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The Johnson Administration and the British Labour Government: Vietnam, the Pound and East of Suez

  • John Dumbrell (a1)
Abstract

Recent accounts of Anglo-American relations in the mid-1960s revolve around the supposed existence of “deals” made between President Lyndon Johnson and Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The memoir of Edward Short, Wilson's Chief Whip, goes so far as to describe a “deal” done before the 1964 general election, whereby the US would support the pound in return for an undertaking not to devalue if a Labour Government were to be returned. Clive Ponting, Philip Ziegler and Ben Pimlott all accept that a “deal” or “secret agreement” — Pimlott's phrase — had been made by the early summer of 1965. The US would organise a multilateral rescue for the sinking pound, in return for British policies of deflation at home, retention of overseas military commitments, and (limited) support for the Vietnam war. The 1965 “deal” appears to have been reinforced during the sterling crisis of July 1966, only to come adrift in 1967. Wilson's own account has him rejecting the excessive demands accompanying an American sterling rescue in 1967, and devaluing as — in effect — an assertion of British sovereignty.

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1 Short Edward, Whip to Wilson: The Crucial Years of the Labour Government (London: MacDonald, 1989), 117. See also Ziegler Philip, Wilson: The Authorised Life (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993), 191.

2 Ponting Clive, Breach of Promise: Labour in Power 1964–1970 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989), chs. 3, 13; Pimlott Ben, Harold Wilson (London: Harper Collins, 1993), 386–7. See also Wrigley Chris, “Now You See It, Now You Don't: Harold Wilson and Labour's Foreign Policy 1964–70,” in Coopey R., Fielding S. and Tiratsoo N., eds., The Wilson Governments 1964–1970 (London: Pinter, 1993), 123–35, 128.

3 See Wilson Harold, The Labour Government 1964–70 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971), 452–54; also, Pimlott, 477–78; Ponting, 289; Ziegler, 281.

4 Dobson Alan P., “The Years of Transition: Anglo-American Relations 1961–67,” Review of International Studies, 16 (1990), 239–58, 250.

5 National Security File (NSF): Memos to the President from McGeorge Bundy, June 1965, box 12, 28 June, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas. All subsequent document and oral history citations relate to material available at the Johnson Presidential Library.

6 See Dumbrell John, The Making of US Foreign Policy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990), 215–25; Dobson Alan P., The Politics of the Economic Special Relationship (Brighton: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1988), 214; David Bruce, Oral History, Johnson Library, 18; Wilson, The Labour Government, 264.

7 See, e.g., Crossman Richard, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, ed. Morgan Janet, (London: Hamish Hamilton and Jonathan Cape): Volume One, Minister of Housing, 1964–66 (1975), 456; Volume Two, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, 1966–68 (1976), 181; Castle Barbara, The Castle Diaries, 1964–70 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), 41, 147. See also NSF: Country File: UK, box 208, cable from London Embassy to State Department, 29 Sept. 1964 (on recent Daily Mirror editorials); Sanity (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament journal), May 1965; Goodman Geoffrey, The Awkward Warrior: Frank Cousins (London: Davis-Poynter, 1979). 492–3.

8 Crossman, Volume One, 574; King Cecil, The Cecil King Diary 1965–1970 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1972), 78; Ponting, 48–53; Ziegler, 280–84. See also Ellis Sylvia, “British Opposition to the Vietnam War, 1964–68,” paper delivered at the 1994 European Association for American Studies conference,Luxembourg.

9 See Dorill Stephen and Ramsay Robin, Smear: Wilson and the Secret State (London: Grafton, 1991), 44–5; Pimlott, 366; Ramsay Robin, “Wilson and the Security Services”, in Coopey et al. , eds., The Wilson Governments, 151–62; Leigh David, The Wilson Plot: The Intelligence Services and the Dismantling of a Prime Minister (London: Heinemann, 1988), 102–3; Ball George, The Past Has Another Pattern: Memoirs (New York: Norton, 1982), 336.

10 NSF: Name File, box 7 (Neustadt) (cuttings from Washington Post, 7 Nov. 1968); Neustadt's 6 07 1964 memo was published in New Left Review, 51 (1968), 1121. On the MLF negotiation, see Hammond Paul Y., LBJ and the Presidential Management of Foreign Relations (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), 108–43.

11 NSF: Country File (CF): UK, box 206, Bruce cable, “Elections note,” Oct. 5–12, 1964; Ziegler, 224.

12 NSF: CF: UK, box 213, McGeorge Bundy to Johnson, 1 March 1964.

13 Ibid., “PM Wilson Visit Briefing Book 12/64.”

14 Ibid., box 206, Rusk to Johnson, 28 Feb. 1964.

15 Papers of George Ball, box 1, telecon (McGrory-Ball), 9 Dec. 1964.

16 NSF: CF: UK: box 207, Klein to McGeorge Bundy, 23 March 1965.

17 Ibid., box 209, incoming telegram, 16 Dec. 1965.

18 Ibid., box 213, memo of conversation (Wilson and McNamara), 5 March 1964.

19 Ibid., box 216, Bruce telegram to Johnson, 26 Sept. 1966.

20 Ibid., box 213, Rusk to Johnson, 28 Feb. 1964.

21 Ibid., box 215, Klein to McGeorge Bundy, 1 June 1965.

22 NSF: Name File (Neustadt), box 7, Neustadt to McGeorge Bundy, 9 Aug. 1965.

23 NSF: CF: UK, box 216, “Wilson Briefing Book 7/29/66: British Attitudes on Vietnam.”

24 NSF: National Security Council (NSC) Meetings File, box 2, Bromley Smith, “Summary Notes of 587th NSC Meeting,” 5 June 1968.

25 Chester Cooper, Oral History, 10; Cooper Chester L., The Lost Crusade (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1970), 365. Rostow's remark was made in the wake of the February 1967 “Phase A/Phase B” fiasco (see Dumbrell, Making of US Foreign Policy, 225, 250).

26 The Castle Diaries, 147; Bruce, Oral History, 8. (Bruce also, however, noted LBJ's “antipathy” to Wilson. See Ellis, “British Opposition to the Vietnam War,” 4).

27 Pimlott, 387.

28 Papers of George Ball, box 1, telecon (Reston-Ball), 16 Oct. 1964.

29 NSF: Files of McGeorge Bundy, box 18/19, “Memorandum for the Record,” 31 March 1965; Papers of George Ball, box 1, telecon (Johnson-Ball), 6 March 1965. See also Hitchens C., “Say What You Will About Harold ”, London Review of Books, 2 12 1993, 14.

30 NSF: CF: UK, box 216, “Background Paper: British Economy” (Brown visit, 10/14/66).

31 E. F. Fried, Oral History, 36.

32 NSF: CF: UK, box 215, CIA Office of National Estimates, “Britain's Economy and its Implications”, 1 July 1965.

33 Ibid., box 216, “Wilson Briefing Book 7/29/66: British Attitudes on Vietnam.”

34 Ibid., W. Rostow to Johnson, 28 July 1966.

35 Ibid., box 209, McGeorge Bundy to Burke Trend, 3 Nov. 1965. On Skybolt, see Neustadt R. E., Alliance Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970).

36 NSF: CF: UK, box 209, airgram, London Embassy to State Department, 23 May 1966.

38 Ibid., box 208, memo of conversation (Rusk-Dean), 3 June 1965.

39 Ibid., box 213, memo of conversation (McNamara-Wilson), 5 March 1964.

40 NSF: NSC Meetings File, box 2, Bromley Smith, “Summary Notes of 587th NSC Meeting”, 5 June 1968.

41 Ibid., incoming cable to State Department, 5 June 1968 (original in capitals).

42 NSF: CF: UK, box 213, Rusk to Johnson, 28 Feb. 1964.

43 Ibid., boxes 211/12, London Embassy to State Department, received 5 June 1968.

44 See Dobson, “The Years of Transition”, 250–56.

45 NSF: CF: UK, boxes 211/12, Bruce to Secretary of State, 8 May 1967.

46 NSF: NSC Meetings File, box 2, Bromley Smith, “Summary Notes of 587th NSC Meeting,” 5 June 1968.

47 NSF: CF: UK, box 215, Ball, “British Sterling Crisis: 1965,” (undated).

48 Files of Walt W. Rostow, boxes 12/13, Bator to Johnson, 21 July 1966.

49 NSF: CF: UK, box 216, Bator to Johnson, 1 June 1967.

51 British Ambassador Patrick Dean informed Secretary Rusk that the “UK was naturally happy to sell the bombs but preferred that in the future it not be said that they were to be used in Vietnam” (NSF: CF: UK, box 208, “memo of conversation”: Dean-Rusk, 22 June, 1965). See also Campbell Duncan, The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier (London: Paladin, 1986), 142 (on SAS involvement); Hannah Norman B., The Key to Failure: Laos and the Vietnam War (Lanham: Madison Books, 1987), 195; and Richelson Jeffrey T. and Ball Desmond, The Ties That Bind (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990), (on intelligence cooperation).

52 Larsen S. R. and Collins J. L., Allied Participation in Vietnam (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 1975), 2.

53 See Dumbrell, Making of US Foreign Policy, 216; Wilson, The Labour Government, 264; Ponting, 47–56, 220; The Castle Diaries, 282.

54 See Wilson, The Labour Government, 248; Benn Tony, Out of the Wilderness: Diaries, 1963–1967 (London: Hutchinson, 1987), 440.

55 NSF: Memos to the President: W. W. Rostow, Vol. 6, box 8, 17 June 1966.

56 NSF: Files of Walt W. Rostow, boxes 12/13, Bruce to State Department, 4 July 1966 (original in capitals).

57 NSF: CF: UK, box 209, Bruce to State Department, 2 June 1966 (original in capitals).

58 See, e.g., NSF: Files of McGeorge Bundy, boxes 17/18, “Memorandum for the Record”: Bundy: “It might well be very embarrassing for the British if they should give assurances one week which they had to give back a week later…” (on consultation over US military intentions).

59 NSF: Memos to the President: McGeorge Bundy, Vols. 5–8, box 2, Bundy to Johnson, 15 Dec. 1964 (on appointment of James Rafferty to handle the “third country problem”); Bruce, Oral History, 23–4.

60 NSF: CF: UK, box 215/16, Bator memo, “Agenda: Preparation for Trend”, 28 July 1965.

61 Ibid., Bundy to Johnson, 28 July 1965.

62 NSF: Memos to the President: McGeorge Bundy, Vols. 8–13, box 3, Bundy to Johnson, 2 Aug. 1965.

63 NSF: CF: UK, box 209, State Department Director of Intelligence and Research to Rusk, 15 July 1966.

64 Ibid., boxes 215/16, “Briefing Book 7/29/66.”

65 The Commonwealth mission was described as “stillborn” in NSF: CF: Vietnam, boxes 196/7, Benjamin Read to McGeorge Bundy, 2 Aug. 1965. See also, on “Phase A/Phase B,” Brown George, In My Way (London: Gollancz, 1971), 145–66; Bruce, Oral History, 26–30; William Bundy, Oral History, 20–23; Cooper, The Lost Crusade, 358–9; and Wilson, The Labour Government, 345–66. See also Herring George C., ed., The Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War: The negotiating Volumes of the Pentagon Papers (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983), 372–6, 390475 (on British involvement in various Vietnam peace initiatives).

66 NSF: CF: UK, boxes 211/12, Humphrey to Johnson, 4 April 1967.

67 See Bruce, Oral History, p. 24. According to Wilson (The Labour Government, 80), LBJ told him in February 1965; “I won't tell you how to run Malaysia and you don't tell us how to run Vietnam.”

68 Papers of George Ball, box 1, telecon (Solomon-Ball), 27 July 1965; Ibid., telecon (Fowler-Ball), 29 1965. (“Bob” is Robert McNamara).

69 NSF: CF: UK, box 209, Fowler to Johnson, 14 July 1966.

70 Ibid., box 215, Fowler to Johnson (handwritten, undated).

71 As note 47 (above).

72 NSF: CF: UK, box 206, Cline to Director of Central Intelligence (undated).

73 Ibid., box 207, O. Eckerstein to G. Ackley (summarising Heller's view), 11 June 1965.

74 Ibid., box 208, Bruce to State Department, received 26 July 1965.

75 Ibid., boxes 211.12, Heller to Johnson, 9 Sept. 1967.

76 Ibid., box 215, Ackley to Johnson (summarising views of Fowler, Ball, Bundy and Martin), 29 July 1965.

77 Ibid., Ackley to M. Bundy, 29 July 196;. See also Cairncross A. and Eichengreen B., Sterling in Decline: The Devaluations of 1931,1949 and 1967 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), 178.

78 See note 3 (above). Wilson, p. 453, described Pierre–Paul Schweitzer (IMF Secretary-General) as “under American as well as British pressure” to ease the conditions for a multilateral rescue. See also Solomon Robert. The International Monetary System, 1945–1976 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 9199.

79 NSF: CF: UK, boxes 211/12, Rostow to Johnson, 13 Nov. 1967.

80 White House Central File: Confidential File: FO 321, Callaghan to Fowler, 10 Nov. 1967 (cited in Ponting, 291).

81 NSF: CF: UK, boxes 211/12, “Notes on the President's Meeting with the Leadership,” 19 Nov. 1967.

82 NSF: File of W. W. Rostow, box 3, “Notes on the President's Meeting with the Leadership,” 19 Nov. 1967.

84 Cabinet Papers, box 11, “Minutes of Cabinet Meeting Nov. 20, 1967.”

85 NSF: CF: UK, boxes 211/12, Rostow to Johnston, 22 Nov. 1967.

86 WHCF: Confidential File: Name File, box 152, E. Goldstein to Johnson, 29 Jan. 1968.

87 Handwriting File, box, “British Budget.”

88 NSF: CF: UK, box 206, Heller to Johnson, 9 Nov. 1964.

89 Ibid., box 215, McGeorge Bundy to Johnson, 16 Dec. 1965.

90 Ibid., box 213, “Memo of conversation” (Wilson–McNamara), 5 March 1964.

91 Ibid., box 209, Bator to Johnson, 17 Nov. 1965.

92 Ibid., box 215, Klein to M. Bundy, 1 June 1965.

93 Ibid., Rusk to Johnson (undated): “Visit of P.M. Wilson.”

94 Ibid., M. Bundy to Johnson, 16 Dec. 1965.

95 Papers of George Ball, box 1, telecon (Bator–Ball), 27 July 1965.

96 Ibid., (Fowler–Ball), 29 July 1965.

97 Ibid., (Bundy–Ball), 29 July 1965.

98 NSF: CF: UK, box 216, Bator to Johnson (report on Wilson's meeting with LBJ), 29 July 1966.

99 Ibid., box 209, Fowler to Johnson, 18 July 1966.

100 Ibid., Ball to Johnson, 22 July 1966.

101 WHCF: Confidential File, box 12, Bruce to State Department, 17 June 1967.

102 NSF: CF: UK, box 216, Rusk to Johnson, 31 May 1967.

103 Ibid., “Background Paper for Mr. Walt Rostow: US Overseas Military Economies,” Feb. 1967.

104 Diary Backup, box 90, Rusk to Johnson, 3 Feb. 1968.

105 NSF: CF: UK, box 209, Hughes to Rusk, 27 July 1966.

106 Ibid., box 216, Bator to Johnson (on LBJ's meeting with Wilson), 29 July 1966.

107 Heren L., No Hail, No Farewell (London: Harper and Row, 1970), 231.

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