Debate on Despatch of British Troops to Jordan.



Debate on Despatch of British Troops to Jordan.
Keesing's Record of World Events (formerly Keesing's Contemporary Archives),
Volume XI, August, 1958 United Kingdom, British, Page 16358
© 1931-2006 Keesing's Worldwide, LLC - All Rights Reserved.
Debate on Despatch of British Troops to Jordan.- Labour Party
opposes Government's Decision.
A hastily-arranged debate was held on July 17 as a result of the Government's decision to dispatch British forces
to Jordan in response to the appeal by King Hussein. In a preliminary statement to the House, Mr. Macmillan
explained that “within a matter of minutes” after the ending of the previous day's debate he had received a
telegram from the British Charge d'Affaires in Amman containing a request from King Hussein and the Jordanian
Prime Minister for the immediate dispatch of British forces. Mr. Macmillan continued:
“In making this request, the King and the Prime Minister said that Jordan was faced with an imminent attempt by
the United Arab Republic to create internal disorder and to overthrow the present regime, on the pattern of
recent events in Iraq. They went on to say that Jordan's territorial integrity was threatened by the movement of
Syrian forces towards her northern frontier and by infiltration of arms across it. They had information that a coup
organized by the U.A.R. would be attempted today. I asked the Cabinet to meet late last night to consider this
“From our own sources we had received up-to-date intelligence which clearly showed that the apprehensions of
the Jordan Government were well founded, and that an attempt was indeed being organized for today. The
Government accordingly decided to accede to the request, and British forces are being sent by air to Jordan
from Cyprus. The purpose of this military assistance is to stabilize the situation in Jordan by helping the Jordanian
Government to resist aggression and threats to the integrity and independence of their country… The Jordan
Government have made a similar request for help to the U.S. Government, who are considering it urgently in the
light of their other commitments in the area.
“H. M. Government's decision was taken after full consultation with the U.S. Government, and our action has the
full support and approval of the U.S. Government. The decision of H.M. Government is being reported to the
United Nations. We are making it clear to the U.N. that will if arrangements can be made by the Security
Council to protect the lawful Government of Jordan from the external threat and so maintain international peace
and security, the action which we have taken will be brought to an end. We have informed the other
Commonwealth countries, and also the North Atlantic Council, of the action we have taken and the reasons
which have led to the Government's decision.”
In opening the debate, the Prime Minister said that he had hoped on the previous evening that the situation in
Jordan, critical and threatening though it appeared, could be held stable for a further period which would have at
least allowed the Foreign Secretary to complete his consultations in Washington; events, however, had moved
too fast.
Mr. Macmillan continued: “I will tell the House exactly what happened. It was only five minutes before I ended
my speech in the debate last night that my private secretary was told that an urgent telegram had arrived from
Amman. A copy of it, decoded and in manuscript, was given to me as I was about to go home. This was the first
I heard of the appeal for help.
“I immediately summoned a Cabinet meeting… The Chiefs of Staff and the Service Ministers were present, and
our final conclusions were reached after a discussion of nearly three hours, during which there were some
adjournments and I had to make two communications by telephone to Washington.”
After announcing that some 2,000 men of the Parachute Brigade were being flown to Jordan, the Prime Minister
went on: “Legally there could be no doubt that the Government were absolutely justified in acceding to the
Jordanian request. Morally they were bound in honour to go to the help of a small friendly country which they
had helped so much in the past. The situations in Lebanon and in Jordan were similar, although not identical. In
both cases legitimate friendly Governments requested military assistance from their friends to enable them to
preserve their independence and integrity. In each case these small countries were threatened with an aggression
organized from outside and from the same source…
“What was different in Lebanon was that subversive forces had brought about a situation approaching civil war,
whereas in Jordan the atmosphere was outwardly calm. In Lebanon the situation had already been brought to the
notice of the U.N., whose observer groups were in position; but in Jordan no such appeal had been made. The
threat to the Lebanon was imminent and growing, but perhaps somewhat of a general character. In Jordan there
was precise information of a definite plot whose foreign authors had ordered it into operation today. This was the
information which the Jordanian Government communicated to Britain last night, and of which the Government
had independent corroboration from various sources.
“When I told the House yesterday that we had evidence of subversion and foreign intervention in Lebanon. I
asked the House to accept my word. The information we had has been largely confirmed by a broadcast from
Baghdad Radio announcing the revolution in Jordan. This is what it said: ‘A revolution has started in Iraq and one
in Lebanon, and tomorrow another revolution will start in Jordan.’ It was in the light of this that we had to make
our decision last night. What were we to do? Appeal to the United Nations? That would not have stopped a plot
so confidently predicted by Baghdad Radio. Shrugged our shoulders and passed by, saying ‘It is not our affair’?
“An appeal is being made to the United Nations by the Jordan Government asking the [Security] Council
immediately to consider a complaint by… Jordan of interference in its domestic affairs by the United Arab
Republic. We, in a similar manner to that adopted by our American allies after taking emergency action, are
reporting our action to the U.N., suggesting proposals for the future. On moral grounds it seems to me that the
position is absolutely clear, and I hope it will be accepted by the House. Whatever criticism may be made against
our action. I do not believe that it could be held to be either illegal or dishonourable.
“The difficulties are very great in these decisions. The difficulty is not a moral or a legal one; it is a practical one.
The House will understand the military difficulties of sending troops to the aid of a country which has no port
immediately accessible and then supplying them when they are there. There was also the obvious doubt, to which
Members drew attention yesterday, about what the future would hold. The arguments of convenience in favour
of doing nothing were certainly very strong. Some Members took the view that military action may produce a
temporary advantage but would in the long run be sterile or even positively harmful. But the immediate result of
refusing this request may well have been the overthrow of another small independent country, in addition to the
melancholy list of such States which have suffered this fate in our lifetime.
“With the end of Jordanian independence, what other countries in the Arab world could have maintained their
freedom? I don't believe that Members on either side of the House really wish to see a dictatorship in the name
of Arab nationalism stretching across the broad lands of the Middle East. To preserve Jordanian independence is
perhaps a limited objective, but there is reason to hope that by achieving this aim we may at least reassure other
independent Arab countries.
“In making this decision, the Government were heartened by the assurances I received last night from the U.S.
Secretary of State, who assured us that the action we were contemplating would have the full moral support of
the United States. Furthermore, the U.S.A. undertook, as an earnest of their good will and to assist the
Jordanian Government to combat aggression, to send today a reconnaissance flight over Jordan to precede the
landing of our troops…
“It may be asked—and of course it is a question which I and my colleagues had to ask ourselves—in whose
interests we were intervening. It may be said that this revolutionary movement should be allowed to take over
Jordan, as well as Iraq and perhaps other States, one after the other, and then make terms with it. That is the
question which we examined fully yesterday. It is a question of which is the prudent course, and the wise one.
“The arguments for standing aside and doing nothing would be different if this movement were for genuine,
popular, and constitutional change. But this is not a genuine evolutionary change. It is part of the pattern of
conspiracy and subversion of which we have not only evidence but, in territories in which we are responsible,
actual experience. What the future will be I cannot tell, but I think it could not be worse than if we had just stood
aside and hoped for the best. We must face the problem as a practical one and as a moral one. It is not right to
abandon one's friends in time of trouble. It is not right to turn a blind eye to the fate of independent nations,
however small they may be.
“Of course, we would have been far better pleased if all this could be left—as perhaps it may ultimately and, we
trust—to the protecting hand of the United Nations. That indeed was the original concept of the Security
Council, with its Military Committee and forces at its command, when it was planned to be the instrument for
preserving the peace of the world and preventing this kind of thing from happening. But, alas, as things now are,
this is the problem which presents itself and which we have to face. If we or other countries do not immediately
act, then it may well be that the U.N. can only act too late…”
Turning to the position of the Arab Union between Iraq and Jordan, Mr. Macmillan said. ‘I should make it clear
that it is to the Kingdom of Jordan that we are sending our help in this time of need. The Leader of the
Opposition warned me very fairly yesterday that I could not assume that the Opposition would support the
despatch of British forces to Jordan to suppress a revolt in Iraq. This is certainly not the purpose of the small
force we have sent. It may be argued that by helping at the center, Jordanian forces may be released for
operations further afield. I can only reply that, whatever the future may bring. I think Members should have
regard to the logistical and practical implications involved.
“Our purpose is a simple one and a clear one, to prevent this system of conspiracy and aggression from involving
Jordanian territory, and to stop it from such successes. In making their request, the Jordanian King and
Government said they had no intention that British troops should be used to release Jordanian forces to attack
Iraq. That obligation remains with them, and it is upon that basis that we have decided to send our help.
“I have tried to give the House a clear picture of why we acted as we did when we took this decision in the early
hours of this morning. It is the most difficult decision I, personally, ever remember having to take or be
associated with. I do not know whether we shall succeed in our limited objective. I cannot predict the future
course of events. All the same, I believe we had no option in what we have done, and I am confident in the moral
justification of our action. I believe the House and the country will endorse it.”
The Leader of the Opposition, who followed, said that the House was confronted with a much graver situation
than existed on the previous day, for three reasons: (1) intervention by Western forces had been extended to
Jordan; (2) British troops had become involved; and (3) there had been a reaction from the Soviet Union.
Mr. Galtskeil said that a good case could no doubt be made for the right of a Government to go to the assistance
of another Government which believed itself threatened with internal subversion or external aggression. There
might also be circumstances in which, in the event of an armed attack, it was right for allies of the country
attacked to go to its aid before the matter reached the Security Council. He had serious doubts, however,
whether Article 51 of the U.N. Charter [providing for the right of self defence or collective defence against
armed attack] could legitimately be invoked in the present case. Mr. Gaitakell continued:
“If other Governments in other circumstances are to treat the obligation of prior reference to the Security
Council, except in the case of armed attack, as a matter of no importance, it seriously undermines the whole bais
of the Charter and the idea of inter national law and order. Was it necessary that before the complaint by Jordan
had been considered by the Security Council, the Government felt so compelled to take action!…
“The Prime Minister referred to the aim of preventing something from happening in Jordan which had happened
in Iraq. What happened in Iraq was that the army took control and made a revolution. The basic fact was the
inability of the Iraqi Government to rely on its army. Are we to understand that it was the belief of the British
Government that King Hussein could not rely on his army. If he could rely on it, was the danger of a coup so
urgent that we had, in advance of the Security Council discussion, to send our forces in. If it was so urgent
because the King could not rely on his army, are we not involving ourselves in a dangerous position!…
“The Government of Jordan is not a democratic Government. It is a form of dictatorship. At the moment it is
friendly to us because it feels threatened. Not long ago it was not so friendly. It bundled us out and denounced
the (Anglo-Jordanian) Treaty. On available evidence, it is hard to believe it was necessary to send troops in
before there was any visible sign of attack across the frontier. It is not so much the legality of the decision we
question as the wisdom… We are sending our forces to an area with which there is no clear line of
communication. The only direct contact is by air…rsquo;
After raising the question of overflying by British planes across Israel, and asking what the position was in this
matter, Mr. Gaitskell continued. Is it contemplated that our forces will stay indefinitely in this bridgehead where
they have been sent to preserve the existing Government of Jordan! Is it contemplated that we should have so
stabilized the position that it would be possible to withdraw them! Does the Government imagine that we shall be
able to withdraw, leaving behind a stable, democratic, pro Western Government in Jordan! I find it hard to
imagine that such a prospect is in any way real if we confine our activities to Jordan alone… Suppose King
Hussein decides to advance into Iraq, is it suggested that we could then withdraw our troops!…”
Referring to the Pan-Arab movement, Mr. Gaitskell said. “Whatever may be said against the methods adopted
by the revolutionaries, none of us can deny that no other movement in the Arab countries commands any popular
support whatever. I wish it were not so, but I do not think one can dismiss the activities of the revolutionaries as
a kind of artificial intervention in the affairs of the Arab States. We have to recognize the strong desire of these
Arab peoples for unity. I do not believe this necessarily involves the domination of a dictator. That remains to be
seen, but that this tremendous desire and force exists, and is a real factor in the situation, cannot be denied.”
Mr. Gaitskell continued: “The attitude of the Soviet Union cannot be ignored. They have made a declaration in
fairly general terms that they cannot be indifferent to what is taking place. Soviet manoeuvres on the Persian
frontier have been announced… The Prime Minister may be right in saying that it is a temptation to do nothing,
but it can be a temptation to act too soon and too precipitously. As the days go by and the danger of a clash
between Jordanian and Iraqi forces, and beyond them Western and Russian forces, advances, I beg the
Government to pause and consider seriously even now whether it would not be better to try to talk to the Soviet
Union about this situation. I know it may be said we will get nothing out of it, but if I am in any way right, if the
danger exists, it is so colossal that we dare not avoid any possibility of averting it.
“I know these matters are being considered by the Seeurity Council, but I do not believe these discussions are
enough. More than ever how some kind of summit conference is needed. I ask the Government to consider this
and bear it in mind in the coming days.
“I have tried, as yesterday, to put our apprehensions soberly and calmly. Believe me, they are very real and what
has happened in the last 24 hours has caused us very grave concern. We gave our warnings yesterday. We
expressed our fears, and it seems to us that those fears to some extent are already justified. For those reasons
we regard this latest move of the Government, however sincerely taken, as fraught with the gravest risks both to
our own interests and the peace of the world.”
Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe pointed out that Israel would have been completely isolated if the revolt in Jordan
had succeeded, he added that he could not see the logic of the Opposition's argument that Pan Arabism was “all
right provided it is led by Nasser but all wrong if it is led by King Hussein.” Mr. Silverman described the
Anglo-American actions in Lebanon and Jordan as “almost lunatic in their irresponsibility,” while Mr.
Wedgwood Benn said that the long-term effect of sending British troops to Amman would be the exacerbation
of Arab feelings against the West, the strengthening of the Communist position in that part of the world. Major
Legge-Bourl said that what Britain, the U.S.A., and the free world were doing was to ensure that both the Arab
States and Israel would live at peace in the future, they would not do so for long unless those who were friendly
to the West were given some encouragement.
Mr. Aneurin Bevan, who followed, strongly criticized the despatch of British troops to Amman, describing
Jordan as a “kept country” and King Hussein as a “kept king.”
Mr. President Bevan said! “… Here is a revolution started from outside surreptitiously, organized clandestinely,
and then announced over the radio. Having been given notice that it was going to happen, King Hussein is such a
popular monarch that he cannot deal with it. It is a grotesque situation. Are we to conclude that the King of
Jordan is in such a weak position that, although he is told before hand that there is going to be an uprising in his
country, his own forces are inadequate to deal with it. There is no evidence here of outside intervention, unless
by ‘outside’ is meant Baghdad…
“Why should the lives of British soldiers be risked in Jordan to maintain King Hussein on his throne against the
wishes of his own people? We cannot have it said that we are putting people into the Army, Navy and Air Force
to intervene gratuitously in various parts of the world where we are asked to send our boys to support some
tottering government or some ancient throne. It was only two years ago that Hussein asked us to leave because
our absence would strengthen him. The fact of the matter is that Jordan is a kept country and King Hussein is a
kept king, and has been kept for many years. Now that a revolution has occurred in Baghdad, his resources
have been cut off, and therefore no-one would be surprised if he found there was a reason for us to go back
“We consider our troops have been placed in unnecessary jeopardy, that the interests of the people of Britain
will not be served by what the Government have done, and that they may have taken a long step towards
plunging this country into war. In circumstances of that sort, it is impossible for the Opposition to do any other
than its duty and ask the House to divide.”
The final speech was made by the Prime Minister, who replied to the debate.
Mr. Macmillan replied as follows to Mr. Gaitskell's question about British overflying over Israel: “In view of the
urgency, a small advance party was dispatched from Cyprus as soon as possible after the Government's decision
was taken. It was landed in Jordan after obtaining clearance to fly over Israel territory from the local aircontrol
authority. For the main body of the force, permission to fly over the territory was obtained at governmental level.
It is true that the Israeli Government thought it right to register a complaint about the clearance of the small party
without complete governmental authority, but the same letter conveyed its permission without any qualification.”
The Prime Minister continued: “At the end of his speech Mr. Gaitskell made some suggestions in a very helpful
spirit, to which I will try to make some provisional reply. I do not myself believe that anything that has happened
has reduced the possibilities of trying to get some kind of agreement with the Soviet authorities. It certainly has
not reduced my wish to have a summit meeting on the lines I have so often explained—reasonably prepared, and
likely to be effective in at least some measure; and I must candidly add that I do not think that anything that has
happened will make it less likely that we shall be able to achieve this purpose.
“In all the speeches, especially by the Leader of the Opposition, stress has been laid on the dangers of the action
taken by the Government. Of course there are dangers in this action. If there were not, it would not have been so
difficult to make this decision. But I would deny that this is in itself a reason why we should not have taken it,
because in all these matters we have to weigh one set of dangers against another. I am bound to say that I
thought Mr. Gaitskell and some others addressed themeselves to the dangers that would result from our action,
and not sufficiently to the dangers which would result from doing nothing. There would be dangers—and this
impresses me most—in letting things slide; and, many think—for we cannot altogether disregard it—the danger
of dishonour in not acceding to this request.
“Mr. Gaitskell does not wish to divide the nation, and the debates have been so conducted as to achieve that
purpose in the main. But if we do not wish to divide the nation, why is it necessary to divide the House!
Yesterday the Opposition did not divide the House when the United States took action in parallel, though not
identical, circumstances in Lebanon with the full support of Britain. Today it is thought necessary to divide the
House when it is our own country which has acted with the full support of the United States. May I ask this
question: if it is not right to vote against America, why is it right to vote against Britain!”
The Opposition forced a division on the motion for the adjournment (on which the debate was held) to signify
their disapproval of the Government's action in sending forces to Jordan; the Government's policy was upheld by
314 votes to 251, five Liberals voting with the Opposition. Mr. George Brown, the Opposition front-bench
spokesman on defence matters, abstained from voting, while two other Labour members—Mr. Christopher
Boyd and Mr. Leslie Lever—also abstained under the party's “conscience” clause. Unlike Mr. Boyd and Mr.
Lever, Mr. Brown had not previously informed the party Whips of his intention to abstain.
At a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee of the Labour Party, held on July 21, Mr. Brown made a personal
statement on the reasons which had led him to abstain from voting after the debate of July 17; it was understood
that he had offered to resign from the “Shadow Cabinet” but that his colleagues had unanimously declined to
accept this offer. A statement was issued saying that note had been taken of the circumstances in which Mr.
Brown had felt it necessary to abstain, and of “the fact that this action had been influenced by Mr. Brown's
personal knowledge of many of the personalities who had been killed in the recent happenings in Iraq.” (Mr.
Brown had lately visited Iraq and was personally acquainted with General Nuri es-Said and other members of
the former regime assassinated during the uprising.)
It was also believed that Mr. Brown had abstained from voting in view of his position as prospective Defence
Minister in a Labour Government. The Political Correspondent of The Times commented in this connexion:
“Any study of his views on defence and foreign affairs shows that he would be among the first to recognize the
dangers of creating the impression that Britain is reluctant to go to the aid of friendly Powers who ask for help in
emergency; and he would clearly be anxious that the party, or he himself, should be careful not to spread doubts
about the firmness with which any Labour Government would act in support of Britain's allies and friends.”
The foreign affairs debate of July 22 was opened by the Foreign Secretary, who gave an expose of the latest
developments in the Middle East since the two previous debates of July 16—17.
Mr. Selwyn Lioyd said that he had discussed the Middle East situation during the past few days with Mr.
Dulles; Dr. Sidney Smith (the Canadian Minister of External Affairs), and the U.N. Secretary General during his
recent visit to the United States. As regards Lebanon, he believed that that country's future position could be
safeguarded by some special international status under U.N. auspices, with the consent of the Lebanese people.
In Jordan, where the position was “quiet but tense,” the first purpose of the British intervention—that of foilling a
coup d'etal organized from outside—had been successful, Britain's representative on the Security Council had
made it clear that British forces would be withdrawn from Jordan if and when effective arrangements could be
made by the U.N. to protect that country from any external threat and to preserve its territorial integrity and
Referring to the Iraqi revolution, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd explained that he had not previously made reference to the
deaths of King Faisal, Crown Prince Abdul Ilah, and General Nuri es-Said because there was not sufficient
certainty about the fate that had befallen them; he now did so with great regret. “King Faisal,” said the Foreign
Secretary, “was educated here and had shown, in addition to a singular charm in manner, great capacity. He was
devoted to the welfare of his people, and would have been a great ruler had he lived. King Faisal's uncle (Prince
Abdul Ilah) was always a staunch friend of this country. He cared above all that his nephew should be a worthy
king, and that was his abiding interest. Nuri es-Said was a great Arab patriot and nationalist. His part in the Arab
revolt in the First World War is well known. It was falsely said of him that he was a servant of the British. That
was absolute nonsense, because anyone who knew him was aware of his robust independence and his
determination to get what he thought was best for Iraq. This country has lost three trusted friends, and I wish to
put on record our profound sense of loss and deep regret for the manner in which they appear to have met their
Speaking of the correspondence between M. Khrushchev and the Western Heads of Government (see 16341
A), Mr. Selwyn Lioyd said that there were great advantages in the procedure whereby the projected summit
conference on the Middle East would be held at the Security Council. (The Foreign Secretary's statement was
made before M. Khrushchev's retraction of his previous agreement that such a meeting should take place within
the Security Council.) Whatever might be said about a four-Power or five-Power approach, it was “quite
unrealistic” to think that a Middle East settlement could be secured outside the United Nations; this was
particularly the case since the U.N. already had a significant role in the area with regard to the Arab-Israel
armistice agreements, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the U.N. Emergency Force at Gaza, and the U.N.
Observation Group in Lebanon.
Mr. Aneurin Bevan said that the policy now decided upon by the Government would be supported in all parts of
the House.
Mr. Bevan said that the Opposition entirely agreed with Mr. Selwyn Lioyd that the U.N. provided excellent
machinery for both formal and informal “summit” discussions, and it sincerely hoped that M. Khrushchev would
accept the invitation to a meeting of Heads of Government at the Security Council. It was “rather unfortunate that
M. Khrushchev surrounded his (own) invitation with a little too much invective,” but that was “a Russian habit,
sometimes imitated elsewhere.” The Opposition earnestly hoped that Russia would not veto the proposal to
strengthen the U.N. Observation Group on Lebanon. With regard to Jordan, it was “an impeceable decision to
invite the U.N. in to enable us to get out.”
Mr. President Bevan went on to enuciate four principles which, in the Opposition's opinion, could form a basis
for a settlement of all the problems of the Middle East:
(1) Agreement between the great Powers that the Arab States should form an area in which they would
not seek military allies or foster the formation of military blocs.
(2) A guarantee that the existing frontiers of States in the area, including Israel, should not be altered
except by mutual consent, including an undertaking to go immediately to the defence of any State faced
with armed aggression.
(3) A willingness to facilitate the coming together, by peaceful negotiation, of any Arab States wishing to
do so.
(4) The setting-up of an economic commission, preferably under the United Nations, with sufficient finance
to assist any scheme for the economic advancement of the area as a whole, or any part of it.
After debate, Commander Noble (Minister of State, Foreign Office) wound up with a speech in which he
pointed out that Mr. President Bevan's “four principles” could all usefully be discussed at the projected summit
meeting at the Security Council. (Times- Daily Telegraph- Manchester Guardian)
(Prev. rep. 16341 A; 16333 A; 16317 A; 16305A.
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