For much of the 1960s, Britain suffered from an acute identity crisis, uncertain of its position and status in the world, unsure of its current power and future direction. The former United States Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, summed up the British predicament in his famous speech to the cadets of the Military Academy at West Point on 5 December 1962. His final verdict, the conclusive punch-line, has become drearily familiar over the years. Britain, he assured his audience, had lost an Empire and not yet found a role. Yet, at the time, Acheson’s analysis was vigorous and fresh — and to some people deeply wounding. One passage in the West Point speech still bears repetition:

Britain’s attempt to play a separate power role (said Acheson), that is, a role apart from Europe, a role based on a ‘special relationship’ with the United States, a role based on being the head of a Commonwealth which has no political structure or unity or strength and enjoys a fragile and precarious economic relationship — this role is about played out. Great Britain, attempting to work alone and to be a broker between the United States and Russia, has seemed to conduct a policy as weak as its military power.


Prime Minister European Economic Community Labour Party Military Spending United Nations Security Council 
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© Leslie Stone 1972

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  • Leslie Stone

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