Cabinet Office, ‘Future Policy Study 1960-70: Part III: The Main Objectives of the United Kingdom’s Overseas and Strategic Policy’, January 1960
‘We have the capacity to play a world-wide role only if we are willing as a nation to devote our actions and resources to this purpose. There are many desirable ways of using our resources at home, especially the improvement of our standard of living through better social services and the increasing our of wealth through productive investment. But we cannot exert influence in the world unless we devote resources sufficient to underwrite our external responsibilities…
Our partnership with the United States is an existing source of power and is capable of still further development…We shall become increasingly dependent on their support, as perhaps they will on ours, and our status in the world will largely depend on their readiness to treat us as their closest ally…
Economically, though Commonwealth Preference will be a wasting asset, Commonwealth countries will be important to us because of the high proportion of our trade for which they account and the network of trading and financial interests based on past associations and on sterling. The Commonwealth association is a very important source of political influence which buttresses our standing as a Power with world-wide interests…
We must never allow ourselves to be put in the position where we have to make a final choice between the United States and Europe. It would not be compatible with our vital interests to reject either one… We must therefore work to ensure the continuation of the United States presence in Europe and the development of a wide economic and political community of interests embracing both the United States and Western Europe. In so far as the United Kingdom can help to keep Western Europe steady in the alliance we shall enhance our own standing in American eyes. This is the core of our policy and we must be prepared to adapt our plans and actions to it. If we can uphold it successfully, our influence on the United States will be considerable and we shall not need slavishly to follow their line, though we should always consider their susceptibilities before making policy decisions… the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance is, in the last resort, the most basic of all our interests…
To the extent that our position in the Persian Gulf area safeguards the supply of oil and preserves the political status quo, we are serving a general interest. In addition there is a particular United Kingdom interest at stake – the profits made by the United Kingdom oil companies from their operations in the area… At present the United Kingdom is committed to the protection of the Ruler of Kuwait and other Persian Gulf Sheikh. It is quite certain that if we withdrew this protection or showed our intention of so doing, the local rulers would hasten to make the best terms they could with their larger neighbours… While we have at present no alternative to maintaining our political obligations to the Persian Gulf Rulers, and particularly to the Ruler of Kuwait, it should be the object of our policy over the next ten years to create a situation in which they can be terminated without undue damage to the security of our oil supplies and the general political stability of the area… In the meantime, to prevent revolutionary pressures from building up, we should continue to encourage the Persian Gulf rulers to modernise their regimes’.
National Archives, CAB 21/3847
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Joint Intelligence Committee report, “Nationalist and radical movements in the Arabian Peninsula”, 10 February 1958
‘Arab nationalism, including the urge towards greater Arab unity and the removal of any foreign control, is already the most powerful emotional force in the area and it is beginning to penetrate even the most remote corners of the peninsula… The maintenance of our interests in the Persian Gulf states is dependent on continued stability in the area. At present only the Rulers can provide this. No alternative regimes are in sight, certainly not regimes which could provide the stability on which the maintenance of British interests depends. A failure to support any one of the Rulers would weaken the confidence of the others in our ability and willingness to protect them. It is on this confidence that our special position in the Gulf chiefly rests’.
National Archives, CAB 158/31
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It is delightful to see Labour voters defy the establishment by finally electing a leader on the centre ground of British thinking. Opinion polls suggest that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies of nationalising the railways, energy companies and Royal Mail, along with opposition to the Iraq war and British intervention in the Middle East are all supported by a majority of the public.
These views stand in marked contrast to the neo-liberal, military policies of the Conservative and ‘mainstream’ Labour parties at home and abroad. These extreme positions, which are contributing to unprecedented domestic inequality, the draining of wealth from the world’s poorest countries and terrible military interventions (and not least the rise of Islamic State), have amazingly been allowed to be presented as the centre ground or ‘liberal democratic’ – an astonishing propaganda achievement for policy planners.
The threat of popular democracy is something I’ve tried to document in all my books because it comes through crystal clear in the government planning record, visible in declassified files, thousands of which I’ve looked at in my research. The threat that policies made by and for the elite could be derailed by popular opposition has long been regarded by British planners as a serious threat; in the Cold War, more serious, for example, than the Soviet threat, which was anyway rarely taken seriously in private after the early 1950s .
During the Vietnam War, Harold Wilson was terrified that public opposition would stop his ongoing private support for the US bombing campaign – something which the mainstream media still refuses to acknowledge. In various wars in the Middle East over the decades, the files are full of examples of how planners have had to resort to propaganda to counter public concerns. What elites have feared, especially during controversial policies such as military interventions, is that public opposition will become so great that they might actually have to change policy.
British elite strategy is at least consistent – abroad, Whitehall is more or less permanently opposed to democracy in regions where it has special interests, especially the Middle East where its allies are dictatorships: witness the striking levels of current support for the repressive rulers of Egypt and Bahrain, not to mention the ongoing special relationships – which are as deep as that with Washington – with the feudal regimes of Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Here, the support of any real democracy – other than the show elections promoted in Iraq and Afghanistan – is off the agenda, since it would likely yield up popular forces even more opposed to Western power. It is a great shame that the British elite opposition to democracy is still not well-understood or explained by academics and journalists. The public is continually fed the message that ‘we’ support democracy – at home and abroad – just because this is what Cameron, Blair or Brown say.
The fear of Corbyn on the part of the elite is palpable in the literally hysterical right wing and ‘liberal’ media coverage, well documented as ever by Medialens. The BBC has given up even pretending to be a public service broadcaster in its coverage of Corbyn, with virtually every news piece that I have heard or seen in recent days simply smear and propaganda. BBC Panorama’s recent attempt to character-assassinate Corbyn – which received many complaints (presumably from the loony centre) – was merely part of a campaign. Tom Mills, an incisive analyst of the BBC, notes that the Panorama programme ‘should be understood as part of a broader pattern in which the BBC’s political output has overwhelmingly reflected the interests of a political Establishment in which it is deeply embedded’.
Indeed, Corbyn and his supporters are being routinely presented by the BBC as ‘hardliners’, which, if true, makes the British taxpayers who pay for this nonsense reporting to be hardliners too. In the mainstream media, anyone who does not back the extremists’ agenda – of supporting the US, Israel, military intervention, NATO, arms exports or transnational corporations – is regarded as outside the ‘centre ground’. So flogging arms to despots, sending young British kids to die in wars and retaining the ability to destroy the entire planet is perfectly OK – anything different is extreme. To a Martian, mainstream British political culture would surely be hilarious.
The Guardian is an integral part of this. Former British ambassador Craig Murray has described ‘the panic-driven hysterical hate-fest campaign against Corbyn by the Guardian’ and he is hardly exaggerating. Guardian editorials and pieces by Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee, Martin Kettle and some others, are all ridiculing the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn and helping to position him as a loony lefty. Similarly, Guardian news reporter Nadia Khomami, explaining ‘what does Jeremy Corbyn think?’, writes that Corbyn has ‘said he supports Israel’s right to exist but opposes what he describes as the country’s “occupation policies”’. The use of ‘what he describes as…’ and the use of speech marks are revealing, perhaps like writing about Al Qaeda’s ‘terrorist attack’ on 9/11.
Since Corbyn’s policies are generally popular, they are a direct threat to the elite consensus, and three stand out in foreign policy. First, the idea of holding Blair to account under international law for invading Iraq will strike terror into the minds of the Foreign Office and Ministry of Offence. These people reserve the right to bomb the gyppos every once in a while and they are not going to accept the idea of being held to account for this. The public have long been bombarded by the notion that we, as opposed to, say, Burkina Faso or Iran, have the sovereign right to intervene in other countries’ affairs. It really says something very serious about how primitive Britain is when the idea of holding our leaders to account to the law is regarded as hardline.
The second red line policy is obviously Trident. When Britain first acquired nuclear weapons in the late 1940s, the main goal, shown in the declassified files, was to ensure that Britain was seen to remain a great power, especially in the eyes of the new superpower, the US. The primary goal remains, with various largely fictional threats deployed at various times to justify it. Reducing nuclear weapons would put Britain below France (France!) in the great power league, demeaning to the chaps in Whitehall clinging on to the remnants of imperial power.
Third, Corbyn’s questioning of NATO will, along with the other two red lines, be ringing alarm bells in Obama’s Washington, which will no doubt be heavily deploying its (many) assets in the British political scene to counter them. The media regularly states that Corbyn wants to withdraw from NATO, but I have not found such a statement, and I assume this is another smear. Corbyn has, however, said that NATO should have been wound up at the end of the Cold War (more loonyism) and that NATO’s expansion eastwards contributed to the Ukraine crisis. The latter idea is surely wacky, as explained by US mainstream academic John Mearsheimer, who recently wrote that ‘the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis’ due to NATO and EU enlargement, and that ‘Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise’.
Luckily, there are some exceptions to the tirade of abuse being heaped on Corbyn (including some in the mainstream media) and it is from this rational true centre ground that I am optimistic that some kind of response can be made. Along with the unions and social movements, I hope that organisations like NGOs, with whom I regularly work, see the importance of defending Corbyn’s lines of thinking, and recognise the urgency of this.
Some development charities have sadly been collaborating with the extremists, partnering with UK- based transnational corporations and participating in Whitehall’s privatisation offensives in Africa, thinking this to be normal and that there is no alternative. Britain’s ‘development’ policies under Conservative and Labour have become vehicles for promoting British big business abroad . My view is that Cameron’s support for 0.7 per cent is due to recognizing how useful the aid programme is in supporting British commercial and foreign policy objectives. Development policy has played almost no role in the Corbyn surge but this is another area where he must challenge current policies and develop hardline policies in the centre ground, and deserves to be strongly supported.
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Richard Slater (High Commissioner, Uganda) to Alex Douglas-Home (Foreign Secretary), ‘The first six months of General Amin’s government’, 6 August 1971
‘Amin’s performance as leader of the government has been patchy… As a leader of the people..he has grown in stature and his personal popularity is an important asset…the real problems are tribalism, indiscipline in the army and general lawlessness…Amin has a genuine regard for Britain and is sincerely grateful for the help given him. One purpose of his visit to Britain was to say thank you in person. Despite some obvious deficiencies he remains a net asset from Britain’s point of view… Amin is described in our pre-coup personalities report as ‘not particularly pro-British’. I think this judgement should be revised….After studying him closely for six months, I have no doubt in my mind that he has a genuine affection and respect for the British army, which rubs off on to Britain as a whole… I am sure that he is sincerely grateful for what we have done and offered to do – early recognition, help over the funeral of the ex-Kabaka, military and police training, the development loan and so on… He certainly has a capacity for self-deception; and his resistance to unpalatable truths is aided by a slow-moving mind. This, combined with political immaturity and over-confidence, makes him something of a liability. But he is at present much more of an asset. So long as he stays in power, Ugandan reactions to controversial British policies in Africa will be containable and the influence of the moderates in the OAU will be strengthened. It remains therefore a British interest to see his regime consolidated, while bringing what influences we can to bear on his policies.’
National Archives, FCO 31/1017/ JEU 1/1
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Report for Global Justice Now
Britain’s overseas aid programme is being reconfigured to promote the privatisation of education and health in developing countries. The Department for International Development (DFID) has become the world’s leading donor in spearheading a push for profit making companies to manage and deliver schooling and health care in Africa and Asia. British taxpayers’ money is increasingly being used to pave the way for private companies to access new markets in basic services and thus to profit from the current gaps in the public provision of these services. This briefing exposes DFID’s strategy and warns of the dangers to the real need – which is to ensure better public education and health services that genuinely serve poor people.
For the full report, click here
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FCO draft paper, “Longer-term elements in Anglo/US relations”, August 1968
“Even if the United States is a giant in a world where the Soviet Union is the only other giant to talk to, it [the US] feels the need for friends and Britain is probably the best friend they have… We are still the best Boswell to the US Johnson… We need the US far more than they need us but on our own we shall become increasingly unimportant to the United States – hence the need to become part of a larger European grouping…Our objectives with regard to Anglo-US relations must be twofold: (i) to slow down as far as we can and without prejudice to our European policies the changes in the UK’s relations with the United States; (ii) to ensure that the longer-term relationship between Europe (including the UK) and the United States remains as close as possible. As regards the latter aim, a major cause of US dissatisfaction with their allies is their allies’ alleged unwillingness to play their proper role in maintaining world peace, contributing to development, supporting the UN etc. There is an element of special pleading in this. The Americans are gifted at representing American national interests as noble ideals which all should follow. Nevertheless it is very much in our and Europe’s interests to prevent the United States becoming a rogue elephant. We have to persuade all the Western Europeans, including in the long run France, that a close relationship with the United States is the only way of preventing this…. If we fail to become part of a more united Europe these links [with US] will not be enough to prevent us becoming increasingly peripheral to US concerns”.
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Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home, “British policy towards the United Nations in the 1970s”, 11 September 1970 (National Archives, FCO 49/288)
“Our position as a permanent member of the Security Council gives us special opportunities for using the United Nations as a forum to exert our influence. Indirectly the United Nations development assistance activities may help to preserve Western influence in the third world”.
[Paper considers this options for UK policy]: “Full commitment to the United Nations both in principle and in practice as a, if not the, major element in our foreign policy; a policy if [sic] minimum contribution to and involvement in the organisation’s affairs; adaptation of the scale of our participation in the United Nations’ activities to a realistic appraisal both of the practical limitations of the organisation and of its importance to the achievement of our foreign policy goals… There is no indication that if we were to surrender more of our freedom of action to pursue our national interests for the sake of our commitment to the United Nations that other countries would follow suit”. [Paper plumps for the third option, the “middle course”]: “It would mean recognition that it is not an organisation which we can hope to use across the board to promote our interests, but that only occasionally and in certain fields when the interests or inclinations of the majority of states happen to coincide more or less with our own can we profitably try to do so. And it would reflect the view that we should adapt the scale of our effort at the United Nations to a realistic appraisal of its importance to the achievement of the primary objectives of our foreign policy and not to the long-term hope that it will develop into a more effective world force”.
“Where we believe our essential national interests are affected by issues before the Security Council we should – subject to tactical considerations such as the possibility of obtaining sufficient abstentions to block action by concealing whether we shall veto or not – make clear in advance the limits of any concessions which we are prepared to make and the stage at which we shall be ready to use our veto”.
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