The Foreign Policy of Lyndon B. Johnson: The United States and the World, 1963-1969

By Jonathan Colman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Two Allies: Britain and France

The Johnson Presidency saw particular strain in the bilateral connections between the United States and two of its chief European allies, Britain and France. The relationship with Britain had, by and large, been unusually close since the cooperation against the Axis powers during the Second World War. The ties rested on institutional collaboration on diplomatic, nuclear and intelligence matters. Most conspicuously, it also featured some high-profile friendships between presidents and prime ministers, such as that between John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan.1 Lyndon Johnson believed, though, that the British gave little in return for the vaunted ‘special relationship’ with Washington. Vietnam proved to be a particular problem. The Labour government (1964–70) of Harold Wilson extended diplomatic support for US policy in Vietnam, but at the same time it had to accommodate the growing hostility in Britain towards the war. The British would not fulfil American requests for combat troops, and ‘dissociated’ themselves in 1966 from the bombing of petrol and oil facilities near Hanoi and Haiphong. There was the further difficulty of Britain’s declining international status, reflected in economic problems and an inability to preserve the long-standing military presence in Asia – the ‘East of Suez’ presence. Despite the Prime Minister’s personal pledges to Johnson, announcements were made in 1967 and 1968 for plans to withdraw from East of Suez. There was a sense of betrayal in Washington that the United States had been left to man the ramparts in Asia alone, and a view that Britain was no longer a reliable or important ally.

France had already liquidated most of its extra-European connections by 1963 but, like Britain, was a major player in NATO, which had been established in 1949 and which institutionalised the American commitment to the security of Western Europe. Since 1958 President Charles de Gaulle had been pursuing a foreign policy of ‘grandeur’ designed to boost France’s international status and freedom of diplomatic manoeuvre, in part

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