“British overseas obligations”, 1958

02Sep09

Cabinet Office, Steering Committee, “British Obligations Overseas”, 14 April 58, Secret

“The last fifty years have seen a drastic diminution in our world status…Our trading position has suffered a relative decline; we no longer have a virtual monopoly of the industrial export markets, and our balance of payments has worsened accordingly. Two world wars have sapped the UK’s economic strength and also, to some extent, our will to dominate events”.

“In Europe…the security of the UK is paramount; in the Middle East, access to oil; in other parts of the world, the maintenance and promotion of the UK’s trading position. This should not be taken to imply that every obligation in, say, the Middle East, must be subordinated to one major interest there and assessed only by its contribution to it. The UK’s membership of the Baghdad Pact, for example, serves other aims besides protecting our access to oil, and could not perhaps be justified by this criterion alone. But access to oil is nevertheless an overriding consideration in the sense that our membership of the Pact must be compatible with it or, at least, not militate against it, and it seems realistic to measure the value of all our obligations in the Middle East in this way. Similar considerations apply to other areas”.

“In the last analysis, all parts of the world are not equally important to the aims of the UK and in some parts the main burden must fall upon the United States. Most of the Far East and Latin America, though not without importance to us, come into this category. These areas are those in which most of our interests are general, eg the containment of Communism and the maintenance of conditions in which trade can be carried on, rather than specific, eg, the defence of UK colonies. We can therefore afford to leave them to the US, whose resources are great enough to manage them… At the other end of the scale come Europe and the Middle East, where the UK has specific interests, home defence and access to oil… In between come South and South-East Asia and Africa, in which the UK has specific interests which she cannot afford to abandon or transfer to another power, but which are not immediately threatened or directly of such vital importance as those in Europe and the Middle East”.

“The basic task which confronts the United Kingdom in the Middle East is thus to pass smoothly from the previous patron-client relationship, suitable to our former strategic needs, to a new and more equally balanced commercial relationship which will preserve for as long as possible the continued supply of oil as a mutually advantageous basis of trade… in the most advanced countries, the problem is to convince the newly-arisen ruling classes that their interests lie with and their independence is not threatened by cooperation with us [sic]; in the most backward, to continue to support the present regimes without irrevocably associating ourselves with them in the eyes of the people who will one day supplant them, and with whom we must then be in a position to do business”.

Source: National Archives, T234 / 768

 

 

 

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