Acheson and Empire: The British Accent in American Foreign Policy

By John T. McNay | Go to book overview
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The Special Relationship

The “special relationship” with Britain was the centralfeature of Dean Acheson's foreign policy design. In separating that relationship from the larger one with Europe, in which context it was certainly valuable, and defining it to include the tottering British Empire, Acheson tied policy to a series of problematic enterprises. Given the imperial paradigm that dominated his mind-set, Acheson could never see the colonized peoples as autonomous historical agents or as potential allies in the bipolarized world he confronted as secretary of state. Britain and the states emerging, or trying to emerge, from imperialdomination allsuffered from Acheson's formulation of the special relationship: the one encouraged to hold on to the empire, the others discouraged from seeing the United States as an ally in their efforts to realize legitimate aspirations. The inevitable results were disappointment in Britain and resentment of the United States in the colonial world.

Yet, the specifics of the special relationship during Acheson's tenure in high office are relatively poorly documented. Despite its centrality to his foreign policy, Acheson said little and wrote even less about the relationship. The reason for this apparent anomaly is that Acheson considered the relationship too important to submit to political or partisan scrutiny and potentially too controversial to have its specifics or its implications spelled out for critics in or out of policy-making circles. He therefore kept silent about the partnership, even as he drew the two nations into tighter alliance in distant parts of the world. When members of his staff joined a Foreign Office group to craft a policy paper on the relationship for a London conference in 1950, an angry Acheson had all copies of the paper burned, and gave the Americans responsible for it “a thorough dressing down for their naivete.” Writing about the Anglo-American relationship, he said, was “stupidity.” “In the hands of troublemakers, he later wrote of the burned paper, “it could stir up no end of hullabaloo.” Commenting

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