No. 420

611.41/1–2051: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Gifford) to the Secretary of State 1


4022. 1. As Department aware, British attitude towards US follows fluctuating pattern. Periods when American prestige is high are followed by lows generally occasioned by divergence of views over specific political or economic issues. Effect of disagreement is however aggravated by psychological intangibles stemming from fact that despite many similarities, we are two different peoples with different reactions, different methods of operation and at times transitory differences in interest although long-term objectives are same. US prestige in British eyes reached high at time Inchon landings2 but subsequent UN reverses in Korea gave such a jolt that period of low commenced which now appears to be at nadir. This condition does not reflect anti-Americanism in sense of unfriendliness toward US or US people. On contrary anti-Americanism of this nature is to all intents and purposes quiescent if not in fact moribund except among (I) Communists, (II) handful labor [Page 895] left-wingers who have always been suspicious of and even hostile to US, and (III) hard core of empire-fired Tories who wield negligible influence. Moreover present low does not presage any weakening of Anglo-American partnership which British continue to be convinced is indissoluble rock upon which future of free world must be based. It does however reflect strong undercurrent exasperation and irritation towards US and distrust of certain of our policies which prevail among practically all sectors British community. Unlike situation at time sterling devaluation in 19493 and previous differences over economic questions, this feeling is not voiced in press except for sharp criticisms of our FE policy. Nevertheless it is in our view possibly more intense and widespread today than at any time in past five years.

2. Following analysis seeks to bring up to date earlier assessments of causation current British attitude and insofar as possible to explain why British feel this way. As will be noted attitude contains certain contradictions, illogicalities and even blind spots since it combines disagreements on specific issues with instinctive and emotional reactions.

3. Basic causes present British attitude are fear that UK may have lost control over own destiny, that US may go beyond “point of no return” and chain of events may ultimately result in war with Soviet Union in which UK would necessarily become involved and that US will squander its resources in hopeless war with China which would leave Europe, key to security of West, defenceless. These fears are intensified by reports highly excited state of American public opinion and exaggerated idea of power and influence of General MacArthur and of his alleged proclivity to take political decisions on his own authority.

4. Most immediate motivation of present British attitude is concern over what they consider absence of realism in our FE policy and questionable wisdom some of our actions there. British views toward FE in general and China in particular have not been in accord with our own ever since war. This divergence did not however become of primary importance until British recognized CPG4 and did not in their eyes take on acute aspect until Chinese Communists intervened in Korea.5 British feel we are supporting Chiang and Syngman Rhee and that this “support” indicates that we are confusing fundamental social upheavals in Asia with Soviet machinations. Constantly bearing in mind vulnerability of HongKong, [Page 896] British place second only to relationship with US continued solidarity of Commonwealth and avoidance any action which might alienate India as potential leader non-Communist Asia. In present crisis continuance MacArthur in key political as well as military position tends to aggravate their concern that US actions will be guided by emotional and prestige considerations in defiance of Asiatic opinion. In many instances there is no disagreement re importance specific issues. For example British Government but not public is probably awake to necessity of keeping Formosa for time being in friendly hands or neutralized but there is belief that this could be accomplished more realistically than by army of discredited Chiang regime. British feel some accommodation to Asiatic viewpoint principally as expressed by Nehru is justifiable especially since they have not yet given up hope of eventual conflict between Peiping and Moscow.

British Government and public seemingly unable to grasp facts that future of collective security depends as much on events in FE as in Europe and that failure UN to continue to resist aggression there could be as disastrous for UN as breakdown of sanctions against Italy was for League.

5. Contributing factors to present British attitude include:

Weaknesses in US diplomacy. Although British people do not in general mistrust US motives or intentions and indeed feel that our postwar foreign policy has furnished remarkable evidence that America is rising to great and new responsibilities, they still lack full confidence in our ability to handle delicate international issues. They feel US methods sometimes unnecessarily put them and others publicly on spot and that purpose could be better achieved by other means. They also believe that we are prone to act without adequate prior study of possible implications of a move and to make piecemeal decisions. They are consequently disturbed by what they regard as our impulsiveness and tendency to plunge ahead, sometimes in anger. At same time they are concerned by what they feel is our proneness to decide matters with minimum prior consultation with them and to insist that courses of action which we propose are the only practicable ones. They regard these methods as high pressure tactics incompatible with real leadership and are surprised that nation our stature feels need to use them. Britain realizes that power tactics have place in diplomatic tools of trade but believe we are inclined to employ them to exclusion other means of suasion. As instance US diplomatic shortcoming, British cite approach used in Washington September discussions on German rearmament.6 They feel we broached subject without sufficient advance spadework with respect to French and maintain that if this had been done, wranglings in following months would [Page 897] not only have been avoided but also that we would be much further ahead today with German rearmament.
Failure to capitalize on British experience. British believe that we fail to make use of their experience in diplomacy and government gained over decades when UK was dominant world power. They realize that its position in West is definitely second to that of US but still feel that they have much practical knowledge to offer which could be advantageously employed in formulation and execution of Western policy. British feel their long association with and skill in handling peoples of Europe exceeds our own and, in fact, regard themselves as natural leaders of Western Europe. They therefore believe that greater use should be made of these assets in stimulating continent to greater defense effort. British maintain that much that is practical in European cooperation since war has been achieved because of their contribution and close their eyes to fact that their prestige and consequently influence in Western Europe is at low ebb as result negative attitude they have adopted towards European integration.
Concern re inconsistency US policy. British feel that their early misgivings re implications US election for Europe have been borne out by Hoover in speech and more recently and far more seriously by Taft’s statements.7 They had already been alarmed by attacks on the Secretary who is highly respected here for his foresight and judgment and fact that “McCarthyism” made such an impression on American people. They are concerned at possibility US public may forget our commitments under NAT and at prospect of increased neo-isolationism with all it connotes for future security of UK and Europe. These fears are further deepened by current controversy over constitutional authority executive to send US forces abroad.
Alleged negative US approach to talks with Soviet. British sentiment is strongly in favor talks between Western Powers and Soviet. Latest Gallup poll showed 76 percent would like meeting between President, Attlee and Stalin. This desire does not mean that British would be prepared to appease Soviet. Memory of Munich is still green. However, with spectre of war looming large in their minds British feel we should overlook no opportunity to explore every reasonable avenue settlement East-West differences and therefore West is morally bound to take part in talks. They are consequently disturbed by impression that US overly negative in its approach to proposed meeting four Foreign Ministers, that we feel talks would be unproductive and hence no purpose would be served by holding them, that US emphasizing military factor to contain Soviet without parallel political offensive. British recognize that West cannot hope to gain from talks unless in position of strength. They are inclined feel however that our position has been strengthened by Soviet fears at prospect German rearmament and because of this there is a chance talks may have some beneficial results, and at very least West will gain time.
Failure US to appreciate UK contribution to common defense. British are irritated at apparent failure US to appreciate importance their contribution to cause of West and are resentful tendency to regard them as “pallid allies”. They point to facts that they have almost 40,000 troops plus large armed police forces in Malaya who have been fighting Communist guerrillas long before aggression in Korea, that on per capita basis size UK forces comparable to our own, that military service universal and term longer, and that until Korea percentage UK gross national production devoted to defense was higher than that in US and that since Korea British have substantially increased proportion GNP allocated to defense and will shortly up it still further. British themselves primarily at fault for having failed to publicize importance their contribution. Nevertheless they tend to overlook this and to blame US public for being misinformed. We also sense some feeling of guilt on part British that despite relatively creditable showing to date it does not at present time compare with US defense effort and feel that from this standpoint their self-esteem will be raised when details accelerated defense program are announced.
Envy of US. Consciously or unconsciously British people tend to be envious of US. They are envious of our standard of living and luxurious way of life as portrayed in movies and other media, of our economic and industrial strength, of our relative geographic security, and of fact that we have replaced them as the leading world power. In summary, feeling of superiority towards US which characterized British in past is on way to developing into one of inferiority. As is usual in such cases, sense of disparity is expressed in criticism of object of envy. Such criticism is particularly sharp here at present time because of fear that we may be dragging UK into war.

6. Factors contributing to British attitude towards US which have diminished in importance since previous assessments (Embtels 3043, November 24, 3241, December 3 and 3664, December 298) are (1) “junior partner” role, (2) A-bomb, (3) raw materials. Suspension Marshall aid and Attlee’s visit to Washington where British voice raised have done much to remove British feeling of being “a dependent” and all sections British public believe UK now in better position to deal on more equal basis with US. Growing self-confidence among British takes form wider public demand for UK actively to influence US rather than merely follow in US wake. On A-bomb, fears have quieted since Attlee visit, and evidence that scare stories from Washington about US willingness to make immediate use weapon were not based on fact. British worries re effect on UK economy of US stockpiling have also tended to decline as result President’s talk with Attlee and plans to provide for equitable distribution of commodities in short supply.

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7. While we are naturally disturbed by British attitude described above, past experience teaches us that Anglo-American disagreements can be eased if not removed by real effort on both sides to appreciate other’s position. We must also bear in mind fact that maintenance closest possible ties with US is basic objective UK foreign policy and therefore that British will seek to avoid any step which might seriously jeopardize their relations with US. As our present divergencies stem in large measure from FE situation, on which no basic understanding was apparently reached in Attlee-Truman conversations, we suggest you consider possible advantage in having high-ranking official Department such as Jessup or Rusk who can speak authoritatively on US–FE policy, come to London in very near future to discuss subject with Bevin and FonOff officials concerned, in light of admitted advantages derived from similar exchanges of view on NE and other questions in past.

  1. Repeated to Paris, Moscow, Frankfurt, The Hague, Brussels, and Stockholm.
  2. September 15, 1950.
  3. For documentation relating to the devaluation of the pound in September 1949, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. iv, pp. 781 ff.
  4. January 6, 1950.
  5. At the end of November 1950.
  6. For documentation on the meetings of the Foreign Ministers of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States at New York, September 12–19, 1950, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. iii, pp. 1108 ff.
  7. Regarding the speeches of former President Herbert Hoover and Senator Robert Taft concerning the question of sending more U.S. troops to Europe, see the editorial note, vol. iii, Part 1, p. 14.
  8. Telegrams 3043 and 3664 are not printed; for telegram 3241, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. iii, p. 1698.