Abstract

This article seeks to explore the background to the Wilson Government's decisions of 1967‐68 to pull back British forces from South East Asia and leave the Singapore base. It challenges assumptions that this was a reluctant step on the part of several Labour ministers, who some have alleged were wedded to a sentimental and romantic attachment to a British ‘world power’ role. Instead, by analysing official thinking behind the creation of Malaysia in 1963, and tracing back to the previous Conservative administration important continuities in attitudes toward South East Asian commitments and the necessity for cut‐backs, the article argues that the most important inhibitor on early British withdrawal was the Malaysia‐Indonesia confrontation, and the related desire of the United States to see Britain retain a presence in the region. Once in office, Labour ministers were prepared to see British forces withdraw when conditions were right, and after the summer of 1966, with the end of the confrontation and American attitudes having become more resigned to British departure, the way was clear for the key decisions to be taken.

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