History - Harold Macmillan and détente 1957-63

Was Macmillan's Britain out of its league?

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Macmillan's Cold War objectives

1) Rebuilding the Anglo American relationship.

2) Maintaining Britain's independent nuclear status.

3) Pursuit of detente.

4) Pursuit of EEC membership.

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Rebuilding the Anglo-American relationship.

  • Rebuild the 'special relationship' damaged by the Suez Crisis.
  • And maintain the 'special relationship' as a mainstay of UK foreign policy.
  • Sought to use American power to offset Britain's economic and military limitations.
  • Repeal the McMahon Act which prohibited Anglo-American cooperation on nuclear matters - American fears over Sputnik helped greatly. 
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Maintaining Britain's independent nuclear status

  • Nuclear collaboration would help Blue Streak; Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. 
  • Symbol of great power. 
  • Allow for reductions in Britain's conventional armed forces and defence spending
  • The term "interdependence" nonetheless came to the fore. From 1960 onwards (when Britain abandoned Blue Streak) shows that the UK was in an asymmetrical relationship with the United States. 
  • Macmillan however continued to insist that interdependence and independence were two sides of the same coin.
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Pursuit of détente

  • Took up the idea of a Nuclear Test Ban treaty as a step towards improving East-West relations - Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
  • Though motivated by genuine desire to make the world a safer place, Macmillan was informed by national self interest:
    • Any slow down in the Nuclear Arms Race would bring welcome financial savings to a hard-pressed British economy. 
  • British public were becoming increasingly concerned about nuclear dangers. 
    • Macmillan went to Moscow, first western leader to do so during the Cold War.
    • Viewed by America as an election year stunt.
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Pursuit of EEC membership

  • Needed to be in the EEC to help rebuild the flagging, under-performing British economy
  • Believing that the EEC functioned as a containment barrier against the Soviet bloc, Macmillan wanted Britain inside. 
  • Macmillan realised that Britain needed a second power base to offset signs of diminishing, or at any rate oscillating, British influence in and over Washington.
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  • Macmillan ultimately wanted: Partnership with the Americans. 
  • He got it as Polaris under the Nassau agreement. 
  • Didn't hinder national control over the deterrent if 'supreme national interests' so demanded.
    • Yet, this rendered Britain suservient to NATOs nuclear force.
  • The Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, whilst believed to be delivered by the US-USSR, was actually much of Britain's doing
    • Britain had been relegated to facilitator rather than a deliverer of detente. 
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