236. Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lord) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Notes on the British: The Wilson Visit

At the risk of carrying coals to Newcastle, there are some points I think deserve underscoring as you move into the Wilson visit.

However far Great Britain has fallen, British support counts as much today—and in some ways more—than in the past. In the depths [Page 754] of the Cold War British room for maneuver was very constrained on the issues that counted most in the international system. But on today’s issues of energy and economic interdependence and the Atlantic connection, Great Britain has more freedom of action; her interests coincide less automatically with our own; and what she does can have greater effect.

Yet at the same time there are powerful pressures pushing Great Britain toward a grasping little Englandism and a not so splendid isolationism, which could be damaging for us as well as for them. For too many North Sea oil is the deus ex machina that will save them from their domestic disorders and permit them to cock a snoot at an unruly world. Wilson thus far seems to have escaped a fatal case of the disease. But UK Planning Chief James Cable painted a somber picture of a British political class shot through with this thinking. (See the report on my talks with Cable sent you earlier.)

I think we are doing about as much as we can to keep the British with us and constructively engaged in the international system. We cannot make British membership in the EC our decision (or our quarrel), wherever our sympathies lie. But we should continue to do what we can to encourage the British political establishment and public opinion to remain committed to an active international role. And I think we need to be careful lest our reserved stance on EC membership lead some to think we discount Great Britain’s international role and stance.

In fact, I think we should not discount the possibility that Great Britain—however depressed it now is—will recover some of her past strength and influence in the years ahead. She does have some things going for her: the “natural relationship” with the US (more for what it does for her vis-à-vis others than us); her equally “natural” position between Germany and France in continental affairs; the stimulant of North Sea oil; the tendency of many in all parts of the world, given half a chance or reason, to respect them and believe they count. And one does not have to be a hopeless romantic to see some chance that the old civility, and order, and excellence will reassert itself. In sum, this time might appear some years hence as yet another crossing of the desert for the British. Even the possibility of this should give the British (and us) added reason to hang on to their international role and avoid irrevocably diminishing it.

  1. Summary: Lord discussed the importance of the UK on the eve of a visit by Wilson.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Policy Planning Council, Policy Planning Staff, Director’s Files (Winston Lord), 1969–1977, Entry 5027, Box 352, Jan. 16–31, 1975. Confidential. Drafted by Bartholomew and John Kornblum in S/P. Wilson and Callaghan paid an official visit to Washington from January 29 to 31. Memoranda of conversation recording their January 30 and 31 meetings with Ford and Kissinger, which covered economic policy, energy, and the Middle East, among other issues, are in Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 9.