Home/Daniel Larison/The End of the Special Relationship: It’s About Time

The End of the Special Relationship: It’s About Time

Britain’s special relationship with the US — forged by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in the second world war — no longer exists, says a committee of influential MPs.

Instead, America’s relationship with Britain is no more special than with its other main allies, according to a report by the Commons foreign affairs committee published today.

The report also warns that the perception of the UK after the Iraq war as America’s “subservient poodle” has been highly damaging to Britain’s reputation and interests around the world. The MPs conclude that British prime ministers have to learn to be less deferential to US presidents and be “willing to say no” to America.

The report, entitled Global Security: UK-US Relations, says Britain’s relationship with America is “extremely close and valuable” in a number of areas, particularly intelligence co-operation. However, it adds that the use of the phrase special relationship, in its historical sense, “is potentially misleading and we recommend that its use should be avoided”.

It does not reflect the “ever-evolving” relationship between the two countries and raises unrealistic expectations, the MPs say. ~The Times

Via Scoblete and Kevin Sullivan

This is entirely appropriate and long overdue. Even the closest of allies will have different needs and interests, and successful alliances will both permit these differences and provide both parties with tangible benefits. It will ultimately be best for the United States and Britain if neither government can automatically take the other’s support for granted. As I have mentioned before, and as many Tories started realizing after the recent Falklands controversy, Britain has rarely been able to count on automatic American support, but Washington has assumed and readily received British support for whatever initiative it has been undertaking.

Had Britain under Blair not become a lockstep supporter of Washington’s line on anti-terrorism, nonproliferation and regime change, and if Washington had therefore not had the fig leaf of British support and the political capital that came from Blair’s endorsement of the invasion, it is remotely possible that the invasion might never have taken place. Regardless, it would have been entirely appropriate for Britain to have refused to participate in the war, as Britain’s role and its interests in the region are not identical to the U.S. role and interests as Washington understands them. What’s more, had Britain assumed the role of a critic and opponent of the invasion, that could have lent considerable weight to the antiwar case.

Britain would have been doing America a far greater favor by working to prevent our government from making a terrible blunder in 2003. Our best allies in 2002-03 were the allies that told us quite frankly that we were being fools. A British Atlanticism that reliably takes the U.S. side no matter what made it easier for the U.S. to embark on policies that harmed both Britain and the U.S. Uncritical backing of one state by another rarely works out well for either one, and that is made all the worse when this backing is justified with a lot of overwrought, sentimental rhetoric.

In the event that Cameron is able to form a government, I would hope that shadow foreign secretary William Hague recognizes that he and Tories like him were part of the problem the report describes. They might yet discover that sometimes the best way to be “pro-American” is to disagree with American administrations on occasion and to oppose them when necessary.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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