841.00/5–1747: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom

top secret

2155. For the Ambassador from Acheson.1 In our appraisal of probable future international developments it is of cardinal importance to us to have a full knowledge of all aspects of the British situation including their capabilities, intentions and thinking on world problems. I know, of course, of your plans to study principal British industries, starting with coal. I fully realize that in the brief time you have been in London you have not had an opportunity to complete thorough studies on which you could make an authoritative appraisal. It would, however, be helpful to us here to have your preliminary views on a number of important questions such as the following:

In view of British withdrawal from Burma, India, Egypt, and possibly Palestine, how do the British themselves forecast the future course of Empire defense and of their defense commitments; for instance, does the present Government share Mr. Churchill’s2 views on Hong Kong and Singapore? And in view of their present position in Greece and Palestine, what is the future of defense of the Eastern Mediterranean?
In the domestic political field, do you anticipate in the next few months any important changes in the British Cabinet? Are we safe in assuming that Bevin3 is likely to remain in the Foreign Office for the remainder of the year? Is Bevin making any progress in lining up the [Page 751] Labor back-benchers in support of British foreign policy? Is his thinking still influenced by their critical attitude?
We have been troubled over the attitude of the British press toward international affairs. In its comments on the proposed U.S. program for Greece, for instance, British press to a considerable extent seems to have assumed that UK can occupy a spectator role in a contest between the US and the USSR. Some sections of the British press seem to believe that UK can be an intermediary between the two and perhaps enjoy the traditional honest broker role in this relationship. Similar attitude has been reflected in speeches of some members of Parliament. If, as we assume, responsible British Government officials do not share these views, why has not British Government, especially the Foreign Office, supplied background press guidance as effectively as they customarily do when important British interests are at stake?
In the economic field, for how long do British authorities look forward to continuation present austerity in living standards and what effect do they think this is having on the vigor of the British people?
British thoughts on no. 4 above would be closely related to their views on further productivity and discipline of labor and on further production of coal. British exports, imports and, indeed, standard of living depend in final analysis on answers to these questions. So does Britain’s position as a world power.
We have noted, of course, recent British White Paper.4 Are British plans such that they can see a date by which they will have achieved a balance of payments? If not, are they contemplating a further and more vigorous government control of foreign trade, or may they come to us for further financial help to maintain a more liberal trade policy?5

Your estimate of these and other related questions will be of great value to us in gauging the urgent period ahead. [Acheson.]

  1. This telegram was based on a memorandum of May 12 by Dean Acheson, Under Secretary of State, to H. Freeman Matthews, Director of the Office of European Affairs, outlining a series of questions to be asked of Lewis W. Douglas, the new Ambassador in the United Kingdom. Referring to the newly formed Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State, Acheson stated: “I do not know how [Director George F.] Kennan expects to start his work, but I should think it hard to begin thinking about American policy without considering what the British position is and where they think they are going.” (Lot 52D224)
  2. Winston S. Churchill, British wartime Prime Minister; leader of the Conservative Party.
  3. Ernest Bevin, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  4. British Cmd. 7046 (1947): Economic Survey for 1947.
  5. For documentation on concern of the United States over the foreign exchange position of the United Kingdom, see Vol. iii, pp. 1 ff.