Whats in it for us? How Economics Trumped the British Defence Commitment to Singapore and Malaysia i

Venue: Singapore

Location: Singapore, Singapore

Event Date/Time: May 27, 2009
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By: Asia Research Institute, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore and The History Channel, with support from National Library Singapore and Routledge

After the Suez fiasco of 1956, successive British governments tried to live down the embarrassment of their recent past on the foreign stage. They were rarely successful in doing so. Harold Wilson, a gifted political economist with a starred First from Oxford, inherited the task of trying to resurrect British fortunes East of Suez in October 1964. Handed a massive balance of payments deficit from what had been electorally described as '13 wasted years' of Conservative rule in London, Wilson soon found himself caught between needing to keep the Pound Sterling afloat, while assisting his allies in tropical and equatorial climes with funds he could ill afford to give away.

This lecture looks at the British dilemma of the mid-1960s in Southeast Asia. Economically unsound, could the UK afford to maintain a world role even as a minor policeman once Konfrontasi had ended? And if it couldn’t, how candid was it with its friends and allies that it was considering retiring from the scene leaving both the Americans to stew in their own juices in Vietnam and newly-independent Singapore bereft of its economic protection in One-North? Would Wilson and his Cabinet colleagues choose integrity over pragmatism and put the Great back in Britain, or reveal by their manipulative behaviour that Pax Britannica was as dead as the dodo?

About the Speaker: Dr. Malcolm H. Murfett is a specialist in Late Modern British, European and Naval History and an associate professor at the NUS. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and also the associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Dr. Murfett obtained his doctorate from New College, Oxford in 1980 where he had been Principal Research Assistant to the Earl of Birkenhead working on the vast - & at that time closed - personal archive of Sir Winston Churchill. Prof Murfett has eight books to his name including Fool-proof Relations (Singapore: SUP, 1984); Hostage on the Yangtze (Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1991), In Jeopardy (London: OUP, 1995), & Between Two Oceans (Singapore: OUP, 1999). His two most recent books are: Naval Warfare 1919-1945: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009) and the forthcoming edited volume: Imponderable but Not Inevitable: Warfare in the 20th Century (Westport, Conn: Praeger Security International, 2009). Dr. Murfett is a double international, having played both cricket and hockey for Singapore, and is an Oxford blue.

Admission is free however seats are available on a first come, first served basis and requires registration. Please log in to www.historyasia.com/coldwar.

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