‘When those states which have been acquired are accustomed to live at liberty under their own laws, there are three ways of holding them. The first is to despoil them; the second is to go and live there in person; the third is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking a tribute of them, and creating within the country a government composed of a few who will keep it friendly to you. Because this government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot exist without his friendship and protection, and will do all it can to keep them. What is more, a city used to liberty can be more easily held by means of its citizens than in any other way, if you wish to preserve it. . . . Whoever becomes the ruler of a free city and does not destroy it, can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can always find a motive for rebellion in the name of liberty and of its ancient usages, which are forgotten neither by lapse of time nor by benefits received. . .’

Machiavelli. The Prince. Chapter V

Lyndon Johnson had rarely troubled himself with the ancient rituals of European diplomacy. By the time he acceded to the Presidency, his experience in international affairs in general had been limited to chance encounters with Pakistani camel-drivers and Vietnamese well-diggers. If Machiavelli’s principles had ever seeped into his political consciousness, he had been impressed only by the first method of princely policy: despoliation. For twenty years, American interests in Western Europe had been promoted and maintained by much more subtle means. Dominant after the Second World War, the us had established a network of friendly European governments, in many cases handpicked by officials in Washington. Within a limited framework, self-government was not only permitted but encouraged; only if ‘rebellion’ threatened basic us interests—economic development, military dominance, political alliance, containment of the Left—were the imperial prerogatives, of intervention exercised.

Despite Johnson’s inattention in early 1964, the business of tending America’s acquired states in Europe was being done by the aides and advisers to the late President Kennedy. Unwatched by Johnson, the former Kennedy staff men were engaged in an elaborate bureaucratic war-game on the battleground of European policy. Byzantine intrigues were conducted by a group of State Department officials known in Washington as ‘the theologians,’ and in England as ‘the cabal’. Against them were the ‘realists’ or ‘pragmatists’ collected in the National Security Council of the White House.

‘The cabal’ was the inheritor of the tradition of the Grand Design of Atlantic alliance, the mainstream of us efforts in Europe since the war. The cabalists argued for dominance of the Common Market in the European political economy as the central priority of us policy. The objective was to get Britain into the Common Market and keep Germany out of close political alliance with France. Even though the success of that policy might cause temporary difficulties for the us balance of payments position, such disadvantages were seen to be outweighed by the political benefits. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr wrote in his history of the Kennedy Administration, ‘If Britain joined the Market, London could offset the eccentricities of policy in Paris and Bonn; moreover, Britain, with its world obligations, could keep the eec from becoming a high-tariff, inward-looking, white man’s club.’footnote1 Schlesinger documented the importance which Kennedy ascribed to Britain’s entry; it was Kennedy who ‘raised the matter on Britain’s behalf with De Gaulle in Paris in June 1961,’ and when Hugh Gaitskell came to Washington early in 1962, ‘Kennedy mobilised half the cabinet to tell him that Britain must plunge into Europe.’

As always, Britain’s function had been that of a tool for America to use in the pursuit of its German policy. Germany was and is the primary focus for us interests in Western Europe. Most of Washington’s efforts in the Cold War period were spent securing West Germany in political alliance. For the first several post-war years, fear of Soviet expansionism in Western Europe was used to keep Germany close to the us. Atomic weapons were denied the Germans; whatever the rationalizations may have been for that policy, one very important effect was to keep the Federal Government begging for nuclear arms or nuclear protection. The ‘bomb’—that is, the piece of hardware—became a substitute for diplomacy. It was a prime example of the new system of ‘technology-statecraft’ which Washington was developing.

By 1964, much of the stability in Europe that the us had endeavoured to maintain throughout the fifties was becoming unhinged. Detente with Russia—or the prospect of it—was seen by Kennedy to be a desirable policy goal, but the possibility of diminished tensions loosened the us-German alliance. It is not certain that any high us official ever took seriously the threat of Soviet aggression in Europe after 1945 (George Kennan’s memoirs indicate that State Department leaders saw such an attack as an absurdity). But by the time of the Kennedy Administration, Schlesinger wrote, ‘no one believed in the likelihood of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe unless the Russians thought themselves exempt from nuclear reprisal (and, except for Berlin, not many believed it likely then).’footnote2 According to Schlesinger, Kennedy himself ‘regarded much of the talk about European nuclear deterrents, multilateral forces, conventional force levels, American divisions and so on as militarily supererogatory since it was based on the expectation of a Soviet attack on Western Europe, “than which nothing is less likely.” ’footnote3