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  • Kennedy, Macmillan and the Cold War: The Irony of Interdependence
  • Saki Ruth Dockrill
Nigel Ashton , Kennedy, Macmillan and the Cold War: The Irony of Interdependence. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. 304 pp. £55.00.

Although the Anglo-American "special relationship" has been a long-standing dimension of British foreign policy, a reexamination of this alignment is timely given the current state of international relations. Nigel Ashton, a senior lecturer in international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has written a well-researched and perceptive account of the relationship between John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan, complementing his earlier book on relations between Macmillan and Dwight Eisenhower in the Middle East.

Based on extensive research in both Britain and the United States, Kennedy, Macmillan and the Cold War covers a number of major international crises and issues that confronted the decision-makers of the two countries from 1961 to 1963: the Laotian crisis, the Berlin crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, turmoil in the Middle East, the Congo crisis, Britain's first application to the European Economic Community, the question of Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent, and the conclusion of the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty. Although most of these subjects have already been explored in depth by other authors, the strength of Ashton's book is in bringing them together in a single account and in examining the nature and scope of Anglo-U.S. "interdependence," a term that was used by decision-makers in both London and Washington. Ashton claims that the United States used "interdependence" to strengthen its control over the Atlantic alliance, whereas Britain, using the same term, was attempting to strengthen the Anglo-U.S. partnership.

As the title of the book indicates, the issues that Ashton analyzes also had Cold War implications. The United States put the Cold War high on its political agenda (especially in the case of the Laotian crisis, the Berlin crisis, and the Cuban missile crisis), but Britain often had a more complex agenda, such as the maintenance of its international profile, its colonial past, the relatively limited resources it could deploy in any major international crisis, and its dependence on overseas trade. British policy was based on cautious pragmatism, whereas the United States was more alarmist and pessimistic. Thus, Britain preferred a gradual disappearance of the ideological confrontation with the Eastern bloc through trade, cultural exchanges, and political contacts. U.S. officials saw this British strategy as "a sort of national predilection for appeasement" (p. 11).

On the issue of Cuba, the United States opposed Britain's continuing trade relations with Fidel Castro, but British officials regarded this opposition as "ridiculous" (p. 71). The British were not convinced that trade sanctions were an effective political measure, and they were also heavily influenced by the fact that nearly half of Britain's income, compared with a negligible portion of that of the United States, derived from international trade. American alarmism was frequently expressed in an inclination to seek much greater control over the Western alliance and over nuclear weapons. Although a closer Anglo-U.S. nuclear relationship began as a result of the launching of [End Page 160] the Soviet Sputnik satellite in October 1957, President Eisenhower's desire to foster closer cooperation within the Western alliance was thwarted by his administration's effort to maintain nuclear supremacy over the Soviet Union. In this circumstance, the proliferation of nuclear weapons was to be avoided at all costs, even if that meant bringing allies' nuclear weapons under U.S. control. Indeed the problems that arose with the U.S.-British nuclear special relationship were largely an extension of America's fear of the proliferation of nuclear weapons beyond its borders. To forestall the spread of nuclear arms, the Kennedy administration proposed the establishment of the Multilateral Nuclear Force, which, to Whitehall's disgust, called for the surrender of British nuclear sovereignty. At the same time, after America's failure to deliver Skybolt to the United Kingdom, Macmillan and Kennedy entered into a bilateral nuclear agreement over Polaris at Nassau in December 1962. This was regarded by Washington as crisis management because Kennedy thought that the United States...