Special relationshipUnited States and British governments, usually by British commentators.
The relationship is supposedly based on cultural and historical ties but is usually evoked in times of difficulty for either party. Built on the principle of interdependence it serves as a polite mask to the fact that Britain relies heavily on the United States to punch above its weight in international relations. That the United States does sometimes need Britain - albeit principally for the purposes of publicity - has been demonstrated neatly by the circumstances surrounding the war in Iraq.
Whatever the status of the "special relationship" examples of the strong links between the two nations include;
- Foreign Direct Investment
The United States is the largest source of inward investment to the UK economy, likewise the UK is the largest single investor in the US economy.
- Military and intelligence co-operation
The perhaps unparalleled level of military and intelligence co-operation has increased steadily since the Second World War. Examples include
- Intelligence Sharing
The US/UK intelligence relationship has maintained the ties in collecting and sharing intelligence since World War II. The relationship grew due to the common goal of monitoring and countering Communism. The USA's National Security Agency and Britain's GCHQ collorate on ECHELON, a global intelligence gathering system. In parallel with the wider relationship the UK is the junior partner but it has certainly pulled its weight.
- Joint Strike Fighter
The UK is the only "level one" international partner in the largest US aircraft procurement project in history. The UK was involved in writing the specification and selection and its largest defence contractor BAE Systems is a partner of prime contractor Lockheed Martin. Other joint developments include the USMC AV-8B Harrier II and the T-45 Goshawk.
- Nuclear weapons development
The Quebec Agreement of 1943 paved the way for the two countries to develop atomic weapons side by side, Britain handing over vital documents from its own Tube Alloys project and sending a delegation to assist in the work of the Manhattan Project. America kept the results of the work to itself but in the 1950's, when Britain had developed its own nuclear weapons, the United States agreed to supply delivery systems for British warheads. Britain purchased first Polaris and then the Trident system which remains in use today. British attempts to provide reciprocal technology (for a price) to the US, such as Chevaline have been largely unsuccessful.
- US Basing in UK
Another legacy of the Cold War, since the Berlin blockade the USAF has maintained increasing numbers of forces in the Britain. The first major deployment was B-29s in July 1948. One of the most important bases (to the US) was and is Fylingdales, part of the BMEWS. The US maintains significant air forces on RAF bases including the strike/bomber base at RAF Lakenheath and the airlift/aerial refueling base at RAF Mildenhall. Following the end of the Cold War, the main rationale for their presence, the US bases in the UK have been reduced in number in line with the USAF worldwide. The bases have however been used extensively in support of the various peacekeeping and offensive operations of the 1990s and early 21st century.
- Intelligence Sharing
- Cultural links
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2 Current status
3 See also
In either case the relationship often depends on the personal relations between British Prime Ministers and their American counterparts. The first example was the close relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt who were in fact distantly related. Prior to their collaboration during World War II Anglo-American relations had been somewhat frosty. President Woodrow Wilson and Prime Minister David Lloyd George had enjoyed nothing that could be described as a special relationship and were collaborating barely a hundred years on from the two countries being at war. Churchill, himself half-American, spent much time and effort cultivating the relationship which paid dividends for the war effort though it cost Britain much of her wealth and ultimately her empire. Two great architects of the special relationship on a practical level were Field Marshall Sir John Dill and General George Marshall whose excellent personal relations and senior positions (Roosevelt was especially close to Marshall) oiled the wheels of the alliance considerably.
The links that were created during the war - such as the British military liaison officers posted to Washington - persist. However for Britain to gain any benefit from the relationship it became clear that a constant policy of personal engagement was required. Britain starting off in 1941 as somewhat the senior partner had quickly found itself the junior. The diplomatic policy was thus two pronged, encompassing strong personal support and equally forthright military and political aid. These two have always operated in tandem, that is to say the best personal relationships between British prime ministers and American presidents have always been those based around shared goals. Harold Wilson's government would not commit troops to Vietnam. Harold Wilson and Lyndon Johnson did not get on especially well.
Highlights then in the special relationship would include Harold Macmillan and John F. Kennedy or Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Nadirs have included Wilson's refusal to enter the war in Vietnam and the American government's lack of support for British operations in Suez under Anthony Eden. While the relationship between the two countries may have been strained by Reagan's neutrality in the initial phases of the Falklands War this was more than countered by the US Defense Secretary, Casper Weinberger, who approved shipments of the latest weapons to the massing British taskforce. Bill Clinton was fairly poorly disposed towards John Major after it was alleged that the Conservative government had allowed his Republican opponents access to British documents detailing his time at Oxford University.
Recent events have served to even up the one-sided nature of the special relationship by increasing the importance of Britain to the US rather than vice versa. Following the September 11th Attacks in New York and Washington Tony Blair flew to Washington. In a speech to Congress nine days after the attack President Bush declared "America has no truer friend than Great Britain." Following that speech Blair embarked on two months of diplomacy gathering support for miliary action. The BBC estimates that, in total, the prime minister held 54 meetings with world leaders and travelled more than 40,000 miles.
Britain will continue to cleave to US policy even to the detriment of its own short term political interests in order to reinforce this central tenet of British foreign policy in the longer term. Prime Minister Tony Blair involvement in the war in Iraq has damaged his standing at home and in Europe but will butress the relationship to the end of the decade should George W. Bush win a second term. To suppose that if Bush was to lose the 2004 election that the relationship would cool markedly would ignore precedent, it was supposed that Third Way/Clintonesque Blair and the Republican Bush would have little common ground.
However it is hard to see him developing ties with a President John Kerry to the extent of his ties with President Clinton. One major factor which would affect this relationship is the disbelief in the Democratic Party at Blair's alliance with Bush. In terms of the special relationship Blair pulled off something of a coup in managing to keep on such good terms with both Presidents Clinton and Bush, in fact Clinton advised Blair to be "his (Bush's) guy," the friend he turns to. However the consequences in terms of international relations generally have been poor and Blair has failed to demonstrate the benefits to Britain of his cooperation. This has led to allegations that he is simply 'Bush's poodle'. Though in fairness past history demonstrates that these benefits are often subtle and secret. Whether they are worth the cost is another matter.