7 October - Looking to the future; Re-setting British military strategy for Northern Ireland in 1972
School of History
Dr Huw Bennett, Department of International Relations, Cardiff University
Thursday 7 October 2021, 16.00 (4 PM), The paper will be delivered through MS Teams. For a Teams link, please, contact Dr Jérôme aan de Wiel, School of History: email@example.com
Paper Willie Whitelaw, installed as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in March 1972, aimed to forge a new political centre ground. Yet 1972 became the deadliest year in the modern Troubles. Much attention has alighted on Whitelaw's secret talks with the Provisional IRA on 7 July. PIRA's intransigence is often held responsible for this being a lost opportunity. But Republican-British interactions alone cannot account for the conflict's intractability. The May 1974 Ulster Workers' Council strike snuffed out Whitelaw's bright future, destroying the power-sharing Executive created by the Sunningdale agreement. The Executive's demise is critical for understanding the conflict's endurance into the 1990s.
This paper suggests the British response to the loyalist mobilisation of 1972 mattered more, in the longer term, than the talks with the Provisionals. Adopting a modus vivendi with loyalists allowed the force level in Northern Ireland to be brought down, as demanded by the commitment to NATO's conventional defence, and swelling discontent in the army about repeated deployments on a deeply unpleasant mission. By the end of 1972 British strategy produced a conflict of lower intensity, but greater intractability. Dr Huw Bennett is Reader in International Relations at Cardiff University. His first book, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-insurgency in the Kenya Emergency, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012. He is currently completing a book manuscript for Cambridge entitled The British Army's War in Northern Ireland, 1966-75. This project has been supported by fellowships from the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy.