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Mapping the End of Empire

Mapping the End of Empire

American and British Strategic Visions in the Postwar World

Aiyaz Husain

ISBN 9780674728882

Publication date: 04/14/2014

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By the end of World War II, strategists in Washington and London looked ahead to a new era in which the United States shouldered global responsibilities and Britain concentrated its regional interests more narrowly. The two powers also viewed the Muslim world through very different lenses. Mapping the End of Empire reveals how Anglo–American perceptions of geography shaped postcolonial futures from the Middle East to South Asia.

Aiyaz Husain shows that American and British postwar strategy drew on popular notions of geography as well as academic and military knowledge. Once codified in maps and memoranda, these perspectives became foundations of foreign policy. In South Asia, American officials envisioned an independent Pakistan blocking Soviet influence, an objective that outweighed other considerations in the contested Kashmir region. Shoring up Pakistan meshed perfectly with British hopes for a quiescent Indian subcontinent once partition became inevitable. But serious differences with Britain arose over America’s support for the new state of Israel. Viewing the Mediterranean as a European lake of sorts, U.S. officials—even in parts of the State Department—linked Palestine with Europe, deeming it a perfectly logical destination for Jewish refugees. But British strategists feared that the installation of a Jewish state in Palestine could incite Muslim ire from one corner of the Islamic world to the other.

As Husain makes clear, these perspectives also influenced the Dumbarton Oaks Conference and blueprints for the UN Security Council and shaped French and Dutch colonial fortunes in the Levant and the East Indies.


  • [Husain] presents a convincing case in arguing that Britain, exhausted and virtually bankrupted by World War II, was more than happy to try to exchange its actual empire for an ‘informal empire’ based on the British Commonwealth—if only it could persuade the richer, fresher, more ambitious United States to take up new global responsibilities… Having spent a quarter of its national wealth fighting fascism, an exhausted Great Britain handed on the baton to the United States in democracy’s great relay race, and America caught it deftly despite communist threats in Turkey, Greece, Italy and even France. By the 1990s, it had destroyed European communism. Today, America may be exhausted, but there’s no other nation capable of picking up the baton in the struggles with state-capitalist China and expansionist Russia… Mapping the End of Empire shows us how anarchy was—with some horrific exceptions, such as in the Punjab and Northwest Frontier of India in 1947–48—generally avoided the last time around.

    —Andrew Roberts, Wall Street Journal


  • Aiyaz Husain is a historian in the Policy Studies Division of the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press