The decision-making process in relation to British foreign policy, 1938-1941
The purpose of this thesis is to provide a case-study in the making of British foreign policy by relating a substantial body of historical evidence to problems raised by a comparative and analytical perspective. The particular period between Munich and the German invasion of the Soviet Union has been chosen because of its intrinsic interest and because it allows us to observe a democracy facing up to the most fundamental question of external relations, that of war or peace. The thesis focusses on the political aspects of decision-making, at three levels: the Cabinet, at the apex of the system; the press, as the most extensive of all lobbies; and public opinion, arguably the ultimate source of legitimacy in British politics. The aim is to reveal the role of domestic factors in British foreign policy, which are usually acknowledged but not dwelt upon, and thereby to peel back some layers of the complex process of causation in history. The main hinge of the thesis is therefore the argument that neither the 'logic of events', nor some self-evident rationality, explains why the British government entered and remained in the war between 1939-41. While their importance must not be exaggerated, such decision-making factors as the operation of the Cabinet and the character of public debate, also helped to determine the British position towards Germany. The other main theme of the thesis is the relative weakness of power-based explanations of decision-making. The roles of Prime Minister and Cabinet are not best described in terms of either's dominance; the press is sufficient of an insider in policy-making circles to complicate immensely any assessment of its separate influence; public opinion can barely be distinguished from the perceptions of politicians who defer to it. Some alternative interpretations are presented for the period under review; those working in different areas may find them suggestive.