|About the Book|
This book offers a detailed examination of Britains role and influence in a pivotal period. The post-war international order had more or less taken shape by the mid-1950s, but much was still unsettled, and in these circumstances Britain made theMoreThis book offers a detailed examination of Britains role and influence in a pivotal period. The post-war international order had more or less taken shape by the mid-1950s, but much was still unsettled, and in these circumstances Britain made the most of its opportunities even while accepting that it could not realistically expect to remain-or ordinarily be treated as-one of the Big Three world powers with the USA and Soviet Union. Obviously, some adjustments were required in British priorities and methods, in view of changing pressures and needs both at home and abroad, but the continuing desire was to shore up Britains position in those parts of the world that were of special importance to British prestige, power, strategy, prosperity, and security. In April 1957 the defence minister in the Conservative government of the time, Duncan Sandys, emphasized to the House of Commons that whether we like it or not, we cannot go on devoting such a large part of our resources, and, in particular, of manpower, to defence. Sandys and his colleagues tried to find a balance between commitments and resources. How did they fare? Gradually, Britain did step back from some of its responsibilities overseas, but defence expenditure remained high as did the overall costs of maintaining a global role. Denis Healey, who served as secretary of state for defence in the Labour government of 1964-1970, later recalled that when I left office, for the first time in its history, Britain was spending more on education than on defence. Britain had to compromise. It had to be content with a lesser role on the international stage. But did this mean that all influence was lost? Did Britain cease to be powerful? Were its wishes and opinions no longer respected by others? This book elucidates the motives behind key decisions, discusses their far-reaching consequences, and explains why some options were taken and others were rejected. It provides an integrated international history of the period between 1957 and 1970. Many treatments of world history and international relations since World War II are rather compartmentalized in nature, usually along the lines of separate nation states, and although this approach aids the organization and presentation of information, it tends to hinder an overall appreciation of the international environment within which policy makers had to operate. In order to understand why British leaders considered some options to be more attractive than others at vital moments, we need to know more about the activities of the other great powers of the period. Therefore, this book treats British policymaking as one component of an evolving international order. In addition, this book balances, and to some extent corrects, those accounts that exaggerate or otherwise misrepresent the nature of Britains decline as a world power. Overly negative interpretations are challenged. British leaders were not uninformed, or unreflective, or unsuccessful in managing decline and sustaining Britains influence. They did a better job than many historians have recognized. The book is designed primarily for scholars and general readers who are interested in modern British history, international relations, post-1945 world history, the end of the colonial empires, and the history of the developing world.