'It was only because of the “special relationship” with the USA that Britain could exert an influence on international affairs in the years 1951 to 2007.' Assess the validity of this view. [45 marks]

'It was only because of the “special relationship” with the USA that Britain could exert an influence on international affairs in the years 1951 to 2007.' Assess the validity of this view. [45 marks]

AdvantagesGetting Started

  • The relationship enhanced Britain's military and diplomatic power in the Korean war, Cold war, Gulf war and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Specific productive relationships included Macmillan and Kennedy, Thatcher and Reagan, Blair and Clinton/Bush.
  • Margaret Thatcher was able to stand alongside USA in 'ending the Cold war'.
  • Britain played a crucial role in involving US and NATO in the Balkan Wars in 1990s.
  • When Britain tried to act independently, e.g. Suez 1956, it was unable to stand alone showing its dependence on USA.
  • Britain was forced out of Empire and therefore became reliant on USA – for military support and intelligence.

Disadvantages

  • Britain was an influential member of the UN with a seat in the Security Council.
  • Britain was a member of the 'nuclear club' and retained power and influence through its independent nuclear deterrent (although worked in cooperation with USA).
  • Britain remained one of the world's largest economies and a major military power; it  could therefore not be ignored.
  • Wilson would not commit troops to Vietnam and did not get on well with Johnson.
  • Heath would not allow US aircraft to refuel at a British base during the Yom Kippour war, 1973.
  • Britain acted independently over Suez and independently (and successfully) over the Falklands.
  • Britain was at the head of an Empire – and subsequently a Commonwealth – which ensured it retained considerable international influence.
  • Britain's position in Europe (EEC/EU) from 1973 gave a new focus to Britain's international position.

Evaluation

The special relationship was very important in this period but Britain continued its own independent action and still exerted its influence in its own right, through its position as head of the commonwealth and through its membership in the EU and EEC. Britain was obviously not as great as it was in its imperial past and did have to heavily rely on the USA for some things but Britain still remained one of the largest economies and a major military power, it could not be ignored. Britain may be as great as it once was but it is still great compared to rest of the world.

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