of all I would like to thank John Kent for his extensive review
of my book. I feel particularly honoured by this review, since
the writings of Kent were - among the works of Robert Holland,
John Darwin and Ronald Robinson - an important inspiration that
led me to writing my book in the first place. Nonetheless, there
are several points that need further discussion. Due to lack of
space I will concentrate on two major issues. The first one is
the terminology used. According to Kent, my book aims to bring
new elements into play in 'analysing the loss of Britain's empire'.
In his next sentence, he talks of the 'abandonment of empire'.
As a matter of fact, neither the presumed 'loss'
nor the alleged 'abandonment' of Britain's empire is treated in
my book. Its aim rather is to understand the 'profound transformation
of the imperial framework' that took place after 1945 (p. 1). The
emphasis throughout the book clearly is on 'transformation', not
on 'loss' or 'abandonment'. It is crucial to point this out. Innocent
as they may seem, the words used by Kent already imply a certain
kind of explanation for what happened after 1945. Therefore they
should not be used, before the argument for doing so have been
presented in full.
Discussing use of the terms of 'loss' and 'abandonment'
by Kent is not logomachy, but crucial for any analysis of imperial
history after 1945. Only by applying a precise terminology is it
possible to solve the (alleged) riddles presented in many books
on the end of empire. If one says that Britain 'lost' her empire,
it is implied that the withdrawal from Asia, Africa and the Middle
East took place against the will of policy-makers in London. Stating
that the empire was 'abandoned', on the other hand, necessarily
leads to the conclusion that the British acted against some kind
of moral imperative: theoretically they should have stayed on,
but for some selfish reason they refused to do so.
One of the central arguments of my book is that
the Empire-Commonwealth was neither lost nor abandoned. In the
two decades after World War II, its formal part was transformed
into a very loose association of states which had little in common
but for the fact that at one point of their history, all of them
had been governed from London. The informal part of Britain's world
role underwent several redefinitions and restructurings. Nevertheless
it survived until the end of the period considered in my book (and
even beyond that date), albeit in a strongly reduced form.
The second major issue on which I disagree with
John Kent is his claim that four of the five main points of interests
to British policy-makers identified in the book did not really
matter. According to Kent, preoccupations with the containment
of communism, the securing of the special relationship with the
US, the protection of British assets overseas and the stability
of pound sterling were at best only secondary to the desire to
maintain Britain's prestige. As stands out from all discussions
in London - particularly those at Cabinet level - all five factors
were considered as interconnected and interdependent with each
other. The pursuit of prestige was never a goal in itself. Policy-makers
were rather convinced that prestige was essential for the preservation
of the other four factors constituting the basis of Britain's role
and self-understanding as a world power.
Contrary to what is said by Kent in his review,
the first consideration of policy-makers always was the relative
advantages and disadvantages of their policies. Alternatives were
conceived of, but in the case of overseas commitments, the disadvantages
of a withdrawal were generally considered to be more important
than those of staying on - despite enormous financial difficulties.
This was the central point in all discussions on Britain's role
overseas in the late 1950s and early 1960s. If policy-makers said
that the costs of losing prestige were greater than the economies
to be made by reducing overseas commitments, they did not consider
prestige as a value in itself; it was rather considered the means
that allowed Britain to play a much greater role in a bipolar world
than her strongly reduced economic and military resources would
normally have allowed her to.
By helping to maintain a strong pound sterling,
prestige allegedly even contributed to Britain's economic survival.
It is nowadays still difficult to say whether this was muddled
economics or justified strategic thinking. But as far as the author
of the book under discussion is concerned, what should interest
us most is not whether - economically speaking - policy-makers
at the time were right or wrong. The aim rather has to be to understand
why they acted the way they did. This can only be done by analysing
the co-ordinates of their mental maps (or by 'scrutinising the
There are several other points that would merit
more intensive discussion. However, entering into such arguments
is beyond the scope of this reply. But the author would be glad
to continue the discussion with John Kent in another context.