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Gill Bennett

Formerly Chief Historian of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Senior Editor of the FCO’s official history of postwar foreign policy, Documents on British Policy Overseas, 1995-2005. She was a Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 2002-03 and formerly Assistant Editor of Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939.

What’s the context? Opening of the Potsdam Conference, 17 July 1945

Seated in the garden of Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, Germany, L to R: British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, President Harry S. Truman, and Soviet Prime Minister Josef Stalin. L to R, behind them: Adm. William Leahy, British foreign minister Ernest Bevin, Secretary of State James Byrnes, and Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov. They are all attending the Potsdam Conference.

On 17 July 1945 the last of the great tripartite wartime conferences between the US, the UK and Russia opened at Potsdam, near Berlin. All the major issues facing the postwar world were discussed there.

What’s the context? 25 June 1950: outbreak of the Korean War

Ernest Bevin an elderly Prime Minister posing for a picture in front of a book case

The outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950 caught Western governments by surprise, despite warning signs. Western strategists had assumed that North Korea was a Soviet puppet, and that no one wanted a war.

What’s the Context? Sentencing of atomic spy Klaus Fuchs, 1 March 1950

Klaus Fuchs portrait

The conviction of atomic scientist Klaus Fuchs on 1 March 1950 for spying for the Soviet Union put a strain on Anglo-American nuclear co-operation, in the context of a broader divergence of views on foreign policy priorities.

What’s the context? Polish cryptologists reveal they have cracked the Enigma code, 26 July 1939

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The three Polish codebreakers Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski

On 26 July 1939, in a forest near Warsaw, Polish code breakers told their British colleagues how they had cracked the German Enigma code. As war against Nazi Germany approached, the meeting symbolised the importance of political, as well as intelligence co-operation in the struggle ahead.

What’s the context? 4 April 1949: signature of the North Atlantic Treaty

Map of the world with NATO member countries highlighted, which are the 29 countries of NATO

NATO remains the cornerstone of Western security. But as it celebrates its 70th birthday, it is worth remembering the part played in the negotiations by other regions such as Latin America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific.

What’s the context? 31 March 1939: the British guarantee to Poland

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Hitler and Neville Chamberlain

On 31 March 1939 Neville Chamberlain committed Britain to defending Polish independence. After years of trying to preserve peace and buy time for rearmament, he recognised that international developments and domestic opinion meant this guarantee was necessary, though it was to mean war with Germany 6 months later.

Soviet forces invade Czechoslovakia, 20 to 21 August 1968

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FOTO:FORTEPAN / Konok Tamás id

This is not the action of strong ‘expansionist’ leaders, but of frightened men reacting indecisively to a situation which they judged to be crucially dangerous, but with which they did not know how to deal.[i] On the night of Tuesday, …

What’s the context? George Brown resigns as Foreign Secretary, 15 March 1968

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Portrait of George Brown looking down

Recalling those days one is not only impressed, but almost oppressed, with the sense of how many issues we were faced with and had to handle at the same time.[i] When George Brown stormed out of Downing St in the …

What’s the context? The resignation of Anthony Eden, 20 February 1938

On Sunday, 20 February 1938, after two days of fraught Cabinet discussion, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain that he must resign rather than agree to enter into early talks with the Italian government led by Mussolini. …