Britain and the Problem of International Disarmament, 1919-1934

By Carolyn J. Kitching | Go to book overview

4

THE LLOYD GEORGE COALITION GOVERNMENT, 1918-22

Victory in war was bought at a considerable price; Britain was almost bankrupt as a result of the colossal expenditure demanded by the war effort, yet Lloyd George's electioneering pledges in November 1918 promised a more socially just order and the creation of a 'fit country for heroes to live in'. 1 The fulfilment of these pledges would appear to demand that Britain, for a time, should become more inward-looking, and should concentrate on channelling her resources into rebuilding her social and economic fabric. But as a result of the Paris Peace Conference, Britain had acquired greater overseas commitments; her Empire had increased considerably and now included Tanganyika and South West Africa, the extensive new mandated territories in the Middle and Near East resulting from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Transjordan, Mesopotamia and Palestine, whilst the Dominions themselves had acquired further responsibilities in New Guinea and Samoa. 2 By June 1920 the Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill, was questioning Britain's ability to continue to meet her responsibilities. 'I am sure we are trying to do too much with our present forces and certainly it is impossible, within the present financial limits, for me to continue to meet the varied and numerous obligations of our policy….' 3 He asked 'Are we to defend Persia, to go on reducing the garrison in Mesopotamia, reduce military responsibilities there and in Palestine, who is to be responsible for civil administration of Mesopotamia etc.?' 4 The list of current responsibilities cited by Churchill included India, Egypt, Ireland and Aden, as well as the commitments mentioned above, but another new dimension had been added to British interests, including the Army of the Rhine, the Army of the Black Sea and the proposed Anglo-American guarantee of French security, as well as the internal defence of Great Britain.

In addition to her increased Empire commitments, Britain also had a new commitment to the continent of Europe, something which she had always striven to avoid. Europe was in chaos, needing a strong hand to guide it towards stability, and this was a challenge on which Lloyd George could not to be expected to turn his back. Besides, he could not afford to concentrate purely on domestic matters. Not only was his undoubted expertise needed

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