The foreign policy failures of British governments in the years 1951 to 1964 were due to a lack of realism about Britain’s position in the world: Over the period 1951 – 1964 the British government faced many foreign policy failures. These include; decolonization of Britain’s empire. Downfall of the EFTA which was originally set up as Britain was unable to join the EEC. Also the catastrophic Suez crisis which left Britain in great humiliation. Many historians would argue that these foreign policy failures were due to a ‘lack of realism about Britain’s position in the world’.
However others may disagree as there are many other reasons as to why these policy failures may have occurred. I shall discuss these further coming to a clear conclusion. It is possible to suggest that Britain was unaware of its position economically and therefore was ‘’punching above its weight’’, hence why Britain itself didn’t want to join the EEC, although joining it would have come with significant advantages.
For example the Schuman plan would have helped rapid economic reconstruction. It also would have improved international relations by giving Britain the chance to work closely with the Germans.
However Britain undermined this all as they assumed they did not need to join. They encouraged European integration but remained on the side lines themselves. Therefore in January 1957 the EEC was set up without Britain. This I believe was done as a result of Britain’s arrogance, thinking they did not need the EEC due to a ‘lack of realism’ of their position in the world. The Suez crisis reinforces the idea that Britain was unaware of its position in the world. As it was acting as a colonial power in a modern decade. This backfired as the USA dictated that Britain should return.
Britain acted accordingly, this told Britain that it was no longer a ‘great power’. Thus swaying Britain’s political opinion and leading to the creation of the EFTA. This was looked at as the downgraded version of the EEC. This was eventually shut down. Also as Britain realised they were no longer apart of the ‘great powers’ they attempted to apply for a position in the 1960’s, which they originally denied (EEC), this was rather humiliating. As a result of their application they were rejected as De Gaulle used Frances veto to block Britain’s entry.
In this case we can see that Britain acted arrogantly in the beginning thinking they were too well off to need to join the EEC. Then later after the Suez crisis, they realised they were no longer a ‘great power’ and attempted to join but were rejected. Although eventually in 1973 they did join, this could have been done 20 years before if only Britain back then knew their economic position after WW2. Also Britain delayed decolonisation as it still shared the illusion that it was a great imperial power. Therefore attitudes were difficult to change and were only impacted by Macmillan’s famous Wind of change speech.
After this decolonisation took place at a rapid pace. It is also possible to argue that Britain’s foreign policy failures were due to its post WW2 economy at the time. It was left weak, in debt and reliant upon the USA. This as a result led to Britain being forced to decolonise as it got no longer stand the financial responsibility which came with being an imperial power. Therefore Britain decided to decolonise and focus on its own economy rather than others. Also the Suez crisis left Britain in a difficult predicament. Firstly Britain had been exposed to the world for its weakness.
This told people that we were no longer a great power. This began the ‘run on the pound’ in which many investors stopped investing in the pound. This brought about a massive fall in value. This could have been another reason as to why Britain felt the need to decolonise as their money was now worth less abroad and they felt that they needed to retreat from the empire to fix their own country. The Suez crisis was also seen as a huge foreign policy failure. Mainly because Britain was forced by the USA to retreat. Therefore exposing Britain’s weakness and reliance upon the USA.
The only reason Britain was forced to retreat was due to the loans of which America threatened to stop providing. These loans kept the British economy flowing. The reason they needed these loans were due to the WW which had left the British economy in a very bad state. Therefore in this case they were forced to comply with the USA’s orders. Therefore this foreign policy failure is seen as a result of Britain’s post world war financial crisis. Some may argue that a rise in nationalist intentions were the causes of decolonisation. Britain found independence movements becoming more consistent.
Rebellions became much more frequent. Britain was soon seen spending huge amounts of money on defence. The Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya during 1952 proved especially difficult to put down as Britain spent ? 55 million in doing so. Britain realised that defence costs were only going to increase and the best thing to do was to give these countries their independence. This was made apparent in the winds of change speech. It is wrong to blame the whole of Britain for the failure in the Suez crisis. Eden kept this a secret from his own cabinet, therefore if anyone should be blamed it should be Eden as an individual.
Also Britain being unable to join the EEC as said before was due to De Gaulle as he thought that Britain would attempt to spread US influence amongst Europe. Therefore from here we can see that it was in fact certain individuals who brought about certain foreign policy failures. Also Britain did not suffer continuous amounts of foreign policy failures between 1951-1964. There were also many successes. The winds of change speech can be considered as a success. Colonies became a part of the common wealth whilst they were able to maintain a good relationship.
Britain realised being an imperial power any longer would have causes too much violence. Although they were unable to join the EEC, they did manage to join the United Nations and the NATO in which they took part in the cold war and kept a strong relationship with America. Also they were able to sign the Test Ban Treaty 1963 which banned nuclear testing. Therefore judging by this we can say that foreign policies were not 100% unsuccessful. In conclusion I believe that there was a mixture of factors which caused foreign policy failures.
For example not joining the EEC in 1957 was due to Britain’s “lack of realism” about its position in the world. However the Suez crisis was down to Eden an individual rather than the whole country as he failed to even mention his plan to his cabinet. Also Eden would have been successful in the Suez if Britain’s economy wasn’t in such a bad state at the time. Therefore we can tell that the post-world war economy also played a part in foreign policy failures. Also at the same time Britain’s colonies were becoming inpatient and were demanding independence. Therefore in this case decolonisation was inevitable.
Therefore if anything it was a foreign policy success as staying an imperial state would have only led to more violence. The introduction of the common wealth was also a success in order to maintain a good relationship. Overall I believe we could say that over the period 1951 – 1964 Britain underwent foreign policy successes and failures. Some of these failures were due to a lack of realism about their position in the world, whilst others were due to the economic climate Britain had been left in after the world war. Others simply due to individuals such as Eden. View as multi-pages
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