Sunday, May 29, 2011


"Cameron has been most conspicuously un-slavish on the Middle East. Along with France and Germany, Britain voted in favor of a U.N. resolution in February condemning Israeli settlements, while the United States vetoed it despite Obama’s repeated criticism of said settlements. Score one for British consistency over American contortionism....

There’s also been British un-slavishness on war and peace. The diplomatic push for the Libyan intervention came principally from Britain and France while Obama, with reason, fretted over a third U.S. military front in a Muslim country....

Libya has underscored the unique U.S. capacity to project power and the heavy European dependence on that projection. I don’t see a European public ready to bolster defense spending, but the need is there. Un-slavishness means little if it does not mean assumption of responsibility....

So the immediate test of the redefined U.S.-British relationship is the ability of Obama and Cameron to deliver change in Tripoli fast and stop the conflict festering. I think it’s doable. But the condition is no more wavering....

That in turn has relieved Cameron of the old British dilemma: Should it favor its European or American ties? With the European Union going AWOL, the answer is obvious. Still, it’s imperative that Obama’s European trip serve to focus Europe on debt relief, trade incentives, credit and private investment in Egypt and beyond. A condition of the Arab transformation is that reform must equal opportunity....

With Arab reform now “not a secondary interest,” in the words of Obama, but U.S. dependence on Riyadh for oil and Yemeni counterterrorism still great, the Saudi dilemma has intensified. It’s one that demands solid, un-slavish U.S.-British unity to avoid the mother of explosions".

Roger Cohen, "Cameron's America," The New York Times. 24 May 2011, in

"Withdrawal from a major commitment would affect the international status of the United Kingdom. By reducing the value of the United Kingdom as a partner and ally, it would undermine the cohesion of the Commonwealth and the special relationship of the United Kingdom with the United States and its European partners and allies. Their attitude towards us will depend largely upon our status as a world Power and upon their belief that we are ready and willing to support them. It is evident that in so far as we reduce our commitments and our power declines, our a special relationship with the United States will be pro tanto, diminished."

Anthony Eden to Cabinet, "British Overseas Obligations: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs", 18 June 1952. CAB 129 / 53, PRO, Kew. Emphasis in the original.

The visit of the American President ('the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name') to the United Kingdom, in the midst of the Libyan Crisis, inspires in many observers (like Roger Cohen for one) 'deep thoughts', on the nature of the Anglo-American relationship in the 21st Century. With of course until recently (AKA the American President's current trip) most commentators stating that the relationship, while not in 'bad shape', were unlikely to return to the halcyon days of Presidents Bush / Clinton and Prime Minister Blair. With some highlighting the fact that the current American President lacks the solidly ancestral ties to the UK (and Europe), that prior American Presidents had. How far is this in fact true? Well, judging from today's joint article in the London Times, in which the American President and the British Prime Minister state that theirs is an “essential relationship":

“We can honestly say that despite being two leaders from two different political traditions, we see eye to eye,” Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron wrote. “We look at the world in a similar way, share the same concerns, and see the same strategic possibilities
" 1.

While for some, "essential relationship", may perhaps be a come-down from a "Special Relationship", to my mind this entire discussion obscures rather than enlightens us as to the real nature of Anglo-American relations since World War II. Au fond, the Anglo-American relationship from 1945 to the present, is built upon the following elements: i) ties of past history; ii) ties of culture and language; iii) the fact that both countries have been allied since 1949 de jure, and since 1947 de facto; iv) the fact that within the NATO alliance, both countries have maintained separately ties of unusually closeness in the defence planning / procurement, and intelligence areas. In particular in case of the latter. 2; v) the United Kingdom's envoys to Washington, DC, have been of an usually high quality and following from which have enjoyed an usual degree of access to the processes of American decision-making. In the cases of such individuals as Sir Oliver Franks (1948-1953), and Lord Harlech (1961-1964) one can almost speak of the Ambassador possessing an unofficial role as an American adviser vi) The upshot of items 'i'-'v', has been the fact that both powers have quite frequently been willing to modify pre-existing policies in order to accommodate the other power.

Throughout this period in question, it has been the United Kingdom, as the weaker of the two powers, which has had to 'accommodate itself' more often to the United States. Rather than the reverse. The thinking behind such being in the words of the then Ambassador to the United States, Sir Roger Makins in the midst of the Suez Crisis:

"There are times perhaps (they are surely very rare) when we must take our own line because of our national interest transcend even the need to uphold the Atlantic alliance....Here it is a case of our wanting to perform an operation one way and the Americans another. Ours may be better, but it we can keep their immense power working in our favour, is it not preferable to try theirs?"

Given this prior history, how does the current state of Anglo-American relations look? Overall, I for one say, surprising good given the fact that the relative power of the United Kingdom has declined, not admittedly precipitously, but still markedly in the past ten years, in relative terms. Especially economically. However this factum, is not as important when one notes that in Afghanistan as in Iraq, it is the United Kingdom, which has proven to be the only power which is willing to stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with the Americans in terms of sending combat troops into harms way 4. Which one assumes explains why the Americans proved to be willing to make so many positive noises about co-ordination and consultation in terms of future policies with London 5. It is with difficulty, hard to imagine the Americans be willing to engage in such types of policies co-ordination with any other power, even at this late date. And even with the current American chief executive. A state of affairs, I for one see continuing as long as London is willing to uphold its side, by engaging to send forces in harms way in the future as well as the past. Which in turn shall require that the government in London seriously re-think it current defence policy requirements in the next five to ten years going forward. For as one Foreign Office paper once noted presciently over fifty years ago:

"Anglo-American partnership is not a law of nature, and our present position is one which we could lose. Unless we are careful to shore it up."

1. Mark Lander, "In Britain, Pomp for Obama but serious business too," 24 May 2011, The New York Times, in

2. Christopher Andrew, Defend the Realm: the authorized history of
(2010), pp. 367-380 and passim. The reductio ad absurdum of the closeness of the relationship in many ways was the fact that in 1972, the then Deputy Under-secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Sir Thomas Brimelow, was conscripted by the then American National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger to (in the words of the then British Ambassador, Lord Cromer): "do its drafting for it while totally excluding its own Ministry of Foreign Affairs," on some of the finer points of the 1972 START treaty between the USA and the Soviet Union. See: Kathleen Burke, Old World, New World: Great Britain and America from the Beginning. (2007), p. 622. As per Kissinger in volume two of his memoirs, Brimelow's role in the matter was: "an example of the Anglo-American 'special relationship' at its best". See: Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval.(1982), pp. 282-283.

3. Sir Roger Makins (Washington) to Lloyd (London), 9 September 1956, PREM 11/1100, in PRO, Kew.

4. Patrick Porter, "Iraq, Afghanistan and the special relationship," International Affairs. (March 2010), pp. 355-375.

5. George Parker & Elizabeth Rigby,"Obama calls for joint effort on freedom," The Financial Times. 25 May 2011, in; See also: David Blackbourn, "An especially business-like relationship," The Spectator. 24 May 2011, in; "UK, U.S. launch joint national security body," in Reuters.25 May 2011, in

6."'The Future of Anglo-American relations': FO note for Future Policy Study working Group", 6 October 1959. Document found in: The Conservative Government and the End of Empire 1957-1964. Series A, Volume 4, of the series: British Documents on the End of Empire. Edited Ronald Hyam & William Roger Louis. Part I: High Policy, Political and Constitutional Change. (2000), p. 72.


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