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Journal of Cold War Studies 3.3 (2001) 94-95

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Book Review

Containing Germany:
Britain and the Arming of the Federal Republic

Spencer Mawby, Containing Germany: Britain and the Arming of the Federal Republic . Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan Press, 1999. 244 pp. $65.00.

The title of Spencer Mawby's book encapsulates the contradictory impulses that defined Britain's post-1945 policy toward Germany. Germany had to be contained because in living memory it had been responsible for two great wars, but it also had to be rearmed and readmitted into the community of nations because of the pressing need to contain the Soviet Union. The growth of German economic strength and the drive toward German reunification at the end of the Cold War made it difficult for British politicians to accept Germany as just an ordinary member of the European order. The report of a famous seminar at Chequers in March 1990 indicated that the "German problem" was not simply one of power but of a national character made up of "angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, [an] inferiority complex, [and] sentimentality." Because many Britons by this time had a much more positive view of Germany, some observers have assumed that the views expressed at the seminar were solely a reflection of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's outlook. In reality these views were much more widespread. Even a cursory glance at the British tabloids would show the great reluctance of the British public to accept Germany as a new friend rather than an old enemy.

Although anxiety about the German character is evident throughout British pol- icymaking, the intensity and specificity of this sentiment have depended on the wider international context. Relations were generally good between post-Adenauer Germany and pre-Thatcher Britain. The two countries agreed on the importance of transatlantic ties, the Soviet threat, and the mischief of Gaullism. But in the 1980s the British government began to fear that West Germany and the Soviet Union would sign a new Rapallo-like treaty that would undermine the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in return for promises of peace. The British government also sensed that it was being squeezed out of any European leadership role by the emergence of a strong Franco-German alliance. More recently, some in Britain have even come to believe that the European Union is merely a plot designed by the Germans and the supine French to strip Britain of its national identity.

Containing Germany focuses on a particularly critical period from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s when Britain ultimately accepted the need for German rearmament. In 1954 the British even put forward the diplomatic mechanism needed to achieve [End Page 94] this goal: the de facto merger of the Western European Union with NATO. Mawby places his analysis in the context of the history of Anglo-German relations: He discusses the growing apprehension over Germany's postunification assertiveness in the late nineteenth century as well as comparable anxieties in the late twentieth century. His research is meticulous, and he comes up with some interesting material, including a plan devised by the British Chiefs of Staff in 1950 for a West German militia. The only criticism one might make of the more detailed sections of the book is that the wider context gets lost when the author scrutinizes the internal dynamics of British decision making.

Mawby takes issue with scholars who have argued that Britain designed its policies to accommodate American pressure and declined to push its own initiatives because of the ease with which they could be stymied by the United States. He is right to emphasize the distinctive aspects of British policy after World War II, but he may veer too far in this direction. Britain's adjustment to its reduced status as a great power in the 1940s and early 1950s coincided with the onset and intensification of the Cold War. Britain faced limits on what it could do alone, whereas there were plenty of examples, including Anthony Eden's efforts in 1954, of what could be...