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Brexit and Beyond

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Courtesy Reuters A member of the right wing National Front Party unfolds the Union Jack prior to a march to the Cenotaph during the Remembrance Day ceremonies on November 14, 1993.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: Brexit and Beyond
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The Importance of Being English: Eyeing the Sceptered Isles

In This Review

The Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe From Churchill to Blair

By Hugo Young
Overlook, 1999
543 pp. $39.95


By Ian Buruma
Random House, 1999
304 pp. $25.95

On December 22, 1941, only a fortnight after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his entourage flew to a three-week conference in the New World code-named Arcadia. In the course of Arcadia, the two countries agreed to establish a combined Joint Chiefs of Staff to direct their armed forces worldwide, and the British agreed that these supreme commanders should be located not in London, but in Washington. It was a partnership weighted toward the Americans: day-to-day military decisions for both countries were to be made in the United States.

In September 1943, Churchill proposed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that after victory had been achieved, the wartime arrangement -- a joint high command located in the United States -- should continue, initially on a ten-year renewable basis, but in the hope that one day it might become permanent. "Roosevelt liked the idea at first sight," the prime minister reported to his colleagues and to King George VI.

Although Churchill often was derided as a romantic reactionary, addicted to empire and unwilling to recognize the harsh realities of the twentieth century, he showed himself on this point able and willing to face facts. He saw that the United Kingdom was losing its place as the world's foremost power -- permanently. Relative economic decline was the main cause; it also was part of the price that fate exacted from Britain for having fought the German wars from start to finish. Changes in the ranks of great powers are normal in history. What is unusual -- perhaps even unique -- is that Britain relinquished its top position to its successor consciously and, to the extent that it had a choice, voluntarily.

At the time, not all British officials agreed that global supremacy had been lost. In 1945 it was the view of the Foreign Office that Britain "possesses all the skill and resources required to recover a dominating place in the economic world." But Sir Henry

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