Europe, Cold War and Coexistence, 1953-1965

By Wilfried Loth | Go to book overview

8

Britain, East Germany and Détente: British Policy toward the GDR and West Germany's 'Policy of Movement', 1955-65

Klaus Larres

During the Cold War, Britain's foreign policy was a very cautious one. In general, London conducted relations with the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states in a much more circumspect way than did the USA. Both in the second half of the 1940s as well as in the 1950s and 1960s, British prime ministers from Attlee to Wilson pursued a policy which continued the close alignment with the USA and, on the whole, also successfully managed to avoid dangerous military entanglements. For instance, after the initial commitment of fighting the war in Korea, London could not be persuaded to contribute to General MacArthur's envisaged escalation of the conflict. Prime Minister Attlee even felt the need to travel to Washington in early December 1950 to persuade President Truman not to consider deploying atomic bombs in the Korean War. 1 The British also refused strong US pressure to provide military assistance to the desperate French position at their Indo-Chinese military base at Dien Bien Phu in 1954; a decade later, Britain rigorously ignored US requests to participate in the Vietnam War. 2 London also often managed to avoid being drawn into overly rigid and fundamentalist political-diplomatic positions toward that superpower and its allies beyond the Iron Curtain. During the first two decades of the Cold War, for example, the British recognized Mao's China while it took the USA until the early 1970s to accept the diplomatic existence of a communist China. 3

On occasion and particularly during the early Cold War years when Britain still viewed itself as one of the world's leading great powers, London did not shrink from openly adhering to policies which were not favoured in Washington. Rather than pursuing a course which would not antagonize the USA, Prime Ministers Churchill, Eden and Macmillan did their utmost to bring about a summit conference with the Soviet Union, which they believed would be a major contribution to de-escalating the Cold War and defusing the tension surrounding the German question, including the situation in divided

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