Repeating past mistakes? The British withdrawal and return ‘East of Suez’

Why did Britain withdraw from its major military bases in the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia midway through the Cold War? Existing accounts tend to focus on Britain’s weak economic position, as well as the domestic political incentives of retrenchment for the ruling Labour Party. The speaker offers an alternative explanation: the strategic rationale for retaining a permanent presence ‘East of Suez’ dissolved during the 1960s, as policymakers realised that large military bases were consuming more security than they could generate. These findings have resonance for British officials charting a return ‘East of Suez’ today under the banner of ‘Global Britain’.
Dr William James is the Transatlantic Defence Research Fellow at CCW. His research centres on grand strategy, international security, alliance politics, as well as British foreign and defence policy since 1940. William holds a DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford (his thesis was assessed by Professor Neil MacFarlane and Professor John Bew). Prior to joining CCW, William was based in the United States as a research fellow at MIT’s Security Studies Program and Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He retains a link to the United States through a non-residential Hans J. Morgenthau fellowship with the University of Notre Dame. One of William’s goals is to produce academically rigorous research which is accessible and useful for policymakers. He has submitted written evidence to two parliamentary inquiries on British foreign policy and is part of the Bridging the Gap initiative in the United States. His work has been published in The RUSI Journal, The UK in a Changing Europe, War on the Rocks, The Journal of Strategic Studies, International Affairs, and The National Interest.