222. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1
3002. Eden visit to Washington—general background as seen from London.
1. Anglo-American Relations.
Visit will take place against background of solid Anglo-American cooperation ruffled, however, by occasional differences in appreciations and implementation of foreign policy. These differences sometimes steal headlines but to Embassy they seem of only transient importance in contrast to underlying belief of Britain that its alliance with US, together with American possession of atomic deterrent, ensure UK’s primary defense of its independence and way of life. Britain also feels UK–US tie is likewise of basic importance to US. This belief in reciprocal need of the two countries for each other encourages British press and public to criticize US frankly—sometimes vociferously—when it questions American foreign policy. Only certain extreme left-wingers and Communists oppose Anglo-American relationship.
Among examples of current irritations are, of course, the Life magazine article,2 which revived fears of American impetuosity in foreign affairs. [3 lines of source text not declassified] impatience is felt over US reluctance reconsider its position with respect to export of strategic items to Communist China. Although it is generally accepted that modification of controls to Soviet level would not result in substantial increase in UK trade with China, opposition is articulate and growing and UKG no longer willing defend present level which it believes illogical and untenable.
Of greater significance than specific points of friction in current Anglo-American relations is a sense of uncertainty on part of general public regarding soundness and vigor of both British and American Governments’ responses to new international challenges. Departure of Churchill from center of stage and concern over President’s health have contributed to this uneasiness. At the same time an apparent diminution of Soviet Union as a military threat, symbolized by Geneva summit meeting, and its reappearance as a vigorous economic and political competitor in Near and Middle East and Southeast Asia tended to confuse British public and to cause it to question whether [Page 615] American and British leadership are coping adequately with old enemy in new guise. There is evident minor but growing body of public opinion which questions whether US leadership may be overemphasizing nuclear weapons, particularly H-bomb tests, at a time when real threat is the new Soviet tactics in economic and political fields.
It is against this background that British public and government leaders welcome forthcoming meeting. If as result of meeting impression is created that two governments are agreed on general lines to cope with main problems, specifically those in Near East, and are going ahead in unison, this would be important factor in increasing public confidence in Eden government and in American leadership. The timing of the meeting is fortunate because it is simultaneous with thorough disenthronement by both British public and its leaders from false hopes so fondly spun before and after Geneva Summit meeting. Khrushchev–Bulganin trip through India3 with its anti-Western propaganda, coupled with Soviet attempts through arms deals and promises of economic grants to dislodge UK from its position in Arab world, have been sharp lessons to British. Not since Korean war has British distrust of Moscow been so great. In the face of mounting Soviet threats in Middle East area, British Government is actively considering ways of increasing Anglo-American cooperation. There is even some labor-union alarm about recent Communist gains in British labor-union movement and sections of labor press are beginning to discuss ways and means of countering CP effort to take over certain of bigger unions.
2. UK Attitude Toward Western Europe.
Maintenance of pro-Western governments in Western Europe is of course vital UK interest. All indications are that British Government and public consider its military and political pledges under NATO and Paris Agreements of essential importance and mean to execute them faithfully. Government and people, however, still cannot visualize Britain as organic part of Western Europe and proposals, originating on continent, for Supra national economic, political or military organizations including UK fall on deaf ears. Hence, UK decision not to join EURATOM will almost certainly remain firm and participation at this time in Common Market is unthinkable. Best that can now be hoped for is cooperative arrangement with EURATOM and neutrality vis-à-vis Common Market. UK remains basically suspicious—all the more so since recent French decision—that integration based on “the six” cannot successfully contain resurgent Germany as long as France politically and economically immobilized. FonOff, however, realizes and would like to correct negative impression which present UK position [Page 616] creates and is casting about for means of taking new political initiative towards Western unity, based if possible on Atlantic community. Proposals to strengthen political, economic and social aspects of NATO are for first time under serious consideration. Meanwhile, UK participation in OEEC, which represents a larger and more natural grouping in UK eyes, has measurably increased in recent months.
3. UK Economic Situation.
Britain’s economic situation is factor which of course limits to an important degree Britain’s ability to play as significant role internationally as country might wish and its international position calls for. At same time, notably in Middle East, Britain’s reactions to specific problems are conditioned by its economic position.
Today, with full employment, most economic activity at record levels, its gold and dollar reserves at lowest point in three years and with noticeable inflation, Britain’s economic resources are severely strained. It recognizes its internal problems and is attempting to solve them without resort to direct controls. In present circumstances country has ability to maintain defense forces at about present levels and to modernize them to some extent. It is able to support some measure of foreign economic assistance and possibly to increase it slightly in instances of particular political and strategic significance. It is highly questionable, however, that Britain can afford to modernize its military forces as quickly as present day circumstances would seem to warrant and to maintain them in quantity and of a quality which its international position would seem to require. Doubtful too is Britain’s ability markedly to expand its foreign economic assistance even in Middle East and Southeast Asia where its interests are most directly threatened by recent Soviet moves on economic front.
Critical weakness in UK economy is in respect to energy. This weakness stems from the failure to increase coal output in line with increasing industrial activity and inability to replace conventional fuels in short run with nuclear energy. Lack of coal production has required substantial imports, notably increasing dollar drain. Atomic energy program is being given priority attention which will bear increasingly heavily on limited domestic resources. For next decade or two, British national solvency and international position require continued access to adequate quantities of moderately priced oil from Middle East. This crucial dependence on Middle East oil has been acknowledged recently at highest levels of Brit Govt. Brit reactions in respect to border problems with Saudi Arabia, initiative in seeking development of complementary US and UK programs in Middle East to strengthen Western position there (including willingness to use some of its limited foreign assistance funds) stem in part from this factor.[Page 617]
4. New Eden Govt.
Although it is too soon to judge performance of new Eden Cabinet, it can at least be said it is composed largely of experienced men who have in past worked unusually well together. However, recent reorganization has placed several veterans in new posts, including Butler,4 position as Conservative domestic policy planner, remain to be established, [sic] Selwyn Lloyd’s move to FonOff, however, where he served as Minister of State for three years under Eden, restores familiar partnership of Eden and Lloyd in handling foreign affairs. Both will be under special compulsion to make success of Washington visit to counteract criticism from their own party as well as from Labor opposition for alleged inability to provide country with decisive far-sighted leadership. Despite discontent, centering on rising cost of living but including criticism of UK conduct of foreign policy as well, all indications are that Eden remains firmly in control of Conservative Parliamentary majority and of party organization. Moreover, it can be safely assumed that he will be speaking in Washington, where foreign affairs will be discussed, with support of overwhelming majority of his fellow countrymen.
5. Summary and Conclusion.
At present time disenchantment of Brit public with USSR is widespread. There is furthermore no issue of crucial importance which requires UK to choose between American interests and those of majority members of the Commonwealth. Hence Eden has relatively free hand politically in Washington to agree with US on a positive program. He has further an impelling reason to take responsive action based on serious Soviet threat to Commonwealth in Near East, Middle East and South Asia. He has also solid domestic reason to work for successful visit which would be real boon to his govt and himself as leader under cross fire of political criticism. Finally, he has every reason to try to establish same type of high-level, direct contact with American Chief Executive which Sir Winston Churchill enjoyed. Prime Minister will nevertheless be hampered inevitably by limitations on UK resources and by its serious balance-of-payments difficulties. Hence, however willing UK’s spirit maybe, its flesh is unavoidably weak.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.4111/1–2456. Confidential. Repeated to Paris, Bonn, and Moscow.↩
- James Shepley, “How Dulles Averted War,” Life, January 16, 1956, pp. 70–78.↩
- They visited India and Burma, November 19–December 14.↩
- Richard A. Butler became Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons in December 1955.↩