Jill Edwards. Anglo-American Relations and the Franco Question, 1945-1955. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. xviii + 291 pp. $78.00 US (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-822871-4.
Reviewed by David A. Messenger (University of Toronto)
Published on H-Diplo (October, 2000)
Upon leaving Barcelona in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell found it impossible to escape the spell of the city or the country. 'We thought, talked, dreamed incessantly of Spain,' he wrote of the time he spent in France immediately after fleeing across the Pyrenees. Spain and its civil war did indeed captivate many, whether they saw it as 'the last great cause', a dress rehearsal for the world war which followed or one of the first open battles of the twentieth-century conflict fought between capitalism and communism. The influence of the conflict, and its various interpretations, lasted well beyond the victory of General Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces in 1939. The 'Spanish Question' was revived in the aftermath of the Second World War. Victory in war did not mean there was to be a smooth transition to peace. The continued existence in 1945 of a regime brought to power with the assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy was problematic, to say the least. The rhetoric of the Atlantic Charter and the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe implied that victory could not be complete without the dissolution of Franco's semi-fascist authoritarian regime.
Yet some argued that the geo-strategic importance of Spain superseded Western ideology as the Grand Alliance gradually dissolved into Cold War bipolarity. Was it best not to stir up trouble in the Iberian Peninsula lest the Soviets consider taking advantage? Both these points had striking parallels to those considered by numerous European and international powers in 1936-1939 and 1940-1944. Jill Edwards, Associate Professor of History at the American University in Cairo and author of The British Government and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (London, 1979) is fascinated by the international complexities created by the postwar revival of the Spanish question. Edwards sets out to demonstrate that what is most intriguing about the Spanish question, whether in the Civil War, in the Second World War, or in the early Cold War era, was its ability to act as a mirror reflecting general trends in the politics and diplomacy of the time.
Relations with Franco was rarely, if ever, a major postwar concern. Yet this secondary issue, as Edwards demonstrates, produced an endless amount of reports and diplomatic correspondence in both London and Washington. Using these documents, Edwards examines the Franco question as one which illuminated the difficult process of leadership transition in Western Europe and the Mediterranean from Britain to the United States. The significance of the Spanish debate was beyond its inherent importance, Edwards argues, because it highlighted the contradictions of Western policy, the conflict of ideology and strategy and the difficult process of transferring military, political and economic leadership from London to Washington.
While neither of the Anglo-American powers considered actively moving to precipitate Franco's collapse in the aftermath of war, they also did not make plans for his longevity. As President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to the American Ambassador in Madrid in March, 1945, there was 'no place in the community of nations for governments founded on Fascist principles' (p. 38). Within the British War Cabinet, opinion was more divided: while Lord Selbourne stated that Franco was better than the leftist-dominated Spanish Republic, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden was willing to contemplate aggressive international measures against Spain. The strength of public and party opinion, particularly on the part of the liberal left in the United States and the left wing of the newly-elected Labour Party in the House of Commons reinforced emerging trends in the latter part of 1945. For the most part, rhetorical condemnation of the regime defined Anglo-American policy. This was typified in the Potsdam Declaration and by Anglo-American support for the exclusion of Spain from the United Nations.
In 1945, Edwards asserts, domestic and international opinion had a great deal of influence over Anglo-American policy and these factors, more than any others, shaped policy (p. 63). It continued to put the Spanish issue on the international and Allied agenda into 1946, when a French proposal to consider a joint diplomatic rupture led to the relatively mild Tripartite Statement of March, 1946 which reiterated Western condemnation of the regime. Ultimately, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in December, 1946 which called on all states to withdraw Ambassadors from Madrid.
The worsening of the East-West conflict by 1947-1948 changed Western perceptions of Spain. While there had been voices within the State Department and the Foreign Office calling for Western acceptance of the Franco regime since 1945, they became predominant in the months after the Truman Doctrine, particularly in the United States. By October, 1947, George F. Kennan, who had articulated the importance of Spain as a bulwark against Communism and Soviet propaganda in the weeks before his 'Long Telegram' (February, 1946), oversaw a Policy Planning Staff report proposing that U.S. relations with Spain be normalized. This was acceptedby the National Security Council and the President in December, 1947 (and implemented as NSC 3). What followed was the expansion of economic contact between the U.S. and Spain, and the growing importance of Spain to the military, typified by 'Drumbeat', a 1947 plan which sought to define Western requirements in case of a Soviet attack on Iberia. Ultimately, the Korean War gave a further push to these trends and by 1951, American military officials were in negotiations with Spain for the right to use Spanish air bases and ports. A bilateral agreement on the right of the United States to use these bases was signed in September, 1953.
Throughout the book, Edwards emphasizes the growing Anglo-American division on the Spanish question. In short, while the growing tensions of the Cold War caused American policy- makers to move closer to Franco, their effect on the British was not the same. Britain, along with France, rejected Spanish participation in the Marshall Plan, opposed consideration of Spanish membership in NATO, and held out against unilateral American talks with Spain as long as possible. That these were differences on fundamental questions was clear, and well known: Franco himself exploited the Anglo-American split with some success. How ideological were these divisions? The British inability to move on the Franco question was primarily due to domestic politics and the continued strength of the Labour left.
This accounted for the Attlee government's decision to oppose Spanish entry into both the Marshall Plan and NATO. In France, similar pressures existed. By contrast, the American liberal left lost interest in the Spanish case as the Cold War developed. Indeed, in the United States the weakness of the liberal left not only permitted relations with Spain to grow, it also allowed a prominent group of Congressmen and officials to openly advocate close ties with Spain. Edwards highlights the enthusiasm of the southern 'cotton lobby' in Congress for trade with Spain, which was in the process of reviving its textile industry. In fact, the emergence of a pro-Spanish sector of prominent Americans went beyond this, for under the influence of Franco's representative in Washington, Jose Felix Lequerica, a broadly-based 'Spanish lobby' developed in Washington, although Edwards mentions this only in passing (p. 113).
Yet as Edwards underlines, the dislocation of American and British policy was due to a number of reasons, and ideological opinion about Franco within the foreign policy establishments of the two states was not overly significant. Indeed, the British position was, in Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin's words, 'to let sleeping dogs lie' and avoid discussing Spain in public at all. Meanwhile, trade agreements with Spain were negotiated and economic relations expanded. Other reasons also existed. There was a fear that Franco, once in NATO, might be strengthened in his argument that Gibraltar should be Spanish. On both the Marshall and NATO decisions, self-interest played a significant role, as both Britain and France didn't want the extreme poverty of Spain (economically and militarily) to divert U.S. aid to Iberia that might otherwise be sent to them.
The lack of ideological reasons for Anglo-American division was demonstrated when, under a Conservative government in 1951, Britain opposed the American effort to open military talks with Spain. The issue was not the involvement of Spain in Western military planning: this was accepted by the British Chiefs of Staff as it was by their American counterparts. Rather, the British were concerned that a unilateral American deal with Madrid meant a prioritization of the Western Mediterranean over the Middle East in NATO planning for a potential war with the USSR.
One of the striking features of the Franco question was the relative speed with which ideology -- which had so marked the Spanish debate of the 1930s -- was dispatched with in the postwar period. Certainly this occurred sooner in the U.S. than in the United Kingdom, and, moreover, the nature of the Parliamentary system made ideology a greater factor to consider in Bevin's mind than in the case of American officials. In fact, two of the strongest ideological opponents of Franco in the United States were Harry S. Truman and his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. Yet despite her claim of their importance to U.S. policy toward Franco, Edwards actually demonstrates that these two were fairly isolated in their views as early as 1947. The few successes that the President had on Spain --his veto of the 1948 O'Konski Amendment that would have allowed Spain to participate in the Marshall Plan, his reduction of a 1950 Congressional loan to Spain by $35 million -- only delayed the direction of policy as outlined in NSC 3.
Edwards concludes that the Americans, even Truman and Acheson, learnt the importance of 'profit and interest' with regard to Spain well before the British (p. 262). Yet even with regard to Britain, the case Edwards makes leaves one questioning the importance of ideology in the Spanish case. Was there ever really an 'implacable opposition' (p. 263) to the Franco regime within Whitehall that forced the Americans to go it alone and negotiate unilaterally with Spain for bases? This reader would argue that at no point did the Foreign Office 'despair' for a coup to unseat Franco (p.132). While certainly not dismissive of all anti-regime efforts within the country, when given the opportunity of taking real action against the regime, the British did not mount anywhere near a complete effort.
The reader is left with the sense that it was not simply Anglo-American division that was most important to this story. More significantly, the split on policy toward Spain was a manifestation of the difficulty in transferring European and Mediterranean leadership from Britain to the United States, and of the tenacity with which the British clung to their own strategic priorities, which included Spain, but in a lesser role than the Pentagon envisioned. This is the argument made by Jill Edwards that proves most rewarding in the end.
Read in this light, the book is really a case study of the emergence of the National Security State, its impact on a secondary issue in international politics, and the consequences for America's closest ally. Although not explicit in the text, the replacement of contradictory directions in Spanish policy by a single-mindedness that led the United States to finally abandon efforts to appease its Allies and make unilateral military arrangements with Madrid must be considered as part of the process best described in Michael Hogan's A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945-1954 (Cambridge, 1998). To Kennan's chagrin, the militarization of the East-West conflict led to a consideration of the Franco question as a Cold War issue from a strategic, rather than a political and propagandistic, viewpoint (p. 222).
As early as 1948, in the midst of the Berlin crisis, the Pentagon, encouraged by Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, interpreted NSC 3 to mean they had the right to approach Spain and begin military talks. If NSC 3 was in 'political and economic limbo' at the Oval Office, it was not at the Pentagon. Nor was it, as noted, in the Senate and amongst prominent American businessmen. Edwards persists in her argument that the President and Acheson 'still held sway' over policy as late as 1949 (p. 165), but the reader is left with a sense that this only was true on the most public issues: Marshall aid, NATO and the United Nations resolution of 1946, which was still in effect. Meanwhile the Administration had begun extensive contact with Spanish military officials in order to understand the weaknesses of the military situation in Iberia and talks had opened between Spain and the Chase Bank concerning a potential loan. Edwards does not cite the fact that these talks were fostered, in part, by Forrestal, who desired that Spain find money for 'civil aviation improvements' that could, in the future, assist American military aircraft based there.
By 1950, the UN resolution was not renewed and Congress granted economic aid to Spain. In early 1951 Stanton Griffis was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Spain and his appointment was followed by the missions of William D. Pawley and Admiral Sherman Forrest, who began the process of negotiation that ultimately led to the 1953 bases agreement. What had been happening in the shadows, despite Truman's and Acheson's condemnations of the Franco regime, was now happening out in the open.
Edwards' contribution to this story is made by demonstrating that the value of Spain to American strategists not only overcame Truman's and Acheson's opposition, but also, by 1950- 1951, the need to publicly and privately respect the position of Great Britain. If Spain could not be made a member of NATO because of European objections, then the United States would proceed unilaterally. The State Department was wary of this line of thinking, which had emerged from Defense, but NSC 72/6 of June, 1951 ultimately favored movement toward a unilateral solution.
Publicly,the United States refused to use the opposition of the British as a reason to reject the need for military talks with Franco, as they had at the time of the O'Konski Amendment and the NATO agreement. Privately, they dismissed other British objections to a bases agreement, most significantly the British argument that planning for a potential war against the Soviet Union should include the strategic prioritization of the Eastern Mediterranean over the Iberian Peninsula. A protest sent to Washington by the British Cabinet in July, 1951 over the direction of American- Spanish relations was ignored by the Administration.
There has recently been a bit of a 'mini-boom' in the publishing on the subject of the 'Spanish question' in international relations. Jill Edwards' Anglo-American Relations and the Franco Question, 1945-1955 is a welcome addition. It takes some time for the essence of her argument, perceiving the Spanish case as a chance to evaluate the changing Anglo-American relationship, to emerge. The author's analysis is far stronger in charting this process after 1948 than it is in deciphering the contradictions of Allied policy in the immediate years after the Second World War. Yet she provides some valuable historical lessons about the impact of the U.S. National Security State on inter-allied relations and the early Cold War periphery.
. George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia rev. ed. (New York, 1980), p. 229.
. David J. Dunthorn,'The Prieto-Gil-Robles Meeting of October 1947: Britain and the Failure of the Spanish anti-Franco Coalition, 1945-50', European History Quarterly 30:1 pp. 49-75.
. Boris N. Liedtke, Embracing a Dictatorship: US Relations with Spain, 1945-53 ,(London, 1998), p. 55.
. See, most recently, Liedtke, op. cit.; Christian Leitz and David J. Dunthorn, eds. Spain in an International Context, 1936-1959 (New York, 1999); Sebastian Balfour and Paul Preston, eds. Spain and the Great Powers in the Twentieth Century (London, 1999); Raanan Rein, ed. Spain and the Mediterranean since 1898 (London, 1999)..
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