The Diplomacy of Pragmatism: Britain and the Formation of NATO, 1942-1949

The Diplomacy of Pragmatism: Britain and the Formation of NATO, 1942-1949

The Diplomacy of Pragmatism: Britain and the Formation of NATO, 1942-1949

The Diplomacy of Pragmatism: Britain and the Formation of NATO, 1942-1949


The Diplomacy of Pragmatism sets Britain's role in the formation of NATO, not in the context of orthodox, revisionist or post-revisionist approaches to the Cold War, but in terms of what has become known as 'depolarization'. This approach emphasizes the distinctive and leading roles of other countries, apart from the Soviet Union and the United States, in the early Cold War period. In focusing on Britain's role there is no attempt to be chauvinistic. The key role of other states in the formation of NATO is acknowledged. Britain certainly did not establish NATO single-handedly. Nor was British diplomacy wholly consistent or completely successful throughout the period covered. Different strands of policy, focusing on the United States, Europe and a 'Third Power' global role, struggled for pre-eminence. Foreign policy and global strategy were not always well-coordinated. Nevertheless, despite the failures, it is argued that Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary, made a decisive contribution topostwar diplomacy by his pragmatic and patient attempts to coordinate the policies of Western European states together with the United States and Canada. By 1949, a new system of European security had been developed in the context of rapidly changing domestic and international events. The author argues that, despite the differences, there are important lessons to be learned from postwar diplomacy by today's statesmen as they struggle to build another new European security system in the post-Cold War era.


In the years 1989 and 1990 the whole face of European security was transformed. Initially, people's revolutions took place all over Eastern Europe, dramatically sweeping away the reactionary Communist regimes which had been in power since the 1940s. This was followed by free elections and an uneven process of democratic reform. Unlike previous challenges to Communist rule, there was no intervention by the Soviet Union, which was under the reformist leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Indeed the Soviet leader indirectly encouraged the process of reform and continued to pursue a wide range of remarkable foreign policy initiatives designed to transform East-West relations. Unilateral cuts in defence expenditure, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and Eastern European countries, unprecedented concessions in arms control negotiations, all signalled a fresh approach to diplomacy and security. With the signing of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany by the four allied states (Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and France) and the two Germanies on 12 September 1990 and German reunification on 3 October of the same year, the forty-five year division of Germany was ended. 1991 also saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union. To most contemporary observers of the postwar era the Cold War finally had been brought to a close.

However, these breathtaking events brought uncertainties over future European security arrangements. As a result, one of the key tasks for statesmen in the 1990s is the creation of a new European security order. Despite its flaws the old postwar security system based on confrontation and nuclear deterrence had helped to keep the peace for an unprecedented period in European history. Now that the Cold War has ended and the foundations of the old order have been irretrievably undermined, the key question is what is going to take its place. A new European order has to be built, different from the old, taking account of the new superpower relationship and the rapidity of the changes taking place in the Western and Eastern halves of Europe.

In this context, in which uncertainty prevails and new turbulent forces are beginning to stir, the history of the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in the late 1940s is of some interest.

In some important respects the world of the 1990s and the world of the late 1940s are very different. In particular, Britain's status in the international community is very different. In the late forties a major hot war had . . .

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