The Special relationship between U.K and U.S has lost its sparkle, as Washington looks for new allies.
Britain’s hesitation in joining American led wars in recent Parliamentary votes and a streamlined defense force; together with her Euro skepticism, has forced Washington to be more pragmatic in its alliance building; as it pivots towards Asia and the Far East. Although much still connects the two countries, Britain will need to consolidate its “Anglosphere”; represented by Canada, New Zealand , Australia, India, Singapore and significant parts of Africa; to be in a better position after the rumored divorce.
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For a hundred years Britain followed the principle formulated in the middle of the 19th century by Prime Minister Lord Palmerstone: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and it is our duty to follow those interests.” After two world wars, when the US decided to extend its influence beyond the borders of the American continent and while the British Empire, over which the sun never set, was in decline, another prime minister, Winston Churchill, proclaimed a new principle from the rostrum of the American College in Fulton: construction of a Temple of Peace which would not be possible without the special relationship between the brotherly nations – the British Empire and the United States.
In the 60 years of such cooperation, the British Prime Minister – who during the Kennedy and McMillan years was compared to wise old Greece standing its ground against a young, aggressive Rome – literally became no more than the American president’s poodle.
In 2010, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee issued a recommendation to stop using the term “special relationship” to describe American-British relations, noting that British policy should be based on national interest and a sense of reality. Washington itself also contributed to this, describing relations with countries such as China, France, Japan and Israel as “special.”
Ordinary citizens share similar sentiments to the politicians. According to a survey conducted by the BBC in 2013, 67 per cent of Britons believe that the term “special relationship” is no longer relevant. And in the same year, American politicians from the Council on Foreign Relations responding to a question from the Pew Research centre asking “which countries will be the most important allies of the United States in the future?” put the UK in only 11th place (along with Indonesia).
Researchers cite a multitude of reasons for the mutual cooling. Washington announced “a pivot” towards Asia, and has become more pragmatic in its approach to the search for partners. Furthermore, it is trying everything possible to shift the burden associated with its role of world policeman on to someone else’s shoulders. In this regard, the United Kingdom – with its declining defence spending and reluctance to get involved in large-scale military operations (a legacy of the Tony Blair and Iraq war era), as well as the growing eurosceptical atmosphere – is, from the point of view of the United States, simply losing its value as an ally.
In particular, the US Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno has stated that the US government has already amended military planning. “In the past we would have a British Army division working alongside an American division. Now it might be a British brigade inside an American division, or even a British battalion inside an American brigade,” he explained.
The situation could get worse in May if Labour, which advocates a more radical reduction of the defence budget, wins at the general election.
Furthermore, the global situation as a whole has changed. For years, the US and UK shared common aims in Europe. Guided by the principle of “divide and rule,” London gladly put a spoke in the wheel of the integration processes on the Continent, not allowing the development of a powerful force capable of creating a counterweight to US global leadership. Today the situation is different: the EU represents a strong ally favourable to Washington, ready to take over part of the cost of maintaining global order. And increasingly, Washington has sought assistance from Germany, a leading player on the Continent. At the same time, the White House cannot help but realize that Berlin is a much less easygoing partner than London.
Nevertheless, we should not exaggerate the degree of discord. Relations between the US and UK leaders themselves are more than special; starting with joint selfies and ending with co-authored articles in The Times. Military and nuclear cooperation are maintained at a high level. The United Kingdom remains one of the “five eyes” – a system for the collection of intelligence, made up of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Excluding the closest neighbours of the US, foggy Albion attracts the largest number of American tourists and students. There is a great reciprocal assimilation of culture, and they are united not only by language but also a common historical past.
Today, some analysts advise British policy makers to reread Winston Churchhill’s Fulton speech carefully, in which he speaks not only of the United Kingdom and the United States, but about the whole empire. There have been calls to quit following in Washington’s footsteps and to consolidate Britain’s immediate Anglosphere represented not only by Canada, New Zealand and Australia, but also India, Singapore and significant parts of Africa. In this way London could regain its role of wise mentor among actively developing students.
In any case, it would be naive to expect that one day newspaper editorials will contain news of the breakdown of the UK and US special relationship. Most likely, it will be a slow divorce with a gradual reduction in the level of cooperation. It is enough to look to the history of the collapse of the British Empire to understand that London knows how to do it gracefully in such a way that none of the parties is left with a bitter aftertaste.
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