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By Christopher Coker

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The issue of American support for its European allies was not resolved and was to remain a major source of conflict between the Pentagon and the State Department. It was impossible for the United States to defend Africa alone as it had tried to defend the Middle East through the Eisenhower Doctrine since the very existence of dependent territories made a unilateral declaration of principle all but impossible; and in any case such a declaration would have had little value since the United States and the countries which had already won independence could not agree as to what power or combination of powers constituted a clearly defined threat to their security.

The Conservative government which came to power in June 1970 took the Soviet threat much more seriously than its allies. The government of Edward Heath, impatient of those in NATO who refused to look beyond European security, was unwilling to abandon the Indian Ocean to the Soviet Union. At the Commonwealth Conference in 1971, he informed his colleagues that it was precisely because the Alliance was unwilling to extend its responsibilities south of the Tropic of Cancer that the United Kingdom must.

But the strategy was inordinately expensive - it meant re-equipping RAF Support Command and shifting naval priorities to fixed-wing aircraft at sea - in other words, refitting the Navy's three remaining carriers until the first generation of V/STOL cruisers entered service. Since the government was as opposed as its predecessor to building a new generation of carriers and since it is doubtful whether existing manpower could have met the requirements after the defence cuts of 1968, it must be wondered whether Mr Heath fully understood the implications of his decision to reverse Britain's withdrawal from east of Suez.

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