History - Harold Macmillan and détente 1957-63

Was Macmillan's Britain out of its league?


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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