A comparison shows that “Anglo-American solidarity today contrasts sharply with the dissonance of French and German antiwar diplomacy, the crisis years of 1961 to 1963 witnessed an analogous fraying of the Western Alliance due, in part, to Franco-German fears over Anglo-American collusion.”
The analysis of the so-called special relationship has made it a popular field of study and interest for historians, above all for the relevant sequence of events during the Macmillan-JFK’s time. As Ashton himself underlines:
there was, put simply, in the years 1961-3, hardly any significant international issue that did not have some form of Anglo-American dimension to it.
In fact, it is possible to claim that many of the crises that JFK and Macmillan had to face represented the most dangerous situations of the John F. Kennedy’s presidency and of all the Cold War (for instance Cuban Missile Crisis and Berlin Wall Crisis). Many scholars studied this special relationship, but Ashton gives a new perspective, above all for his analysis of the Skybolt issue (1962) and of the Laos crisis (1961).
The historic analysis of American-British relations (and in particular of the JFK-Macmillan’s relationship) has been dominated by a so-called functional approach that emphasizes the relevance of the domestic/national aspect.
It is helpful to highlight other important elements that it is possible to find in John F. Kennedy-Macmillan’s relationship:
As Ashton has written:
each of these factors did not by themselves exert a predominant influence upon Anglo-American relations; rather, it was a varying combination of them that determined the level of harmony or discord. To understand both the intimacy and the rancor of Anglo-American relations, one needs to grasp the differences in perception between London and Washington, not simply by diverging conceptions of national interest.
It is also important to underline Preston’s words on Aston’s volume when he writes that Ashton “pay great attention both to the extraordinarily successful personal influence the British ambassador to Washington, David Ormsby-Gore, had with John F. Kennedy in several crises, and to the importance to the British of commercial and old colonial ties in formulating a policy toward the 1961-62 crisis in the Congo.”
In his work, Ashton claims that the relationship between United States and Great Britain it is not based on a real interdependence and that
during the Cold War, the imbalance between British and American resources and power was so large it made any notion of interdependence a mere pretence. But this neglects Ashton’s more subtle, and intriguing, point about the ironic nature of the Anglo-American relationship. In its strict adherence to the principle of interdependence, Britain often pursued a line of policy that turned out to be inimical to its own national interests. Had the British realized that interdependence did not actually exist, and thus had they pursued an independent foreign policy, their interests and objectives would have been much better served. The British, in other words, lost much more by pursuing interdependence than they could ever gain, a very cruel irony indeed. Interdependence was not only mythical; it was also counter-productive.
Yet, Ashton argues that Macmillan was not able to influence John F. Kennedy’s positions on Great Britain and the Cold War:
one could infer that the Anglo-American relationship was in fact a headquarters-subsidiary relationship.
-on Laos, the British wound up committing themselves to a U.S. military contingency plan “they thought unnecessary and unwise and then found themselves in the awkward position of working with the Soviets to constrain American ambitions.”
-About Berlin, Macmillan proposed a negotiated solution with Moscow and the eruption of the Wall was against his position.
-On Yemen and the Congo, there was a contrast between Britain’s colonial interests and American’s Cold War worries and John F. Kennedy’s positions were always more considered and implemented than Macmillan’s ones.
About the Nassau summit (December 1962) Ashton writes:
in the Kennedy years the nuclear relationship between Britain and America came to be seen as something of a litmus test of interdependence. When Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara scuttled the Skybolt nuclear missile program, which the United States had already promised to the British, and the Kennedy administration subsequently hesitated to replace Skybolt with submarine-based Polaris missiles, Macmillan realized just how unequal the relationship was and how superficial the concept of interdependence had become. Ashton’s conclusions about the Skybolt controversy and the decline of the British strategic deterrent also nicely describe the broader dynamic of Anglo-American relations during the Cold War.
When we speak about the special relationship, it is really important to underline the British approach and the American one. For Macmillan, it was a complex of partnership and equality, while for JFK and for all the members of his establishment, it means an always greater centralization of control and power for the American side.
As John F. Kennedy stated:
there had to be control by somebody. One man had to make the decision, and as things stood that had to be the American President.
Ashton writes that
it was the British who put much more effort than the Americans into maintaining the relationship as special. But the absence of interdependence should not obscure the fact that the Anglo-American alliance was, and remains, one of the most trustworthy and, despite its counter-productiveness for the British, effective in international relations.
Yet, about the Anglo-American interdependence:
the gap between the British and the Americans in defense expenditure and nuclear technology was huge. In the Cold War it was the leadership of the United States, and not that of Britain, that effectively determined the outcome. Although the British and the Americans had relatively few disputes about the Berlin crisis during the Kennedy years, the United States did decide the outcome of the Congo crisis in the face of Britain’s objections to the reintegration of the Katanga province into the Congolese state. The conclusion of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty likewise indicated that Britain’s influence remained subordinate and limited. Nevertheless in this book the United States does not come across as a confident and arrogant power.
It is possible to understand this important aspect by analyzing the most relevant issues of the Cold War (for instance Laos, Berlin, Cuba, Congo, policies in the Middle East, Britain’s European Economic Community application, nuclear weapons’ topic and the Test Ban Treaty); it is very clear that in all these situations the American Government had a key-role in the decision-making process, while Britain Government always tried to play a more important role in the international arena. JFK’s quoted words express without any doubt which was the position of his Government and, of course, his personal convincement.