GCSE & A Level Revision Notes

Subject: History
Level: A Level
Exam Boards: EDEXCEL, AQA, CIE



A Level British Political, Economic and Social History - 1945-2007

Britain, Europe and the world, 1990-2007

  • The end of the Cold War meant that NATO had to find a new role. Post-Soviet Russia was weak, both economically and politically. The dominance of the United Stated seemed to be unchallenged. Britain, its special relationship with the United States, apparently stronger than ever, expected to play a role in the new order of democracy and freedom.

  • By 1990 and 2007, British foreign policy had to forge new relationships. These relationships included those with the Irish Republic, the governments of the expanding European Union and the United Nations. One key aim of British policymakers, especially Blair, was to use Britain’s special relationship to build a diplomatic bridge between the Europeans and the Americans. The attempts to achieve this had only partial success and relations between Britain, the United States and Europe were placed under great strain by post-Cold War conflicts in the Balkans and in the Middle-East.

Post-Cold War Britain

Britain and Europe, 1990-2007

  • In 1990, the EEC has 12 member states. By 2007, now renamed the European Union, it had expanded to 27 states and was involved in negotiations with numerous new applicants for membership, including Turkey, Croatia, Serbia and the Ukraine.

  • This rapid enlargement forced many changes in the nature of the EU and its methods of reaching decisions. It also presented new and difficult challenges for British foreign policy. What had started out as ‘The Six’, an economic community dominated by the partnership between France and West Germany, was now becoming a much more political organisation in which the states of the ‘New Europe’ were bound to play a prominent role. British policymakers had to decide how much Britain would actually be ‘at the heart of Europe’, of whether to continue the ambivalent relationships that had been characteristic of Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s.

  • The negotiations leading up to the Maastricht treaty, signed in February 1992, were tense and difficult. Major’s style enabled him to establish good personal links with other heads of government, particularly with other heads of government, particularly with the German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, but Major was determined to prevent the treaty from becoming too ‘federalist’. He also wanted to secure a number of ‘opt outs’ for Britain. Major proved very effective in winning allies and in driving hard bargains. His biographer, Anthony Seldon, claimed that Major achieve more than Thatcher would have been able to do, both in terms of the negotiations with Europe and in selling the deal to the Conservative Party at home. Although Major maintained good personal relations with European leaders, he was handicapped by the anti-European attitudes within the Conservative Party. There was little prospect of Britain joining the single currency.

  • Through Blair’s ten years as prime minister, Britain took a leading role in negotiations for EU enlargement and for the Treaty of Nice, extending the organisations of the EU. Blair was especially enthusiastic about strengthening the role of the EU in the wider world. Britain was at the centre of efforts to develop a common European strategy against the threat of global terrorism after the events of 11 September 2001. Blair tried his utmost to make Britain a bridge between Europe and the United States, above all against Iraq in 2002 and 2003, but also towards the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and towards Iran.

  • Blair took the lead in European initiatives on issues such as climate change, world trade and aid for Africa at meetings of the G7 countries (later the G8, involving Russia). The G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005 was a personal triumph for Blair’s diplomacy. Support from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, ensured that the initiatives begun at Gleneagles were carried forward at the G8 summit at Heiligendamm in 2006. Overall, however Britain’s position in Europe remained ambivalent. Britain did not join the Euro on its launch in 1999 and seemed as far away from joining as ever in 2007. The national press remained hostile to all things ‘Europe’. Deep divisions between some European countries and Britain were opened up by the war in Iraq.

  • Progress on climate change and ‘making poverty history’ was frustratingly slow. Attempts to reform the workings of the EU ended in the rejection of a proposed new constitution. A new, diluted scheme for reform was represented in the form of an amending treaty, finally signed at Lisbon at the end of 2007, but this aroused considerable controversy and there was no certainty that all 27 states would ratify the treaty.

International diplomacy and the peace process in Northern Ireland

  • By the early 1990s, it was recognised that cooperation between London and Dublin was vital to the peace process. This cooperation was greatly strengthened by the involvement of the United States, after the inauguration of President Clinton in 1993. The prosperity that Ireland experienced in the 1990s due to the benefits of EU membership also had an important effect; so did regular contacts between British and Irish officials at EU meetings.

  • Major and the Irish taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, improved inter-governmental cooperation. Despite Major’s very traditional Conservative views and instinctive support of the Ulster Unionists and the fact that Reynolds was a committed nationalist, they shared a close personal bond. The Major-Reynolds partnership opened the way for cooperation between Blair and Bertie Ahern from 1997. The personal commitment shown by both leaders did much to advance the peace process. Anglo-Irish relations represented one of the most important and durable successes of British foreign policy.

Britain, NATO and the Balkans, 1991-99

  • From 1989, the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, was changing from Communist Party leader to extreme Serbian nationalist, threatening violent actions against the Albanian population in the province of Kosovo. In 1991, the prosperous northern republic of Slovenia declared independence and the Yugoslav state began to break up. Violent clashes between the two largest republics, Serbia and Croatia, culminated in war and atrocities, particularly in the town of Vukovar in November 1991.

  • Both the EU and the UN began urgent diplomatic efforts to maintain the peace but made little progress. The British former foreign minister, Lord Carrington, was appointed EU intermediary in September 1991, to supervise talks on new constitutional arrangements. The UN appointed an American diplomat, Cyrus Vance, to set up a United Nations Protection Force.

  • The efforts of European diplomats failed. There was confusion of aims, between trying to maintain a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, or allowing it to break up altogether. By 1992, Croatia had declared independence and it was already obvious that the multi-ethnic republic of Bosnia was in great danger of being attacked by both Serbia and Croatia, beginning in April 1992. The Muslim population of eastern Bosnia was driven out by violent ‘ethnic cleansing’, carried out by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries backed by Milosevic’s government.

  • In August 1992, Major hosted a joint EU and UN conference in London and a UN peacekeeping force was put in place. In October 1992, the Vance-Owen plan, by Cyrus Vance and the former British foreign secretary, David Owen, set out a framework for a lasting settlement. The United States was reluctant to intervene in Europe. Serb aggression continued. The war in Bosnia carried on for three more years, with Sarajevo under constant siege. British and European mediation was seen as ineffectual, especially after the massacre of Srebrenica in July 1995. More than 7,000 Bosnian men and boys were massacred in one of the worst atrocities to occur in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

Events in the Balkans, 1995-99

  • After the horrors of the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, reliance on EU diplomacy and UN peacekeeping was perceived to have failed badly. British foreign policy turned to the United Stated and NATO. President Clinton was persuaded to intervene; the central command and the military power of NATO was essential to force the warring Balkan political leaders to negotiate. American air strikes on Serb forces led to a peace conference at Dayton, Ohio. A peace treaty was signed in Paris in December 1995. This guaranteed Bosnian independence, protected by a UN force and with substantial economic support from the international community.

  • From 1997, Blair continued Major’s policy of involving NATO and the United States. In 1999, a prolonged NATO bombing campaign against Serbia forced Milosevic into pulling his forces out of Kosovo. Not long afterwards, Milosevic was over thrown and sent to The Hague to be tried as a war criminal. The collapse of Yugoslavia was now complete and the way was open for new states such as Slovenia and Croatia to join the EU.

  • For Blair, the military intervention of 1999 was a big success. It strengthened his belief in ‘liberal interventionism’. It convinced him of the vital importance of Britain’s special relationship with the United States and of Britain’s key role in bringing closer together American and European policy. The success in the Balkans in 1999 moulded Blair’s thinking and did much to shape his later policies, above all on Iraq.

###The impact of the special relationship on Britain’s position in the world

Blair and the special relationship

  • Reliance on the United Nations and Europe to resolve conflicts in the Balkans had clearly failed. Blair was utterly convinced he had been right in persuading a reluctant Bill Clinton to back military intervention against Milosevic, and that it was essential to keep the United States involved in European affairs and to make full use of NATO to defend the new world order. From 1999, Blair’s ideas could be summed up as: ‘No more Srebrenicas’.

The ‘war on terror’

  • The terror attacks carried out by al-Qaeda against the United States on 11 September 2001 led to the so-called ‘war on terror’, a struggle that widened divisions between the Muslim world and the West, and within the West itself. By 2001, Blair had already established a good working relationship with Bush; they were in complete agreement about the threat from international terrorism.

  • Before 9/11, the United States had felt invulnerable from outside attack. The collapse of the Twin Towers and the simultaneous attack on Washington came as a shock. The American response was the invasion of Afghanistan, then ruled by the Taliban and providing a base of operations for Al Qaeda. A United States-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and expelled the Taliban. This seemed to show the benefits of liberal interventionism. A new democratic regime, led by Hamid Karzai, was established at Kabul but progress towards economic and political development was slow.

  • Attention was drawn towards Iraq, first the huge diplomatic effort during 2002 and then the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. For years, Iraq took centre stage and Afghanistan was neglected. In that time, the Afghan government struggled to cope with the complex political situation in Kabul; and the Taliban regrouped. In 2006 and 2007, the security situation deteriorated badly. It became necessary to send large contingents off troops to shore up Karzai’s regime.

  • The invasion of Afghanistan also led to the detention of numerous foreign fighters and to the introduction of special measures to deal with these ‘enemy combatants’. It was considered impossible to try them by normal judicial process and yet impossible to set free men who were dangerous terrorists. A special holding facility, Camp Delta, was set up near the American base at Guantanamo Bay. Men were intensively interrogated by methods that lawyers considered to be torture. Several were transported to countries like Egypt and Morocco by secret flights known as ‘extraordinary renditions; and subjected to ‘special interrogations’.

  • As news about these procedures leaked out over the next few years, criticism intensified. George W. Bush and his closest ally, Blair, became massively unpopular at home and abroad. The ideals of liberal interventionism were discredited. From 2003, the invasion of Iraq caused bitter divisions among Western nations and intense criticism of Blair because of his links to Bush.

The Iraq War

  • The First Gulf War of 1990-91 had defeated Saddam but not removed him from power. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam had been ‘contained’ by economic sanctions and by ‘no-fly zones’ enforced by NATO air patrols. Bush and his neo-conservative advisers were keen to deal with the ‘unfinished business’ of Iraq. They considered that ‘containing’ Saddam had failed and more drastic action was essential. Iraqi exiles encouraged the belief that there would be an enthusiastic welcome from the people if Saddam were to be overthrown.

  • Information from Iraqi exiles also encouraged fears of the threat Saddam might represent to the West. The first fear was that Iraq might link up with al-Qaeda and provide a new base for terrorism, like Afghanistan before 2001. The second was that Iraq might develop atomic or biological weapons, WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction). Saddam had expelled UN weapons inspection teams in 1997 and seemed to be hiding something.

  • Blair was convinced that the threat of Iraq’s WMD was real. He was desperate to ensure that no breach opened up between Europe and the United States. British policy was designed to prevent this by using diplomacy at the United Nations. Blair’s critics claimed that he knew Bush was going to invade Iraq anyway, that he agreed with Bush’s aims of regime change and was simply using UN resolutions as a way of bringing Europe round. It was argued that Blair’s efforts to be a bridge between Europe and the Americans was fatally flawed because he was so closely identified with Bush that he had no power to influence American policy at all.

  • Blair’s defenders argue that he was genuinely convinced about the dangers of WMD and that he was correct in his analysis of the need for the United States to be part of the international world order and not retreat to unilateral action or isolationism. For Blair, those who said: ‘leave it to the UN’ or ‘The Europeans are right’ had forgotten the disasters like Srebrenica in the 1990s.

  • Blair made strenuous efforts to win over his European allies by pushing for a second UN resolution. Bush and the Neo-Conservative ‘hawks’ in Washington allowed these efforts to continue but were set on invading Iraq anyway. The invasion of Iraq was launched by American forces backed by a ‘coalition of the winning’ including Britain, Poland and Italy among others. Military victory and the overthrow of Saddam came quickly but there was no neat or decisive end to the war. The occupy forces found themselves bogged down in a long struggle against the insurgents with cost estimates ranging from $801.9 bn to $3 trillion by other economists, around 4,500 US Soldiers and over 100,000 civilians killed .

  • There was intense opposition from many in Europe and in the United States who regarded it as an illegal, unnecessary war. There were no signs of WMD programmes. Establishing a new democratic government was an immensely difficult process as the war brought all the internal divisions of Iraq into the open. Violence became endemic, with suicide bombings and horrific reprisals by local militias; the violence undermined plans for economic reconstruction.

  • For a time, the British forces in Basra and southern Iraq seemed to be successful but the situation steadily deteriorated as Shia militias became more powerful. Eventually, it became too dangerous for British forces to go out on regular patrols. In 2006 and 2007, there were improvements in the security situation and in the training of Iraqi troops. Several provinces were handed over to Iraqi forces and the government in Baghdad, headed by Nouri al-Maliki, became more stable but few of the expectations when the war was launched in 2003 had been proven right. Troop reductions in Iraq were countered by the need to reinforce the British war effort in Afghanistan. The war had damaged Blair’s reputation, and that of Britain. On the other hand, a democratic government existed in Iraq instead of Saddam’s terrible dictatorship and it could still be hoped that this government might have a stable and successful future in the long term.

Britain’s position in the world by 2007

  • Britain had given strong support to efforts to mediate peace between the Palestinians and the state of Israel. Blair made notable efforts to mediate in the Middle East, both through direct diplomacy and working with the EU, especially in providing economic assistance to the Palestinian territories. He had a genuine commitment to the peace process but the Iraq War and his close relationship with Bush made it difficult for Blair to be seen as even-handed. In 1997, the ‘Quartet’ (UN, EU, US and Russia) gave Blair the role of special envoy to the Middle East.

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