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Harold Wilson's Cold War

Harold Wilson's Cold War: The Labour Government and East-West Politics, 1964-1970

Geraint Hughes
Volume: 67
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Harold Wilson's Cold War
    Book Description:

    The then Labour government's efforts to promote East-West détente and to improve Anglo-Soviet relations from 1964 to 1970 have been largely overlooked; yet they were of huge significance. This book offers a major reappraisal. It challenges the caricature

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-729-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Map
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Geraint Hughes
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  6. Glossary
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  7. Politicians, Officials and Personalities
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In October 1964 the Labour party won the British general election after more than a decade in the political wilderness. Labour regained power under a young, technocratic and charismatic leader, whose personality and political beliefs seemed more in tune with contemporary society than those of his uninspiring Conservative rival. The new prime minister claimed that his government would harness the ‘white heat’ of the technological revolution to transform the UK’s economy and society, halting the process of decline that the country had suffered in comparison with its European competitors. Labour portrayed itself to the electorate as the party of progressive,...

  9. 1 The Evolution of British Cold War Policy, 1945–1964
    (pp. 13-33)

    The tangible spirit of optimism which accompanied Wilson’s accession to power rested in part on the promise of improvement in East-West relations. Unlike Attlee, Churchill or Macmillan, Wilson faced a situation in which Cold War tensions had eased, and the risk of a major international crisis, let alone a global war, had diminished considerably. None the less the state of rivalry between the superpowers and their respective rivals had not vanished completely. In order to appreciate the impact of East-West politics on the Labour government which took office in October 1964, it is necessary to survey how the Cold War...

  10. 2 The UK and East-West Relations, 1964–1965
    (pp. 34-57)

    Labour won the 1964 general election with a bare majority of only three parliamentary seats. Moreover, soon after Wilson occupied 10 Downing Street on 16 October he had to address several pressing issues with a direct effect on Britains economic and foreign policies:

    The Chinese had, the previous day, exploded their first nuclear weapon … There was a telegram appraising the situation in the Soviet Union following the overthrow, less than twenty-four hours earlier, of Mr Khrushchev and the appointment of Mr Kosygin … There was anxious news of the ‘confrontation’, the war between Indonesia and Malaysia, … [and], grimmest...

  11. 3 The Wilson Government and the Vietnam War, 1965–1968
    (pp. 58-84)

    The first months of 1965 saw an escalation of the civil war in South Vietnam, pitting the Communist-led National Liberation Front (or Viet Cong) against the pro-American government of the Republic of Vietnam. The Kennedy administration provided financial aid and military advisers to assist the South Vietnamese, but the lack of either a coherent counter-insurgency strategy or an effective, competent regime in Saigon meant that such assistance was essentially wasted. As the NLF gradually established control over the South, supported with troops and supplies by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Johnson administration decided to launch air-strikes against the DRV...

  12. 4 British Strategy and Defence Policy, 1964–1968
    (pp. 85-111)

    From October 1964 until January 1968 the Labour government sought to preserve the UK’s status as a world power. Its efforts overstretched the British armed forces, which already had to cope with the two conflicts Britain was involved in, in Borneo and South Arabia. Wilson’s Cabinet endorsed two crucial decisions affecting British defence policy; the retention of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and the introduction of the Polaris ballistic missile submarines, and the withdrawal from the Middle East and South-East Asia of all but a token British military presence, in order to focus on NATO’s defence.¹ In March 1967 the OPD...

  13. 5 Détente, Trade and Espionage, 1966–1968
    (pp. 112-138)

    In early February 1967 Wilson achieved what he regarded as his greatest triumph in Anglo-Soviet relations when Kosygin visited the UK. The trip was a public relations success, and was certainly more cordial than Khrushchev and Bulganin’s troubled visit the previous decade. Aside from sporadic protests by Hungarian and Baltic States émigrés, the Soviet premier was generally welcomed by public and press alike.¹ Gore-Booth was none the less incensed that Kosygin used his speech at the Guildhall on 8 February to condemn both West German ‘militarism’ and American intervention in Indochina. Crossman, hardly the most right-wing of Wilson’s ministers, was...

  14. 6 The ‘Prague Spring’ and its Aftermath, 1968–1970
    (pp. 139-163)

    Five years after the ‘white heat’ speech at Scarborough, the Labour government had failed to revive the British economy. If its second, and comprehensive, election victory in March 1966 was the high point of the Wilson government’s term in office, then the months following the devaluation crisis were arguably its nadir. The pound remained fragile, the economy was in recession and Wilson’s tense relationship with his leading ministers deteriorated as a result of his paranoid conviction that his colleagues were plotting to oust him.¹ Other Western states also had their own political crises to resolve. On the continent there was...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 164-178)

    The Conservative government of 1970–4 placed less emphasis on Anglo-Soviet relations than its Labour predecessor. The Foreign Secretary, Douglas-Home, had earlier publicly drawn adverse comparisons between British decolonisation in Africa and Asia and Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, implying that the USSR was a more ‘imperialist’ power than the UK. Edward Heath was instinctively suspicious of Soviet protestations of goodwill, and was contemptuous of the ‘bicycle race’ other Western countries undertook to mend fences with the USSR after the Czechoslovak crisis.¹ As prime minister, Heath oversaw the mass expulsion of 105 KGB officers from the Soviet embassy and trade...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-196)
  17. Index
    (pp. 197-202)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. None)