Permanent Under Secretary’s Steering Committee, Review Committee on Overseas Representation: The basic assumptions, 14 October 1968

Foreign Office paper endorsed by the Foreign Secretary and circulated for information. “The basic aims of our overseas policy are peace, prosperity and freedom for Britain. They are not divisible. International instability prejudices our prosperity as well as our freedom… The scene for the conduct of external policy has been revolutionised not only by sophisticated weapons but also by sophisticated information media. Wars now take place on the television screens in back parlours throughout Britain. Governments need to keep both their own and their public’s nerves. In Britain retreat from Empire deeply colours our thinking on external policy. In theory we could perhaps seek to pull up the drawbridge and settle down to a quietly comfortable existence. In practice we cannot do this because we are 55 million in a small island with far too few resources. 90% of our raw materials and 50% of our food come from abroad. This makes us particularly vulnerable to the outside world both economically and politically. This vulnerability intensifies our interest in stability and peaceful change”.

“Economic interests…. The balance of Britain’s economic interests is shifting towards the Atlantic/European area. But, as a trading nation living by our trading efforts internationally, we shall continue to have substantial (though probably proportionately diminishing) economic interests in the rest of the world, with which we still do 32% of our visible trade and in which there are large investments of British capital (particularly in Africa, Australasia and the Persian Gulf). In terms of individual countries outside the Atlantic/European area, South Africa and Australia are of particular economic importance. Economic growth and the restoration and maintenance of surplus in or balance of payments to repay our immense debts is the primary objective. This will depend on outselling our competitors not only in the developed world but in potential markets wherever they may be”.

“Overall objectives… In sum, the primary aims of British foreign policy for the next decades seem likely to be to provide for our security by the maintenance of the Atlantic alliance (and to maintain our credibility as an ally); fostering conditions favourable to British industry, technology and trade, directly through the promotion of exports and indirectly through support for closer international economic, financial and commercial cooperation; the creation of a more cohesive and stronger Europe particularly through British membership of EEC [sic]; keeping European and American policies in harmony; and strengthening the Commonwealth, the United Nations and other international groupings to which we belong. Our broad aims also include reducing East/West tension; promoting disarmament and arms control; assisting (as a matter of long term enlightened self interest) the economic development of developing countries, especially those which are or can be expected to become important sources of raw materials or important markets for British goods and services; and ameliorating North-South relations. We are no longer a global power with automatic commitments throughout the world. Our strength is still great. It has not diminished in absolute terms but only relatively to the Super Powers [sic].”

Outside the European/Atlantic area UK interests are “shifting increasingly to the commercial and economic fields, subject to the special responsibilities we have to Commonwealth countries, particularly in their early years”.


National Archives: FCO49/23