Sterling-Dollar Diplomacy: Anglo-American Collaboration in the Reconstruction of Multilateral Trade

By Richard N. Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE BRITISH RESPONSE

How would the United Kingdom respond to the American 'challenge' in international economic affairs? In the early years of the Second World War the answer was still uncertain. There were powerful forces behind the idea of restoring a multilateral régime in close collaboration with the United States. But there were also powerful forces opposed to such a programme who advocated the widespread use of discriminatory and bilateral practices. Although public opinion on such a complex subject cannot be fitted neatly into separate categories, we must try now to indicate, in a rough kind of way, the major forces encouraging and hindering British participation in a multilateral régime.


THE FORCES FOR COLLABORATION

Perhaps the most striking fact to note at the outset is the comparative silence in official British circles on the economic programme put forward by the United States. Whitehall spoke much less frequently and in much less detail than Washington about the post-war revival of multilateral trade. By itself, this was no evidence that the British Government was ill-disposed toward the views expressed by American leaders. In part, the silence could be explained by the reluctance of British Ministers to 'think out loud' with the freedom enjoyed by their counterparts in the United States. There were also other reasons. British energies, unlike American, were almost wholly occupied with the problems of the war. There was little manpower to spare for speculations about the post-war settlement. Moreover, as we shall shortly observe, multilateralism remained a controversial public issue. British opinion was sharply divided on the merits of an open, non-discriminatory trading régime. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, felt strongly that questions of this kind should not be allowed to distract attention from the all-important problem of winning the war. It was mainly for these reasons that the public statements of British leaders provided so few clues to official thinking on the subject of multilateral trade.

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