Britain, European Security and the Cold War, 1976–9
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This thesis deals with Britain’s attitude towards European security under the Callaghan government from 1976 to 1979. That period saw Cold War tensions grow and détente lose its momentum as Britain struggled with economic weakness while trying to maintain its international influence. Concentrating on Cold War Europe, this thesis asks two questions: what policy did the Callaghan government adopt towards European security, and what role did Britain play in the Atlantic Alliance? It draws three conclusions. First, under Callaghan, Britain sought to maintain a traditionally influential role in Europe. To achieve that goal, it attempted to sustain a major military contribution to NATO and to foster good US-UK relations. Nevertheless, this policy was complicated by acute economic crisis and defence expenditure cuts. Britain’s credibility in the Alliance was seriously diminished and policymakers had to offset reductions in British hardware contributions with diplomatic contributions. Secondly, Britain’s role as a mediator in the Alliance contributed to its stability during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Carter’s inconsistent foreign policy and lack of consultation with allies caused confusion and tensions soon after his inauguration. This gave the British room to work for the maintenance of Alliance unity and, as a result, the US-UK special relationship was strengthened. Thirdly, regardless of Britain’s response to its economic trails, and its collaboration with the US, Callaghan’s preference for status quo, and his lack of strategy towards European security other than the maintenance of the stability of the Alliance under American leadership, hampered Britain’s attempts to retain influence. As Britain’s power waned, West Germany’s rose as German leaders gained status in the defence policy making process of the Alliance by arguing for a new response to the changing East-West military balance and the decline of détente.
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