E. Bruce Geelhoed, Anthony O. Edmonds. Eisenhower, Macmillan and Allied Unity, 1957-1961. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. xxxi + 196 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-333-64227-6.
Reviewed by Christopher A. Preble (The Cato Institute, Washington, D.C.)
Published on H-Diplo (February, 2005)
A Snapshot of the Special Relationship
There was a time, not so long ago, when a British Prime Minister traveled to Washington, D.C. in the midst of great international turmoil and fervent. The Prime Minister shared a special friendship with his opposite number, and he was invited on several occasions to share his ideas with American friends in person, including two special addresses before the Senate. The man of course, was Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and the time was June 1958. He made a repeat performance in March 1960.
E. Bruce Geelhoed and Anthony O. Edmonds present a snapshot of the Anglo-American special relationship that will certainly interest Cold War historians. Because the story seems so eerily familiar, however, it has relevance for policy makers, as well as international relations theorists attempting to describe alliance behavior.
The authors, both professors of History at Ball State University, declare that the one over-arching theme of their book "is that personality and friendships do matter in international affairs" (p. vi). The authors contend that progress toward amicable Anglo-U.S. relations, which had suffered a serious blow after the Suez Crisis of 1956, was due largely to "the close relationship between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harold Macmillan" (p. vii). The book is succinct and clearly organized. The authors drew on archival materials in both the United States and the United Kingdom: the Eisenhower Library, and the Conservative Party and Harold Macmillan Papers at the Bodleain Library at Oxford, respectively. The materials cited fall into three major categories: correspondence, both letters and wires; notes from the ten face-to-face meetings between the two men from March 1957 to September 1960; and published primary and secondary sources.
Macmillan became prime minister following Anthony Eden's physical and mental collapse, a collapse precipitated by the Suez crisis. Although Macmillan was frustrated by Eisenhower's behavior during Suez, he set out to quickly restore Anglo-American relations. He did so by calling upon his friendship with Eisenhower. The men had first met during World War II in North Africa. Despite their divergent backgrounds--Eisenhower the career military officer from modest Midwestern roots, Macmillan was born into a well-to-do family whose activities were focused around the family's publishing business, the House of Macmillan--the two men developed a healthy respect for one another.
At Bermuda in March 1957, Macmillan stressed that the United States needed the United Kingdom, at one point declaring: "You need us: for ourselves, for our commonwealth, and as leaders of Europe. Powerful as you are, I don't believe you can do it alone" (p. 15). Although it may take years before we see comparable transcripts from Bush-Blair meetings, it is easy to envision a similar conversation taking place in 2003.
But while there are obvious parallels to the Bush-Blair relationship in 2003, there are some notable differences as well. Macmillan deliberately played on British affection for Eisenhower for his own political gain, shamelessly flaunting Eisenhower during a visit to England in August 1959. The visit helped to solidify Macmillan's leadership credentials. In October 1959 the prime minister led his party to a substantial victory during parliamentary elections. The idea of Tony Blair parading George Bush through the United Kingdom in an effort to generate political support for Labour candidates is so absurd as to be laughable.
In general, the authors may overstate Macmillan's influence with Eisenhower. The relationship was no doubt more important for Macmillan than vice versa. In one respect, however, Macmillan's counsel appears to have been decisive: after many months of effort, Macmillan eventually persuaded Eisenhower to pursue a summit with the Soviet Union.
The authors admit that the collapse of the Paris summit following the downing of Francis Gary Powers's U-2 in May 1960 ushered in a period of chilled relations between the Soviets and the West. The deeper question is whether Khrushchev was ever serious about negotiating. If he was not, then Macmillan's counsel was not merely a waste of time: it was actually harmful.
Khrushchev's true intentions may never be known, but this much is clear: the man was erratic, his positions shifted repeatedly, and both Macmillan and Eisenhower should have been prepared to deal with him only on the assumption that he was not a reliable negotiating partner. Whatever was agreed to at a Paris summit, or anywhere else, would have been subject to constant scrutiny and reevaluation.
The authors' document Macmillan's intense, almost desperate attempt to rescue the summit. When Eisenhower, Macmillan, and de Gaulle finally conceded on the afternoon of May 17 that the summit was doomed, Macmillan declared it to be "the most tragic day of my life" (p. 122).
Macmillan was personally devastated, and feared political harm, but Eisenhower also seemed to have been disappointed by the collapse of the summit, revealing the extent to which he had finally bought into Macmillan's point of view.
Interestingly, this disappointment did not lead to personal estrangement between the two men. Eisenhower did not blame Macmillan for leading him astray. On the whole, the collapse of the summit did not divide the allies, as some feared. In fact, the collapse of the summit may have driven the allies closer together.
Macmillan played an important role in the final six months of Eisenhower's presidency to develop greater defense cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom. The leading tangible example of this cooperation was the Polaris ballistic missile submarine, which began operations in late 1960 operating from bases in Scotland. The basing of the submarines raised concerns about Great Britain becoming a target for the Soviets, a point Macmillan stressed with Eisenhower. The authors show that domestic concerns were behind the British push for more cooperation on the project. They wished to be seen as a partner, not merely as a stooge or a lackey for the Americans.
Some critics charge that Macmillan's "special relationship" was interpreted as "British servility toward Washington." Geelhoed and Edmonds reach a more nuanced conclusion, namely that each leader used "the partnership to achieve his own objectives" (p. 152). Macmillan benefited politically from his friendship with Eisenhower, who was warmly regarded and respected in England; Eisenhower valued British cooperation on defense matters that represented a crucial part of his broader deterrent strategy.
Despite the authors' best efforts, it is not clear that the Eisenhower-Macmillan friendship had a major influence upon Anglo-American relations. For example, the authors argue that Macmillan's move into 10 Downing Street restored Eisenhower to "a familiar position, the acknowledged supreme commander, now in the diplomatic sense, of the world's most important alliance" (p. 29). But that was the case before Macmillan became prime minister, and has been the case for decades, regardless of the personalities involved. Power matters, the United States dominated the "special" Anglo-American relationship because the United States was the predominant power--just as it is today.
Still, Geelhoed and Edmonds have written a fine book that will interest students of international relations. While one suspects that the authors did not set out to draw explicit parallels to the present day, these parallels are simply too numerous to ignore. The Cold War, the focus of concern for both Eisenhower and Macmillan throughout their tenures in office, has long since ended; it is obvious, however, given the continued interest by both the Americans and the British in coordinating security policy, that the roots of Anglo-American amity run deep. Accordingly, this book should also be of interest to political leaders and policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic as they struggle to redefine the Anglo-American special relationship.
. The place and dates of the meetings were Bermuda, March 1957; Washington, October 1957; Paris, December 1957; Washington, June 1958; Washington and Camp David, March 1959; London, August 1959; Paris, December 1959; Camp David, March 1960; Paris, May 1960; New York/United Nations, September 1960.
. See Richard Aldous and Sabine Lee, eds., Harold Macmillan and Britain's World Role (London: Macmillan, 1995), p. 155.
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Christopher A. Preble. Review of Geelhoed, E. Bruce; Edmonds, Anthony O., Eisenhower, Macmillan and Allied Unity, 1957-1961.
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