London Embassy Files: Lot 59 F 59: 320 FMC

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Douglas ) to the Embassy in France

791. For the Secretary, Bruce, Harriman, Jessup, Perkins, and Bohlen.

I am taking this occasion to comment on Brace’s cable to Jessup (Paris Embtel 590 to London May 4 and Jessup’s reply London Embtel 752 to Paris1). This is not intended to be a full discussion of the issue which these cables raise. It is merely a brief summary of what appear to be inescapable facts and conclusions that flow from them.
There are it seems to me, two issues. The first issue is whether there is in fact a peculiar relationship which exists between the US and the UK. The second is whether, assuming that such a peculiar relationship does exist, we shld disclose our realization of this relationship to the British, and if so, the extent to which it should be disclosed and, by agreement, used as a basis of combined foreign policy.
Dealing with the first issue—there is no country on earth whose interests are so wrapped around the world as the UK. Among her Crown Colonies she is in more vitally strategic areas than any other nation among the community of Western nations. She is the center of a great commonwealth. The US enjoys the benefits of being a neighbor to the most important member of this Commonwealth whose relationships with the UK can no more be disguised or eliminated at the moment, or in the immediate future, than can the relationship between the Hawaiian Islands and the US. She is the center of the sterling area in which a particular monetary unit known as the pound circulates and enjoys common usage as a common medium of exchange. This area is held together not alone by the circulation of an identical currency or other currencies easily convertible into it. It is held together also by an intricate and complicated system of commercial and financial arrangements built up tediously by the British with the natives and the Colonials of this vast area throughout the course of 300 years. There is no substitute for the sterling area and none can be erected in any short period of time. But beyond all of these considerations the UK is the only Power, in addition to ourselves, west of the Iron Curtain capable of wielding substantial military strength. This assembly of facts, though some may disagree with a few of them, makes a special relationship between the US and the UK as inescapable [Page 973] as the facts themselves. And no amount of dialectical argument can erase either the facts or the conclusion.
The above does not imply that a special relationship between the US and UK is necessarily exclusive of, or precludes, special arrangements with other countries, or excludes or prohibits the inclusion of other countries in any peculiar arrangements which, on more than a bilateral basis with the UK, may be made. I suggest that there are certain areas in respect of which the peculiar US–UK relationship shld be expressed in terms of bilateral arrangements. There is for example the Near East. There is sub-Asia and there are Crown Colonies of Africa. Some of these areas, because of their remoteness from other Powers and because of our intimate concern with them, belong naturally among the category of areas susceptible to treatment by US–UK arrangements. There are other areas which may best be dealt with by a broader multilateral policy toward Colonial areas. There are certain financial and economic relations which are peculiar to the US and UK but which, because they bear also a relationship to other Powers, lend themselves not only in the first instance to US–UK discussion and negotiation, but also to multilateral consideration. There are certain military questions, certain matters of defense which are peculiar to the US and UK. Thus as a matter of practical international politics we must acknowledge the existence of a special relationship between the UK and the Commonwealth on one hand and ourselves on the other.
To what extent shld this peculiar relationship be admitted to the British as a basis for policy? The great danger of a too extensive acknowledgement of our peculiar association is that this Govt, or indeed any British Govt, while Britain is in straitened circumstances, might lean too heavily upon us in order (a) to perpetuate the protectionist program which the present Govt considers to be essential, or (b) to relieve a strain to which UK resources might be put. There is too the danger that an indiscreet and too extensive acceptance of this relationship in dealing with some specific questions in advance of, or without appropriate preparatory explanations to, some of the Continental Powers might give rise to the view that a US–UK alliance was, by design being substituted for the North Atlantic community. Therefore a certain amount of caution in acknowledging the existence of the relationship, and a certain amount of discretion in dealing with specific questions which arise out of this special relationship are required. But to say that in the face of UK’s and the Commonwealth’s interests all over the world, and US interests all over the world, we shld not recognize a special relationship solely because it might possibly interfere with the smooth working of the North Atlantic community, however important this community is to the world, is to ignore, it seems to me, the fundamental position of both [Page 974] the UK and the US in all quarters of the globe. The issue is not whether we shld deny this relationship but rather how to acknowledge it without injuring the N.A. community.
It may be that the British will use a too extensive acknowledgement of this relationship by us for the purpose of establishing, or attempting to establish, her position as an intermediary between the US and the Continent. If she wld become a good intermediary and exert the sort of leadership we want, what harm wld this do? In fact our major criticism of HM Govt has been that she has not exerted leadership on the Continent and has in fact refused to be an American intermediary. The issue is not whether the UK wld attempt to be Mr. Bones in a minstrel show but whether the UK wld be a good Mr. Bones. Throughout our discussions of this subject everyone I believe has agreed to the proposition that there cannot be any substantial progress toward a closer association of European nations either in an economic or political sense without UK leadership, participation where it is compatible with UK’s other relationships, and active encouragement in matters in which, because of other obligations, the UK cannot become a participant.
I dissent from the view expressed in the third paragraph of the subject cable from Paris. I do not believe that the principal reason the UK desires a special relationship with the US is to avoid, as this paragraph implies, greater participation in European affairs. Surely the UK did not ask us to assume responsibilities in Greece, which we accepted because of a peculiar relationship with the UK, for the reason that she wanted to avoid a more intimate participation in European affairs. The Marshall Plan had not even then been launched upon an unwitting world. Surely the UK didn’t press us to buy raw materials from her Crown Colonies and from the members of the Commonwealth in 1949 because she wanted thereby to establish a closer relationship with us which wld enable her to avoid a more cozy association with European countries.

I do not for a moment imply that the UK’s desire to have a special relationship with the US is as pure as Castile Soap and as clean as Snow White. Her motives are often no worse than ours, and no better, but I do not agree with the view that the primary reason which moves her to attempt to establish a special US–UK relationship is because of her unwillingness to join in molding a more closely knit Western Europe. Her principal motive is to buy insurance.

  1. Telegram 590, p. 960; telegram 752 not printed, but see footnote 3, p. 961;