In a class of his own, with a touch of finesse: what modern day politicians could learn from Lord Carrington.

Lord Carrington, one of the last surviving British politicians to have served in the Second World War, was the oldest member of the House of Lords at the time of his death

(Image: Getty Images)

Louise Clare (University of Manchester)

Lord Peter Carrington, who passed away on 9th July, 2018, remained for the rest of his life after 1982 most commonly associated with resignation. As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary Carrington’s watch oversaw the 2nd April 1982 disembarkation of Argentine troops onto the Falkland Islands, an invasion which led to a war that he took the responsibility for not spotting.

Regardless of the fact that many in Britain thought that the Islands were located somewhere off the coast of Scotland prior to April 1982, the modal perception has always been that Carrington and the Foreign Office misjudged the Argentines, were caught off guard, and thus unaware of any impending action. In the immortal words of The Times, Carrington and the Foreign Office were accused of attempting to ‘sell the [Falkland] islanders down the River Plate’, not least through various leaseback proposals to Argentina over the Islands’ sovereignty.[1]

Those proposals had already culminated in Foreign Office Minister Nicholas Ridley being savaged in the House of Commons in December 1980, to the extent that: ‘[…] Mr. Ridley was left in no doubt that whatever Machiavellian intrigues he and the Foreign Office may be up to, they will come to nothing if they involve harming a hair on the heads of the islanders.’[2] It was true that the Falklands featured as number 242 on the Foreign Office’s priority list and that Carrington had described the Falklands matter as being “‘trivial beyond belief’”.[3]

Nevertheless, Carrington’s understanding of the complexity of the situation at the time was more often than not underestimated, and continues to be so. Little mention is made of his and British Ambassador to Argentina, Anthony Williams’ warnings about impending Argentine action, even though the Falkland Islands Review Report of 1983 in the aftermath of the War revealed concerns that had been expressed as early as May 1981.[4] In October 1981, Williams had issued a chilling warning that the Falklands issue was ‘a political time bomb- with the fuse in Argentine hands and only too likely to reach explosion point in 1983/84’.[5]  Failure to act, Williams suggested and Carrington endorsed, was because of political reasons and the power of the Falkland Islands Lobby at the time, not the Foreign Office’s underestimation of the potential severity of the situation.

Crucial to the Argentine misperceptions of British disinterest in the Islands was Defence Minister John Nott’s 1981 defence cuts, and the planned withdrawal of British ice-breaker HMS Endurance. As early as June 1981, Carrington had spotted HMS Endurance’s symbolic significance and had minuted Nott stating ‘any reduction would be interpreted by both Islanders and the Argentines as a reduction in our commitment to the Islands and in our willingness to defend them, and would attract strong criticism from supporters of the Islanders in the United Kingdom’.[6] Further warnings followed but Carrington ended up being the one who was overruled despite sending minutes to Nott throughout 1981 and 1982.

Carrington saw the threat as real even if he did not see the Falklands as a realistic part of the Realpolitik game in the late Cold War era. Despite this record of Foreign Office warnings, it was Carrington who resigned when the crisis broke and the Foreign Office who bore the blame for ‘missing’ the signals about Argentine intentions, which had partly been induced by Nott’s cuts.       

Peter Carrington’s death at the age of nighty- nine brings this history once again to the fore.  His previous embroilment in the Crichel Down Affair did not overshadow his later career nor his ability in the subsequent posts he held. But, on this occasion, his resignation over the Falklands Crisis was a matter of honour and principle. Carrington’s adeptness in his field allowed him to assess the complexities and intricacies of Anglo-Argentine negotiations, alerting him to Argentine intentions early on. He listened to the advice of his experienced diplomatic staff, clearly taking their views into account whilst forming his assessment. His labelling as a ‘wet’ in Mrs. Thatcher’s Cabinet did not impede the Prime Minister from recognising his talents in this field. Indeed, Carrington was not in the Conservative Cabinet by birth right, or what in the present might take the form of window dressing or box-ticking to help explain some cabinet positions. As previous Prime Ministers had, Thatcher recognised Carrington’s merits, many of which politicians today from across the Houses could learn and borrow from.

The resignation of Carrington was not accompanied with a fanfare- there was no real or prolonged scandal to be conceived. Unlike many of our career-driven modern day politicians, Peter Carrington did not allow the matter of honour to be conceded to career ambitions. One of the war-time generation, he did not shirk his ministerial duties, nor did he pass the buck or shy away. He bore the blame for the crisis which he had warned repeatedly of on numerous occasions. His merits and matter of principle and honour were rewarded when he was made Secretary General of NATO. Despite later unsuccessful mediation attempts regarding Yugoslavia, his negotiator and non-aggressive style allowed his contribution to this field to continue.



[1] Penelope Tremayne, Letters to the Editor, ‘Sovereignty of the Falklands’, The Times, 8th December 1980,  1.

[2] Hugh Hoyes, The Times’ Parliamentary Correspondent, ‘Commons is united by suspicion of Ridley’, 3rd December 1980,  4.

[3] Peter Beck, The Falkland Islands as an international problem (London: Routledge, 1988), 7.

[4] Falkland Islands Review-Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, Chairman: The Right Honourable The Lord Franks, OM, GCMG, KCB, CBE (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1983), 24.

[5] Margaret Thatcher Foundation, ‘Falklands: UK Ambassador to Buenos Aires letter to Fearn (“Falkland Islands Strategy”) [“In effect, as I understand it, the decision is to have no strategy at all beyond a general Micawberism”]’, 2nd October 1981; available online at <; (viewed 31st May 2017.)

[6] Margaret Thatcher Foundation, ‘Falklands: Carrington minute to Nott (“Defence Programme”) [comment on HMS Endurance: “Any reduction [in UK Defence presence in Falklands] would be interpreted by both the Islanders and the Argentines as a reduction in our commitment to the Islands and in our willingness to defend them”]’, 5th June 1981, available online at <> (viewed 8th June 2017.)

The Philippines in the Cold War: lessons for today

(Image Credit: CC by Wikimedia Commons)

Elliot Newbold  (University of Nottingham)

In May 1947, Paul V. McNutt returned to the United States following his resignation as first US ambassador to the newly independent Philippines. Travelling by way of South Asia and Europe, McNutt reflected on his time in the islands in a memorandum circulated across the State Department. Musing on the significance of American policy in the archipelago, he suggested a ‘lack of appreciation and understanding of our relations to the Philippines’ amongst the decolonizing world. Within an atmosphere of heightening ideological tension and growing calls for self-determination, McNutt stressed the need for a concerted public campaign across Asia and the wider world to educate and enlighten dependent peoples as to the benefits of being in the American orbit.

McNutt’s implication – that the world was watching the Philippines – appeared particularly prescient given the amount of interest in the islands’ independence. Western powers like Britain viewed Philippine freedom ruefully, conscious of the implications it could have for galvanising resistance to Western rule in Asia. Postcolonial elites like Burma’s (now Myanmar) U Saw or India’s Jawaharlal Nehru looked on with congratulation and contempt. Indeed, the principal point of attack from America’s emergent rival, the Soviet Union, was that the promise of modernity bestowed upon the Philippines was a sham, and the virtues of communism as a developmental project offered a remedy to the exploitative doctrines of capitalism and Western imperialism.

This brief article examines the ways US policymakers like McNutt constructed and contested Philippine independence against competing local, colonial, and international voices. It uses as its axis what is now referred to as public diplomacy, an attempt to purvey a certain narrative or image that aids and informs wider policymaking decisions. It focuses on the administration of Harry S. Truman, and probes attempts by US officials to win friends and influence people in the Cold War battle for hearts and minds by projecting positive images of Philippine freedom across the globe. It ends with reflections on this policy’s contemporary relevance to US-Philippine relations, and asks whether the relationship between the two countries could be fractured by an isolated America and an increasingly assertive Asia.

Philippine Freedom: A Global Moment

After independence on 4 July 1946, Philippine freedom reverberated around the world. American officials were keen to capture a feeling of congratulation and translate it into tangible support for US policy. After all, the legitimacy of colonial control was fast eroding, and the United States was keen to be on the right side of the debate, if only to quell suggestions that America itself was acting imperiously. In this sense, the Philippines held an important place in the United States’ burgeoning decolonisation policy.

Since independence, the Philippines has maintained a consistent and compact fraternity with its former coloniser. Today, this alliance remains predominantly cordial, despite the pressures of new global struggles like the War on Terror threatening to open the fissures of dissent.

Already considered as a bastion of American engagement with Asia throughout the US colonial regime, Philippine independence was envisioned as a unique opportunity to demonstrate the benignity of American policy in dealing with dependent peoples. Propaganda efforts, including news reels, public meetings, radio interviews and state visits, were broadcast in America, the Philippines, and across Asia. They attempted to highlight the universality of American policy towards dependent peoples, and presented Filipinos as being overwhelmingly grateful for the gift of independence.

Despite the Truman administration projecting positive images of independence across the globe, understandings of Philippine freedom were not static, and remained intimately connected with the emergence of a global Cold War. Indeed, competing and contradictory images of Philippine independence developed in America, internationally, and within the Philippines itself.

Other imperial powers like Britain viewed Philippine independence with smug satisfaction. One British diplomat sent to witness the inauguration ceremony privately reported the Philippines were independent ‘in name’ only. Other powers took a publicly more caustic tone. Having refused to recognise the new republic, Pravda (the official newspaper of the Soviet state and a vital propaganda organ of the Kremlin) released an article belittling Philippine independence and suggesting America had manufactured the nation’s liberty to further its own imperial ambitions. American policymakers were not blind to such slurs. In Congress, debates over the cost of Philippine rehabilitation clashed with other pressing priorities like aiding Europe, as fears over communist expansion in Asia produced brazen anxieties as to the future of the Philippines without American assistance.

In the Philippines, the most visceral pronunciation of opposition to US visions of independence came from the Hukbalahap. Formed during World War II as a peasant-led defence against the Imperial Japanese Army, the Huks were a physical manifestation of popular Filipino frustration with the course of independence. Headed by Luis Taruc, a long-time labour organiser and influential member of the Philippine Communist Party (PKP), the Huks punctured positive affirmations of independence constructed by the Truman administration by playing active roles in the islands’ democratic process.

Participating in the 1946 election, Huk candidates made positive showings in the rural heartlands of Central Luzon, where Taruc himself was elected on a platform of land redistribution and agrarian reform. Yet, the group’s apparent connection with revolutionary socialism was enough to concern US diplomats like McNutt, who worked with then presidential candidate Manuel A. Roxas to publicly smear Huk candidates. Ultimately, however, this campaign had its own drawbacks, besmirching the image of America as a neutral arbiter of democracy in Asia and pushing the Huks closer to armed rebellion.

The Philippine-American Relationship Today: Lessons from the Past

In many ways, it is hard to deny the contemporary relevance of America’s Cold War policy towards the Philippines. Indeed, the tone that has captured the “special relationship” between the two countries after independence has been predicated on ideas of informal influence, the crucible of which was formed during the Truman administration’s attempts to ensure Philippine compliance in the Cold War. Since independence, the Philippines has maintained a consistent and compact fraternity with its former coloniser. Today, this alliance remains predominantly cordial, despite the pressures of new global struggles like the War on Terror threatening to open the fissures of dissent. This paradoxically tense and tender relationship was openly played out in 2014, when then US President Barack Obama heralded the ‘deep partnership’ between the Philippines and United States through an unwavering commitment to shared principles of democracy and international security, all whilst protesters burned effigies of the visiting President and demanded immediate emancipation from the yolk of US imperialism.

Of course, only time will tell what the future has in store for US-Philippine diplomacy. Yet, for many observers, the frustrated foreign policy of President Donald J. Trump presents one possibility for eroding public confidence. Under Trump, the US is pulling back from the forefront of Asia. Concerns over trade, immigration, and international cooperation have coalesced around his insistent rhetoric of ‘America first’, and US withdrawal from large, transnational trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership certainly suggests an isolationist retreat. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent speechat the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China acknowledged this sense of diminished leadership, where he pushed for his country to take up the mantle of global leadership in the face of a reengaging America and an ever more assertive Asia. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte has made repeated overtures towards realigning with China, as well as stressing the need for an ‘independent’ foreign policy free from the guiding hand of America.

Whatever these developments could mean for the future of American engagement with Asia, US policymakers would certainly do well to remember the power of public diplomacy if they are to successfully capture the imagination of Asian peoples in today’s fractious, multi-polar world.

Elliot Newbold is a PhD candidate in the Department of American & Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a two-time recipient of the Institute of Asia & Pacific Studies (IAPS) Tomlinson Scholarship. His research focuses on the US decolonisation of the Philippines. He also works as an editor at IAPS Dialogue, where he often contributes articles. He tweets @enewbold1992. A revised version of this article appeared on the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, and can be found here

*This article was originally published on

Patterns of the Past

China imposes new tariffs on US products

(Image: Reuters)

Tom Harper (University of Surrey)

The increasingly confrontational relationship between China and the United States has become one of the most pressing issues of the current international order, something that has become increasingly apparent with the more confrontational approach of the Trump administration.  This has been characterised by a rising China seeking to challenge American hegemony, which has been perceived as being in a state of decline.  Such a notion invokes the logic of the Great Power rivalries of the twentieth century.  The current status of the increased Sino-American competition has been dominated by the logic from three geopolitical experiences, which have been applied to chart the course of this rivalry with mixed results.

Continue reading “Patterns of the Past”