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‘by 1974 Britain Had Been Reduced to a ‘North Atlantic Nobody’’ Discuss. (45 Marks)

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‘By 1974 Britain had been reduced to a ‘North Atlantic Nobody’’ Discuss. (45 marks)

From 1951 to 1974, Britain’s world power had dwindled, its empire a fraction of it’s pre-WW2 size. However, to suggest that Britain was a ‘North Atlantic nobody’ would be incorrect. It’s power had decreased but it was still considered a world power with influence. Military operations and diplomatic relations along with economic standing are factors in reasoning whether or not Britain was reduced to a ‘North Atlantic nobody’.

Britain’s military size and military actions in this period could support the argument of it being a ‘North Atlantic nobody’. The most prominent of military failures during this time was the Suez crisis of 1956. Britain was forced to withdraw from Suez due to pressures from the US and the UN resolution passed against Britain. Other attempts at military independence failed miserably, such as the Blue Streak missile program in 1960. Blue Streak was developed as an independent missile system for the UK and millions were spent on it. However, Blue Streak was a failure, and the British government was forced to be reliant on the American missile system, Polaris. Along the same lines, during the Cold War between the USA and the USSR missiles were kept in the UK by the US, similar to the USSR’s use of Cuba. This once again shows the lack of independence from the US – any attempts to make actions without pre-approval from the US were utter failures. When the UK and the US joined together in nuclear research the UK used a faux nuclear demonstration to make the US believe that the UK were capable of developing such weapons. Britain’s reliance on the US is clear, showing that although they were not a nobody, they weren’t because of their ‘special relationship’ with the US. However, there were military successes, such as the Malayan emergency and the Mau Mau rebellion. They were needed by the US in the Korean War, and in the Vietnam War Wilson was able to show his support without using military force. These military successes although are important are overshadowed by the bigger crises of Suez and the failure of Blue Streak, but these crises do not mean that the UK was a North Atlantic nobody. The scale of the crises and their effects actually show that the UK’s actions had a large effect on the world and therefore was not a ‘nobody’.

The UK’s diplomacy was strongly influenced by the US in this period. The UK’s special relationship had become more and more unequal, with Britain eventually becoming a satellite state of sorts to the US. This suggests that the UK as a diplomatic world player was declining, but the UK did have some independence, shown when Johnson requested troops for the Vietnam War and the UK declined but made a show of ‘moral support’. Along with this relations with the UK’s colonies such as Rhodesia were fraught and it’s independent actions led by Ian Smith imply that it did not respect Britain’s power. However, although relations with Rhodesia were tense, relations with most of the rest of the colonies were fairly stable. Relations with Europe improved as with De Gaulle's death Britain was able to join the EEC in 1973 after two failed attempts by Wilson in 1963 and 1967. These failed attempts were not necessarily due to a weak economy in the UK, but because of Charles De Gaulle’s fear that introducing the UK to a platform where France was the most powerful would threaten his position. He compared it to ‘two cocks in a henhouse’. The UK was a NATO member and a permanent member on the UN security council. So in this respect although relations with Rhodesia were tense, countries such as France and Germany struggled even more with dealing with their Empire’s decline. Britain became more reliant on the US, but still retained a level of independence. In regards to the UK’s foreign affairs it was not a North Atlantic Nobody.

Britain’s economic standing can also be considered when evaluating Britain as a world power by 1974. Economic policy in this period is widely regarded as a failure - with a huge reliance on American loans, decline in trade with the Commonwealth, and up until the very end of this period, limited trade with Europe due to Wilson’s failed attempts at joining the European community. Britain's growth was struggling compared to members of the EEC such as Germany (which had just suffered through two world wars and reparation payments). Germany overtook the UK’s economy in the 1960s, and their living standard was also higher than that of the UK’s. The UK did manage to join the EEC, which offered trade benefits and better relations, suggesting that British economy was on the rise. After the Suez crisis, there was a run on the pound as investors spooked at the US’s threats and the unreliability the British government. In 1967 there was a devaluation of the pound, which did manage to help the economy by making British goods cheaper and thereby stimulating the economy. Therefore, although Britain struggled at the beginning of this period due to the collapse of the Empire, by the end of it Britain’s economy was getting back on its feet with the entry to the EEC and the stimulation of the economy by a devaluation of the pound. So in this respect by 1974 Britain was not a North Atlantic nobody, as it had regained some of the standing it had lost during the Suez crisis.

In conclusion, although in this period Britain’s Empire collapsed and it did not retain its high status, it was by no means a ‘North Atlantic nobody’. This is supported by successes in the Malayan emergency, as well as a close relationship with the USA and the UK being their chosen closest ally. It would be incorrect to suggest that the UK was still a huge world power, its military strength and nuclear power, its successes in foreign diplomacy and a reviving economy by 1974 all show that the UK was not a ‘North Atlantic nobody’.

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