ANY man bold enough to tackle the subject of Anglo-American relations--so delicate and yet so intensely important --finds himself faced immediately by the question what he means by the word "Anglo-American." Does he mean the relations between the United States and the British Commonwealth of Nations or the relations between the United States and Great Britain alone? Though the two are clearly closely linked, I propose to confine myself here, so far as possible, to the second and narrower meaning. For in a free confederation of nations it does not seem to me proper that the citizen of any one member state should dogmatize on the affairs of the others. But even on the narrower interpretation, I do not suppose that many people either in the United States or in Britain would dispute the general proposition that on a close relationship between the two countries rests the best hope for the future peace of the world.

And indeed it is not only right but natural that the United States and Britain should work together. For they have, in many ways, the same background and the same outlook. Their parliamentary systems, their laws, spring from the same source. Both believe in free institutions in the sense that both believe that the individual should have full liberty to think, speak and act as seems good to him within the minimum limits imposed by his membership in his community. Both, in the words of the Psalms, seek peace and ensue it; for they know that it is only under conditions of peace that true liberty can prosper or indeed survive. Both base their national lives on the Christian ethic, with all that entails; and twice within the last 50 years, when war has finally been forced upon them, they have stood side by side in defense of the principles in which they alike believe, and by so doing have saved civilization. And, finally, both are threatened by the same danger, the materialistic Communism of Russia.

With so much in common, it might seem that common policies should be easy of attainment. And yet the path of Anglo-American friendship has not proved in practice as smooth as might have been hoped. Even since the last war, there has been an undercurrent of friction and disagreement. The Americans tend to complain that they are always being asked to pull the British chestnuts out of the fire. The British tend to complain that if the chestnuts get into the fire it is because of the failure of the Americans to recognize approaching danger until it is too late to avert it. The Americans cite Korea as a case where they did act and were not sufficiently supported by Britain. The British reply that if the Americans had gone as far in support of Britain at Suez as Britain went in support of America in Korea, the world would be a much healthier place than it is today. The Americans contend that Britain has not been loyal to her obligations under the United Nations. The British say that the United Nations is not doing the job that it was created to do. And so the debate goes on, a debate which furthers the interests of neither country and is of assistance only to our enemies.

Why is it that two countries, which are in many ways so much alike, find it so difficult to see eye to eye? Is it because of conflicting commercial interests? It ought not to be so. The world is fully big enough for both, and Britain cannot hope--even if she wished--to rival the United States in the scope of her commercial operations. Nor have they either of them imperialistic ambitions. They are both satisfied nations. What, then, is the trouble? One is driven to the conclusion that it is psychological rather than real, and that its causes are relevant to the past rather than to the present: in Britain, there is persistent distrust of American isolationism, and in the United States, there is persistent distrust of British colonialism.

Neither of these fears, in my view, is in any way relevant to the world in which we find ourselves today. Not so long ago there was in the United States a strong isolationist strain, and it is very understandable that this should have been so. A considerable proportion of those who now form the American people originally crossed the Atlantic just because they found life in Europe no longer tolerable. They wanted to get away from it all and start a new life in a new world, untouched by the ancient feuds and jealousies of the old. It was therefore natural that they should recoil from any policy which could have the effect of re-involving their new country in those same quarrels and rivalries which they had travelled so far to avoid. But the experience of the last 40 years must have convinced all but a small minority that any hope of the United States remaining permanently outside a world conflict was vain, and that the main hope of avoiding involvement was for the United States to prevent war breaking out at all, by throwing its whole weight on the side of peace before things had gone too far. And if that view had already become dominant in American minds, it must have received a further impetus, within recent months, from the launching of the Russian sputnik, which signalized that every American city has been brought, or will be in the near future, within the range of direct nuclear attack.

In such circumstances, why do the British worry about American isolationism? The answer, I think, is this. It is not what would happen when war had broken out that causes them anxiety. They know very well that the whole mighty power of the United States would be engaged in another world war from the start. Their anxiety relates to the time before war breaks out and when it might still be avoided. It is then that they fear that the pull of the traditional isolationism of the country might still be sufficient to impose on an American government a hesitant policy just when firmness and resolution were most necessary. It may be foolish that British opinion should still feel this. The story of the Berlin airlift and the Marshall Plan, and the presence, in peacetime, of large numbers of American soldiers on European soil and of the American Sixth Fleet in European waters are, it may well be urged, conclusive proof of the courage and resolution with which the United States is facing the full implications of its new world responsibilities. But the fear exists, and it was intensified by the course of American policy in the Middle East in the months which preceded the Suez crisis.

And if there is still, in Britain, a certain persistent distrust of American isolationism, there is, I believe, in the United States, an equally persistent distrust of British colonialism. Nor is it unnatural that there should be this distrust. For, after all, the American states were once themselves a British colony, and if they are not still a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations it is initially because of the revolt of the American colonists of 180 years ago against what they regarded as the monstrous injustice of their treatment under colonial rule. That is the lesson which has been taught in American schools ever since; and colonialism has therefore come, to the American mind, to be synonymous with everything that is bad. Actually, I do not imagine that the average Englishman of today would wish to dispute the American view of many of the events which led up to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The policy of the British Government of that day would have a very poor press in the Britain of the twentieth century. But to say this is not, I submit, to condemn, root and branch, all colonial rule. That would be far too wide a generalization. It would indeed be a false generalization. To take only one instance, British colonial government in the latter part of the nineteenth and in the twentieth century has had little in common with the colonialism of the eighteenth. For one thing, it has had to deal not so much with entirely different peoples as with entirely different problems. What made the policy of men like Lord North so unwise was that the colonists of North America were our own kith and kin, men and women of the same advanced standard of civilization as those of the United Kingdom itself. The same is of course true of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But all these are now, to use the words of the Report of the Imperial Conference of 1926, "autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to each other, in any respect of their domestic or external affairs, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations." That means in plain words that they are today independent nations, remaining in the British Commonwealth only of their own free will: they have passed out of the area of colonial government altogether.

The vast majority of the territories of the more recent British Colonial Empire are, however, of a completely different character. They are not colonies at all in the strict sense of the word, since they have not been colonized by the British. They are territories inhabited almost entirely by indigenous peoples of every race, religion, color and standard of civilization. In these circumstances, the main aim of modern colonial policy has been to lead them up the ladder of self-government at a pace at which they can safely go, until they emerge at the top as fully fledged members of the Commonwealth. In some cases, that progress will be very rapid; in some it may be inevitably slow; for there are colonial peoples, notably in parts of the Pacific, that are still very primitive and will probably not be ready for self-government within the foreseeable future. Even in some areas of Africa, Western ideas are still only a very thin veneer over primeval savagery. And this is not surprising when one considers what was the condition of many of the African peoples only two or three generations ago. They had the most primitive ideas of medicine. They had the most primitive ideas of agriculture. They had no idea of true liberty at all. There is a vivid account of the task facing European administrators in Central Africa at the end of the last century in a dispatch written by Sir Harry Johnston in 1890. "Somebody," he writes, "has got to keep order in this chaos of old established savagery and newborn civilization; otherwise, we shall have Arab wars and native wars, and white 'atrocities' and savage reprisals. Civil war among the savages must be checked, so that something like settled cultivation and the rearing of flocks and herds may begin. Arab aggression and the slave trade must be put a stop to. Unscrupulous men must be restrained from defrauding or maltreating the natives."

That was the situation facing the colonial Powers less than 70 years ago, and when one looks at the territories of British Africa today, with their established medical and agricultural services, their prosperous and peaceful peoples, striding forward towards full membership in the Commonwealth, it will surely not be said that, there, colonialism has been an unmixed evil. On the contrary, to most Englishmen, the record of Britain in the colonial field during the last century ranks as one of great achievement; and their only doubt is not whether the pace of constitutional advance has been too slow, but whether it has not been too fast; whether these peoples have yet quite grown up; whether they are really ready for independence; and whether, for them, independence may not mean the end of liberty.

For there can be no more dangerous mistake than to assume that independence and liberty are the same thing. They can, but by no means need, go together. Liberty--true liberty--as I have stressed earlier, means freedom for the individual to think, speak and act as he likes within the minimum limits imposed by his membership in his community. Countries like Hungary enjoy nominal independence; but would anyone say that the people of Hungary enjoy liberty in the sense that we of the West understand that word? One even begins to have some qualms about Ghana when one reads of certain events that have occurred there and of the tone of some of the speeches of her Ministers since she has achieved independence. However, that is not to say that the aim of modern British colonial policy--what one may call the policy of the ladder--has been wrong. It has, one may fairly claim, been liberal and forward-looking; and if the pace at which it has moved has sometimes seemed to involve risks, this is probably due to the pace at which the world has been evolving during the last half-century: and, at any rate, it has been far from imperialist or colonialistic, in the old sense of that word. The proof of this is that in the 12 years that have elapsed since the Second World War, no less than five countries--India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Malaya and Ghana--have reached the top of the ladder and become full members of the Commonwealth, and others are rapidly approaching that goal. Nor is it true to say, as has sometimes been suggested, that a recrudescence of the spirit of imperialism or colonialism--for the two are used in the same sense--has been responsible for British policy in Egypt or Oman during the same period. In both cases, the dominant concern has been to maintain the rule of law: and without that, peace and indeed civilization itself could not long survive.

And as for Cyprus, that is in essence not a colonial problem at all. It is, as is now beginning at long last to be generally recognized, primarily a dispute between Turkey and Greece, both of whom have been willing, until quite lately, to acquiesce in British sovereignty over the island, but neither of whom is prepared to see the control pass to the other. It is that which makes a settlement so difficult to find.

I have dealt at some length with what I believe are the main causes of friction between Britain and the United States because it is so important to both that they should be got rid of. Neither the American fear of British colonialism nor the British fear of American isolationism is, I firmly believe, a living issue. Both are dead and ready for burial; yet unless they are buried, they will continue to poison the relations between the two countries; and neither Britain nor America nor the world at large can afford that. For, let us make no mistake, the perils that confront the free world today are very real and very terrible.

The League of Nations died because the nations that believed in international peace and justice could not get together; and it looks very much at present as if the United Nations might go the same way, though in this case it would perhaps be truer to say not that it is dying but that it has never really been alive. It started indeed with a better chance than the League. For one thing it is, to an extent that the League never was, universal. Moreover, the Security Council is armed with far more drastic executive powers than the Council of the League ever had. It could, if the Great Powers were agreed, take immediate and far-reaching action to restrain aggression, and provision was made in the Charter for an international force with an international general staff to enforce its decisions. However, there was of course from the start one essential prerequisite to the success of the United Nations as a means of securing peace and justice. The Great Powers must really mean to use the authority which the Charter conferred on them through the Security Council not for their own advantage but for the general good. Unfortunately that has not been the spirit in which the veto has been used by Soviet Russia. On the contrary, she has employed it merely as an instrument to further her own national policies and those of her friends. Owing to the hamstringing of the Security Council, the executive power which was intended to reside in that body has inevitably been transferred to the Assembly, a body so composed that it is able to prevent all action unacceptable to the Russian bloc. And what has been the result? The United Nations having proved to be largely ineffective for the purposes for which it was intended, the nations of the West have been compelled, in their own defense, to add to it another organization to do its job. That is the inner meaning of NATO, to which the United States has so wisely given its support.

The main purpose of NATO is to fill the vacuum created by Soviet Russia's sabotage of the United Nations. I do not say that the United Nations should be written off as a dead loss. With the passage of time, Russian policy may change and the United Nations may come into its own; even now in various spheres, there is much that it can do. But while Russia remains in her present mood the United Nations will not by itself be adequate to prevent world war or the forcible spread of world Communism. That responsibility--and it is a heavy one--must rest mainly with the Western Powers, acting through NATO or by any other means that may be available to them. It therefore is a solemn duty for all of us to ensure that, spiritually and materially, the Western Alliance is as closely knit as possible. Any serious breach between the great nations composing it is likely immediately to increase the threat of world peace. Especially is that true of the English-speaking countries, the core of the Western Alliance. With the enemy at the gate this is no time for bickering, for the formulation of purely American policies or purely English policies. The policies of the two countries have to be welded so far as possible into one, just as the Anglo-American forces in North Africa were welded into a single unity by the wisdom and vision of General Eisenhower in the crisis of the Second World War. A joint foreign policy must be hammered out which is fully Anglo-American in the sense that it is recognized to be a major interest of Britain to support the United States and of the United States to support Britain.

Sometimes one is told that what have come to be known as the uncommitted countries must come first. No one would dispute the importance of those countries in this great contest in which we are engaged. But it is relevant to inquire why they are uncommitted. Surely it is not that they simply cannot make up their minds which of the two ideologies, the Soviet or the Western, they prefer. For these are so different that it is incredible that anyone should not have a preference one way or the other. There must be some other underlying reason. They may be holding out for the best terms that can be obtained, putting themselves up, as it were, to the highest bidder. Or they may hope, by keeping aloof now, to avoid being sucked into the conflict, if and when war breaks out. Either is a possible explanation of their attitude. But one thing is certain: they will be greatly influenced in their final decision by the comparative material strength and resolution of the Western and Communist blocs. If, therefore, they can be shown that the Western Alliance is strong, united and resolute, they are much more likely to come down on the right side than if it appears to be weak and vacillating.

In the civil field, there are practically no limits to the benefits that we can confer on the world if we work together. Recent advances in the development of nuclear energy by the scientists of the two countries, even when working largely in watertight compartments, show clearly what might be achieved if we pooled our knowledge and experience, as one hopes may now be possible. In the field of defense, too, the closer our collaboration, the more effective will be our joint plans within the framework of NATO, the less the overlapping and consequently the less the cost. But defense policy is only an emanation of foreign policy. A combined defense plan connotes a combined foreign policy. The one without the other makes no sense at all. It is this combined foreign policy, above everything, that we need to work out. No doubt we shall have differences from time to time; but let them be as few as possible and not such as to impair our joint authority. For on our capacity to show a united front--not merely in wartime but in peacetime too--the whole future course of history depends.

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  • THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY, K.G., P.C., Lord President of the Council, 1952-57; formerly Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Privy Seal and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
  • More By The Marquess of Salisbury