7 January 2016

No, US-UK alliance isn’t over


Is the Anglo-American Special Relationship over? Yes, says Walter Ellis in his recent thought-provoking piece.

I beg to disagree. Instead, we should be optimistic about the future of the US-UK alliance, even as so much depends on direction of US foreign policy post-presidential election and Britain’s future relationship with Europe. An America that returns to its previous role as an international powerhouse, partnered with a British nation that looks beyond the European Union and projects a truly global outlook can work together to regenerate the Special Relationship and ensure its long-term success.

It has indeed been a trying time for US-UK relations since the election of President Obama in 2008. As Mr. Ellis notes, Mr. Obama unceremoniously dumped a bust of Sir Winston Churchill out of the Oval Office within days of taking charge. This immediately signaled that Obama was keen to draw a line with the Bush/Blair era, a period of extremely close cooperation between London and Washington in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, culminating in the war in Iraq.

Obama and his advisers ushered in a new approach to foreign policy, with far less emphasis upon traditional alliances and greater outreach to America’s adversaries, including Russia and Iran, leading to the ill-conceived “Russian reset” with Moscow and the disastrous nuclear deal with Tehran.

At the same time, Washington launched its so-called “Asian pivot” with a much-hyped renewed focus on the Pacific Rim, while largely ignoring the transatlantic alliance. In the absence of American leadership in Europe, the Russian bear roared into Ukraine, seizing Crimea and backing a brutal separatist insurgency in the Eastern part of the country. As Moscow became increasingly emboldened, the US administration reduced America’s footprint in Europe, closing some major bases, cutting troops, and sending a message to America’s allies that the commitment of the world’s superpower to the defence of Europe was waning.

For some officials in the Obama presidency, the Anglo-American alliance is a relic, an outdated concept. As a State Department official told The Sunday Telegraph back in March 2009 when questioned why then Prime Minister Gordon Brown had been given a distinctly underwhelming reception at the White House: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

The State Department’s decision to later side with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s call for UN-brokered negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falklands, a matter emphatically settled by the war of 1982, was a slap in the face for the British people.

Despite the indifference, and at times hostility, of the Obama presidency, the Special Relationship continues on many levels. The indisputable fact remains that Great Britain is by far America’s most important partner. And it is worth remembering that in nearly a year from now there will be a different administration in Washington that will elevate the alliance with Britain to its traditional place at the very heart of US strategic thinking.

The defense and intelligence ties between the US and UK remain extremely strong, meanwhile. The Anglosphere is more than just an idea; it is a living reality. London and Washington share intelligence through the “Five Eyes” arrangement, which pools intelligence resources between the English-speaking powers of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The bonds between the American and British intelligence and military communities are extremely close-knit and are the envy of Britain’s European partners. British forces are among the only in the world who are able to seamlessly work with their US counterparts on the battlefield in large-scale operations, as witnessed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Economic ties between Britain and America are just as powerful. The world’s two biggest financial centers, New York and London, are intricately intertwined, as are the entire American and British economies. As a recent report by the Congressional Research Service noted,

The U.S.-UK bilateral investment relationship is the largest in the world. In 2013, U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in the UK was $571 billion. Total U.S. corporate assets in the UK stood at nearly $5 trillion in 2013, representing 22 percent of total U.S. corporate assets abroad. UK corporate assets invested in the United States totaled nearly $2.4 trillion in 2013, with UK FDI in the United States at $518.6 billion for that year. In 2013, UK affiliates employed about 987,000 U.S. workers, and U.S. firms employed approximately 1.27 million people in the UK.

The United States and United Kingdom share not only a common language, heritage and culture, but also a shared belief in free trade, open markets and the capitalist ideal. The Special Relationship remains a powerful symbol of entrepreneurialism and individual freedom. Much of the world owes a huge debt to the spirit of liberty that Britain and the United States have kept alive in the face of numerous threats, from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, to Islamist terrorism today.

A new US administration pursuing the same path as the Obama presidency would be disastrous. For the UK, a series of defense cuts over the past few years has seriously undercut the ability of Britain’s armed forces to project strength abroad. In Europe, the relentless drive for a federal superstate poses a major threat to Britain’s ability to act as a sovereign nation. The possibility of a British exit from the EU in the upcoming referendum should be welcomed by Americans and not feared. The reassertion of British sovereignty in Europe will only strengthen rather than weaken the Special Relationship.

It was Margaret Thatcher who remarked that America “needs friends in the lonely task of world leadership,” and “Britain shares America’s passionate commitment to democracy and willingness to stand and fight for it.” The Special Relationship survives today despite a president who declined to send a single serving official from Washington to attend the funeral of Britain’s Iron Lady at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It lives on in the joint sacrifices made by American and British forces on the battlefield, through the deep-seated collaboration between the CIA, MI5 and MI6 in combating Islamist terrorism, and through the immense trade and investment between the two most powerful bedrocks of capitalism on the face of the earth. It is also embodied through the Rhodes Scholarships, bringing some of America’s brightest students to Oxford University, with their British counterparts studying at the likes of Yale, Princeton and Harvard through the largesse of the Fulbright Commission.

The simple truth is that Britain needs America, and America needs Britain. So too does the rest of the world. One of the very first acts of the next US president should be to bring Sir Jacob Epstein’s Churchill bust back to the Oval Office, where it belongs, signifying an end to the deadly mindset of ‘leading from behind,’ and  reinvigorating a partnership with America’s closest friend and ally.

Nile Gardiner is director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.