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2 From Mediator to "Associate Power" Wilson's mediation efforts made the British government confront for the first time an America suggesting that it was prepared to take a decisive part in world politics. Confident of victory, the British believed during the spring and summer of 1916 that they could rebuff Wilson's potential threat to a favorable British peace without serious consequences. As the military stalemate continued into the fall, however , this was no longer true. America's economic ascendancy over the British grew by the day. In contrast to Lloyd George, many British leaders were not so sanguine over their country's economic and financial dependency on the United States. Forty percent of British war expenditure was being spent on supplies from North America. On October 31 Maurice Hankey, the secretary of the War Committee, warned in a general review of the war that the Achilles heel of the Entente members was their "staying-power, owing to the prodigious strain of the American orders on their financial resources." If this trend continued, "the Allies will, within the next few months, become entirely dependent upon the goodwill of the President of the United States of America for their power to continue the war."1 The deteriorating financial situation was only one of many concerns for the British political leadership. Britain's European allies were nearing exhaustion. Uncertain of their continued reliability, the British were themselves confronted with a serious manpower crisis. Hard fighting on the Somme had cost the BEF almost half a million casualties . Yet, in Robertson's words, the Germans continued to fight "with undiminished vigour." Robertson's grim forecast was that Britain "must expect, and at once prepare for, harder and more protracted fighting and a much greater strain on our general resources than any yet experienced before we can wring from the enemy that peace which we have said we mean to have."2 The Army Council warned that British forces, depleted by a year of hard campaigning, faced a crisis in 1917. Unless extraordinary measures were taken to bring in more men, it would "be impossible after April next to keep the armies up to From Mediator to "Associate Power" 27 strength." Drafting men up to fifty-five years was one extreme measure advocated.3 German undersea assault also represented an accelerating threat. Walter Runciman, the president of the Board of Trade, issued a dire warning in early November: "My expert advisers believe that I am far too sanguine in advising the War Committee that the complete breakdown in shipping will come in June, 1917; they are convinced that it will come much sooner than June."4 These estimates were based on the questionable assumption that Germany planned to continue limited as opposed to all-out U-boat warfare. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that the prospect of a peace mediated by President Wilson began to be viewed seriously in some quarters. Lloyd George's position of fighting the war "to a finish—to a knock-out" was questioned within the British government by the respected Unionist leader and former foreign secretary, Lord Lansdowne. In a memorandum to the Cabinet, dated November 13, he asked the pertinent question: Would the pursuit of Lloyd George's "knock-out blow" against Imperial Germany destroy rather than save civilization?5 There now seemed the prospect that the United States might offer the British future security. Wilson, in an extraordinary break with American isolationist tradition, told Grey (through House) that he could be sure "the United States would go any length in promoting and lending her full might to a League for Peace" in the event of a compromise settlement.6 But did Wilson really speak for his people in promising a global role for the United States? "The President's assurances as to the desire to take part in the permanent settlement are undoubtedly genuine," Spring Rice reported from Washington. "But between this and the performance there is a gulf. This people will have to abandon the Monroe doctrine and the Washingtonian tradition against entangling alliances. They will also have to have an army and a fleet ready on an instant and distant call for foreign service. The people who could not spare one word to Belgium are now to engage to send their armies and navies to the defence of threatened right. This is a big change."7 Renewed American pressure on London to end the hostilities seemed likely because Wilson had been reelected...


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