Britain, Anglo-American relations and the ending of the US War in Vietnam, 1969-1973

Masters Thesis

Pryce, K. 2018. Britain, Anglo-American relations and the ending of the US War in Vietnam, 1969-1973. Masters Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University Faculty of Arts and Humanities
AuthorsPryce, K.
TypeMasters Thesis
Qualification nameMA

This dissertation examines the approach of the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1969-1970 and the Conservative government of Edward Heath from 1970 towards the war in Vietnam in general and towards the Paris peace process in particular. In the historiography of the Vietnam war, there has been little attention given to UK policy in connection with the US Nixon administration’s efforts to secure a “peace with honor” for America, and this dissertation seeks to fill a gap in the literature. As will be seen, both the Labour and Conservative governments were more actively involved at a diplomatic level than the historiography suggests.

In the first place, in terms of the UK-US “special relationship”, Britain was called upon by America for support both in the ongoing war and the parallel peace process. In the Wilson-Heath period, the UK accepted the imperative of containing communism in Southeast Asia, where the UK retained considerable Commonwealth, economic and strategic interests. This dictated support for the US. At the same time, the US war was very unpopular in Britain, and support for the US had to be balanced against political considerations closer to home.

It is one of the more surprising findings of this dissertation that Heath, who is often depicted as the most sceptical UK postwar Prime Minister about the Anglo-American relationship, was consistently supportive of the Nixon administration’s policy – even controversial features of that policy such as the 1972 Christmas bombing. However, as will be seen, Heath’s attitude was related to his European policy; by backing the US on Vietnam, he hoped to be able to maintain good UK-US relations after the UK joined the EEC. Heath did not regard UK entry into the EEC as building a new special relationship with Europe to take the place of the old UK-US one, but as an additional prop of support for the UK. Finally, in the Wilson-Heath period, we see the legacy of an earlier UK Vietnam peace initiative – the 1954 Geneva settlement which ended the French war in Vietnam. The terms of that settlement had been quickly violated, and Britain, along with the USSR, the co-chairs of the 1954 Geneva conference, assumed responsibility for restoring the situation in Vietnam along the lines of the 1954 settlement. This sometimes required the UK to distance itself in public from aspects of US policy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and to propose peace initiatives of its own, to the irritation of the Americans. Heath, however, in contrast to Wilson, refused to be overly loyal to 1954 and tended to back the US, as noted, in most instances. But when peace finally arrived, for the US at least, in 1973, the Heath government was determined not to assume any responsibility for its preservation in the way that the UK became entangled in the legacy of 1954.

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Publication process dates
Deposited20 Jun 2019
Output statusUnpublished
Accepted author manuscript
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