar world had been a dangerous place, but at least the NATO alliance had fitted into it as neatly as sword into scabbard. What would take its place now that bipolarity was pronounced extinct? What, in particular, would happen to the Anglo-American relationship?

Since the Nixonian collapse, both countries seem to have been living in the ruins. Yet the main reflection of this seems to have been a mood of introspection and diminished confidence, rather than a turning-away from basic principles-the pursuit of détente, the acceptance of multipolarity, the need for preserving one's guard, the recognition of the claims of the Third World. In both countries there have been hesitancies and questionings about these policies, and particularly about whether the other fellow was taking them as seriously as oneself, but at the bottom this reflected a lack of confidence in the style and competence of leadership rather than any rejection of the principles themselves. No one has seriously proposed anything to take their place. What 1976 has to produce, by the ballot box and otherwise, is a set of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic who look as if they have the talent, determination and durability to take common action in support of common interests.


What does one make of this long history of intimacy, of discord and collaboration? I have no grand Toynbeean conclusion, but as someone who has been traversing the Atlantic for over 40 years, there seems a provisional balance sheet to be struck. In the years when Britain was the mother society and the more politically powerful state, its policy and position accelerated the internal development of the United States, provided it with a framework of juridical, social and intellectual reference. It speeded American civilization. Yet this retarded in many ways the development of the United States as an international power, and Britain's maritime supremacy delayed American thought about American interests. As a result, American thinking often lacked any "middle term"-a set of working practices halfway between crass self-interest and "globaloney." Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, evolved out of a cosmic a priorism, with little or no regard for the United States' immediate requirements and imposed on a very un-American warring world, was a perfect case in point.

In the alienated interwar years when both countries thought they were the equal of the other, they did very little for each other. But in the 35 years or so that the United States has been the parent society, the nineteenth-century process has been apparent in reverse, intensified by closer intimacy in a shrinking world. American ideas, American capital, American pressure have for the most part been beneficent in modernizing the internal habits of a country that has been reluctant to face the challenges of change. But, by the same token, the fact that Britannia has been cradled to a large extent in the lap of Uncle Sam as far as both strategic and economic security have been concerned, has been able to converse with him on an intimacy that until recently no other country can accomplish, has been encouraged to place so much more emphasis on the dialogue with Washington than with any other capital, delayed, not fatally I hope, Britain's adjustment of her own perceptions to a rapidly altering situation of power and influence.

What does this promise for the third century of the Anglo-American relationship? To anyone who believes in the soundness, the inevitability even, of Britain's entry into Europe, the introduction of true multipolarity within as well as without the Western alliance must be acceptable, even welcome. Geography, strategy, economics-Britain's long defiance of these as an imperial and global power should not and could not be protracted into the changed world of today. The time has now arrived when, as Edward Heath predicted, a British official's first reaction to many a crisis is, "What will Bonn and Paris think?" And the categories of crisis to which this reaction is appropriate are expanding all the time.

But before we give way to the exclusive assumptions of the European zealots, let us remember two things. The decisions out of which the new Europe is emerging are made, and will continue to be made as far as the eye can see, in the shadow cast by Washington. In part this is due to the imperfect level of European unity; Europe is in the condition of the American States under the Articles of Confederation, "united" only in aspiration, not in actuality. But beyond this, and however rapidly the new Europe is forged, it is hard to envisage it as a self-sufficient power center able to cope with the challenges of the non-free world without the most intimate interdependence with the United States.

And if the making of Europe does not mean the unmaking of the Anglo-American relationship any more than of the Franco-American, Italo-American, German-American, etc., it is unrealistic not to recognize the multiple and tenacious strands out of which that relationship is woven. The old Commonwealth apart, the British and the American peoples think more alike-or at least disagree less-than anyone else. Hot lines and frank exchanges between Washington and other capitals, dictated by self-preservation and balance-of-power politics, are no substitute for shared political values in a hostile world or a common language in an increasingly lazy one. The Gulf Stream of common intercourse at every level, cultural, educational, economic, official, shows no sign of diminishing its two-way flow, however intense the cross-Channel traffic may become; and in the future, as in the past, it is unlikely to be much affected by the tempests that may ruffle the surface of the "steep Atlantick stream."

How history will handle the admitted elements of contrariety that inhere in Britain's new relationship with Europe and its old relationship with America remains dependent on a myriad of unpredictable variables. Who, in 1876, would have predicted that it would handle so well the contradictions between Manifest Destiny and the Imperial Theme? No doubt 2076 will hold many surprises; they may not all be unpleasant ones.


1 Quoted in Britain Through American Eyes, ed. Henry Steele Commager, London and New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.

2 H. C. Allen, Great Britain and the United States, London and New York: St. Martin's Press, 1954, p. 166.

4 Quoted by Allen, op. cit., p. 82.

5 Percy Lubbock, ed., The Letters of Henry James, New York: Octagon Books, 1969, Vol. I, p. 143.

6 Quoted by H. G. Nicholas, The United States and Britain, Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1975, p. 46.

7 H. G. Nicholas, op. cit., p. 57.

10 Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Ordeal and Hope, 1939-1943, New York: Viking Press, 1966, p. 264.

11 Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 6, Triumph and Tragedy, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1953, p. 353.

12 Gaddis Smith, American Diplomacy During the Second World War, 1941-1945, New York and London: John Wiley & Sons, 1965, p. 155.

14 Geoffrey Crowther, "Anglo-American Pitfalls," Foreign Affairs, October 1941.

15 E. Varga, "Anglo-American Rivalry and Partnership: A Marxist View," Foreign Affairs, July 1947.

16 Gaddis Smith, Dean Acheson, The American Secretaries of State Series, New York: Cooper Square Pubs., 1976, p. 145.

17 W. T. Fox, The Super-powers-The United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1944, p. 60.

18 Dulles Papers, Princeton University Library, Princeton, New Jersey.

19 Daniel Lerner and Morton Gorden, Euratlantica: Changing Perspectives of the European Elites, Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1969, p. 149.

20 Quoted by Anthony Sampson, Macmillan: A Study in Ambiguity, London and New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967, p. 61.

21 The Times (London), February 16, 1962.

22 Robert E. Osgood et al., Retreat from Empire? Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1973.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Until his untimely death in February of this year, Alastair Buchan was Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at Oxford. He had been Commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies, London, 1970-72, and Director of the (then) Institute for Strategic Studies, London, 1958-69; and is the author of Power and Equilibrium in the 70s and other works.
  • More By Alastair Buchan