ІІІ Containment Through Repression

The Decline of the British World System

Between 1949 and the mid-1950s, the full extent of Britain’s decline in great power (that is, the ability to act independently of the US and Europe) began to dawn on politicians and civil servants alike. From parliamentary discussions on defence spending in 1946, ‘cutting our coat according to our cloth’ was an increasingly popular phrase in the Cabinet and Parliament, especially in the 1950s.1 The phrase was perhaps most notoriously (and ironically) used by Prime Minister Anthony Eden in the Cabinet on the eve of the disastrous Suez Crisis, the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, after which Britain truly understood just how little cloth it had left.2

During these years, as we will see in subsequent chapters, increasing Cold War tensions (including the fall of China and the introduction of hot proxy wars) and economic pressures prompted British policy-makers to depend more and more on repression (as opposed to constructive but costly policies and programmes) to contain the perceived communist threat on imperial and cultural battlegrounds. While it is true that neither the Churchill nor Eden governments formally decolonized any territories, the process of imperial streamlining certainly continued.3 This process of preparing colonies for independence within the Commonwealth (which included investment in education, the localization of civil service, and grooming moderate colonial collaborators) was guarded by significant expansions of colonial state power, aimed explicitly against local and external communist activities on the cultural battlefields of the imperial Cold War.

© The Author(s) 2017

C. Sutton, Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-33491-2_10

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