The Persistence of the Old Regime

British, French, and American Strategic Thinking before 1949
  • Andrew M Johnston


The postwar strategic cultures of Britain, France, and the United States were framed not just by what was militarily necessary but also by perceived differences between themselves and their prospective allies. Even as each viewed its interests as impeccably rational each interpreted others’ agendas as distorted by cultural eccentricities. When differences cropped up, they were explained by the peculiar baggage carried by others.This involved historical valuations of the place occupied by these nations: the impetuous adolescence of the United States, the aging imperial cynicism of Britain, the emotional instability of France.These refractions altered their conceptions of what was possible in NATO.As the Big Three articulated their natural strategic interests, the prospect of integration altered their conceptions of national security. The question is whether each adapted expediently to these new circumstances, or “learned” new conceptions of its security. In theoretical terms, learning internalizes a changed identity—in this case, a transnational “Atlanticist” culture to augment nationalist ones. Adaptation, on the other hand, involves a tactical shift to accommodate old identities to new conditions so as to extract a temporary advantage. When conditions change, one expects a return to “traditional” behavior. Cooperation under such conditions is fragile, unsettled by signs that adaptation is not working.


Strategic Thinking American Power Military Assistance Strategic Concept Soviet Threat 
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Copyright information

© Andrew M. Johnston 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew M Johnston
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Western OntarioLondonUK

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