Before 1945

  • David Sanders


In the mid-seventeenth century, when the emerging European states system was in its infancy, England was a relatively unimportant regional power with primarily European interests. Over the next 250 years, with the gradual extension of its imperial acquisitions, Great Britain was transformed into a major global power with significant economic and political interests widely dispersed throughout the world.1 How this transformation came about need not concern us here. It is none the less worth noting that both the growing strength of British sea power and the country’s early industrialisation were crucial to Britain’s nineteenth-century imperial pre-eminence. Indeed it is no coincidence that the ‘retreat from [global] power’ which characterised Britain’s foreign policy after 1945 should have had its origins in the relative decline of Britain’s industrial capacity and in the failure to sustain the prominent maritime position of the Royal Navy in the period after 1870.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    For a brief review see John P. Mackintosh, ‘Britain in Europe: historical perspective and contemporary reality’, International Affairs, vol. 45, no. 2 (1969) pp. 246–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    David Thomson, ‘General De Gaulle and the Anglo Saxons’, International Affairs, vol. 41, no. 1 (1965) p. 11. After 1918 the need to maintain a strong France became a basic axiom of Britain’s European policy.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  50. 45.
    Chamberlain’s commitment to appeasement eventually got too much even for Eden, who resigned in February 1938 over Chamberlain’s efforts to conciliate Mussolini over the latter’s African policy: Eden was by then convinced of the need to resist aggression — or the threat of it — with force. See Bartlett, The Global Conflict, pp. 207–8.Google Scholar
  51. 46.
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  57. 50.
    DP(P) 32, CAB 16/183A; ‘Appreciation by the Chiefs of Staff of the Situation in the Event of War with Germany’ (4 Oct. 1938). Cited in Michael Howard, ‘British Military Preparations for the Second World War’, in Dilks (ed.), Retreat from Power, p. 114.Google Scholar
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  59. 52.
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  60. 53.
    As Vansittart put it: the government’s task was ‘how to induce the unwilling to accept the unavoidable’. Cited in Joseph Frankel, ‘Conventional and theorising diplomats: a critique’, International Affairs, vol. 57, no. 3 (1981) p. 544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. 54.
    The need for an Anglo-German alliance had, after all, been a major theme of Hitler’s Mein Kampf See Medlicott, ‘Britain and Germany’, pp. 78–82.Google Scholar
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  63. 56.
    The definitive work is E. L. Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War (5 vols) (London: HMSO, 1970–6).Google Scholar
  64. See also Christopher Thorne, Allies of a Kind: the United States, Britain and the War Against Japan, 1941–42 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978);Google Scholar
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    For a detailed analysis of Soviet actions during this period, see J. E. McSherry, Stalin, Hitler and Europe, 1933–41 (Vol. 2) (New York: World Publishing Co., 1970).Google Scholar
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  72. 60.
    Churchill’s first telegram as Prime Minister (15 May 1940) was to Roosevelt, urgently requesting 50 destroyers for Britain’s war effort. Cited in John Baylis, Anglo-American Defence Relations, 1939–1984, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1984) p. 3.Google Scholar
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  75. 63.
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  76. 64.
    This ‘public declaration of solidarity’ was signed 12 July 1941. See McNeill, ibid., p. 52.Google Scholar
  77. Subsequently, on 26 May 1942, an Anglo-Soviet Mutual Assistance Treaty was also signed. See Max Beloff, ‘Some aspects of Anglo-Soviet Relations’, International Affairs, vol. 21, no. 2 (1945) pp. 168–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  84. 71.
    Ibid., pp. 402–3.Google Scholar
  85. 72.
    Ibid., p. 456.Google Scholar
  86. 73.
    This was the so-called ‘Declaration on liberated Europe’. See Bartlett, The Global Conflict, p. 249.Google Scholar
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  89. 76.
    Ibid., p. 139.Google Scholar
  90. 77.
    Ibid., p. 668.Google Scholar
  91. 78.
    Sir Henry Tizzard’s ‘Scientific and Technical Information Mission’ first went to Washington in August 1940. See Baylis, Anglo-American Defence, p. 5. Baylis also notes that British participation in nuclear research on the Manhattan project was euphemistically recorded officially as involvement in ‘Tube alloys’ research.Google Scholar
  92. 79.
    Colville, Fringes of Power, p. 331.Google Scholar
  93. 80.
    This ‘mixing up’ had been anticipated by Churchill in the Commons on 20 Aug. 1940. See Baylis, Anglo-American Defence, p. 4.Google Scholar
  94. 81.
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  95. 82.
    The worst disaster was probably the ill-fated Arnhem expedition of September 1944.Google Scholar
  96. 83.
    These principles had originally been enshrined in the Atlantic Charter signed by Churchill and Roosevelt in August 1941.Google Scholar
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    The definitive work on the subject is William Roger Louis, Imperialism at Bay: the United States and the Decolonisation of the British Empire, 1941– 1945 (London: Oxford University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  98. 85.
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  99. 86.
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  100. 87.
    The campaign itself had been initiated by Cordell Hull, Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, as early as 1933. See Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (New York: Norton, 1987). ch. 2.Google Scholar
  101. 88.
    Ibid., pp. 667–76.Google Scholar
  102. 89.
    These issues are discussed in more detail in Chapter 8.Google Scholar
  103. 90.
    This, of course, was precisely what the Treaty stipulated. For a discussion of the limitations of the General Treaty, see Swanwick, Collective Security, passim.Google Scholar

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© David Sanders 1989

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  • David Sanders

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