Managing Military Withdrawal: The British Departure from East Malaysia, 1966–1967

Christopher Tuck*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How military withdrawals are handled matters–they are no mere adjunct to military operations. Studies in such fields as history, strategy, conflict resolution, and policy-related analysis highlight the significant symbolic, political, and practical consequences of the mishandling of the withdrawal of military forces from a theatre of operations. The British military withdrawal from East Malaysia (Borneo) has never before been examined. But its significance as a case study extends beyond this. British military operations in East Malaysia were highly successful and so it might logically be supposed that the withdrawal of military forces at the cessation of the conflict would be a straightforward exercise worthy of little comment. This article demonstrates, however, that behind the scenes the withdrawal was for British decision-makers acutely problematic. In the end, Britain struggled to construct a withdrawal process that would reconcile often competing political and military imperatives. Borneo illustrates that military withdrawals therefore can also be extremely challenging even in the context of a successful military operation. As Borneo illustrates, military withdrawals are strategic acts, and even in apparently benign circumstances they are much more than just a postscript to a war.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-338
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Borneo
  • Confrontation
  • counterinsurgency
  • strategy
  • withdrawal


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