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The special relationship is the phrase often used to characterise warm diplomatic relations between the United States and British governments, often by British commentators. It is the chief benefit-in-action of the Anglosphere.
- Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples ...a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States. Fraternal association requires not only the growing friendship and mutual understanding between our two vast but kindred systems of society, but the continuance of the intimate relationship between our military advisers, leading to common study of potential dangers, the similarity of weapons and manuals of instructions, and to the interchange of officers and cadets at technical colleges. It should carry with it the continuance of the present facilities for mutual security by the joint use of all Naval and Air Force bases in the possession of either country all over the world.
- There is however an important question we must ask ourselves. Would a special relationship between the United States and the British Commonwealth be inconsistent with our over-riding loyalties to the World Organization? I reply that, on the contrary, it is probably the only means by which that organization will achieve its full stature and strength.
The special relationship is based on historical, cultural, economic and ideological ties, and is often evoked at times of difficulty for either party.
Built on the principle of interdependence, most commentators have until relatively recently, construed the special relationship as a "one-way street", namely that Britain relied heavily on the United States to promote its affairs further in international relations. This was certainly true from the perspective of post-second World War Britain until the resurgence of the British economy, post Margaret Thatcher's radical economic and social reforms. At the time of writing in November 2004, Britain is now the world's fourth largest economy in terms of gross domestic product. In stark economic terms for example, in 2004 the US is the biggest single investor in the UK, and vice-versa. This new economic strength, together with Britain's influence as one of the "big three" in the European Union, has altered the relative US/UK balance somewhat. That the United States and Britain derive mutual benefit from each other is beyond question. In a narrower, political sense, it has been demonstrated neatly by the circumstances surrounding the war in Iraq. See also: "US-UK Iraq Invasion"
Examples of strong links between the two nations include;
- 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 special relationship has maintained ties in collecting and sharing intelligence since World War II. This aspect of the relationship originally grew from the common goal of monitoring and countering the threat of communism. Currently, a major example of cooperation is of the UKUSA Community, comprising the USA's National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) collaborating on ECHELON, a global intelligence gathering system.
- Military Basing
Another legacy of the Cold War, since the Berlin Blockade the United States has maintained substantial forces in Great Britain. The first major American deployment being B-29 bombers in July 1948. Currently, an important base is the radar facility RAF Fylingdales, part of the US Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. Several other bases with a significant US presence include RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall as well as a jointly operated military facility on Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory. Following the end of the Cold War, which was the main rationale for their presence, the number of US facilities in the UK has been reduced in number in line with the US military worldwide. Despite this, these bases have been used extensively in support of various peacekeeping and offensive operations of the 1990s and early 21st century.
- 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 1958, when Britain had developed its own thermonuclear 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. This co-operation has allowed Britiain to establish a more efficient, cost effective (though smaller) nuclear deterrent than France's Force de frappe. British attempts to provide reciprocal technology to the US, such as Chevaline, have been largely unsuccessful. The 1958 agreement gave the UK access to the facilities at the Nevada Test Site and it would test a total of 25 underground tests until the cessation of testing in 1991. The agreement under which this partnership operates was recently updated, it is argued that US assistance for the UK nuclear deterrent is in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
- Military Procurement
The UK is the only "level one" international partner in the largest US aircraft procurement project in history, the Joint Strike Fighter programme. The UK was involved in writing the specification and selection and its largest defence contractor BAE SYSTEMS is a partner of the American prime contractor Lockheed Martin. Other joint developments include the United States Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II and the US Navy T-45 Goshawk. Both nations also operate several common designs, including the Javelin ani-tank missile, M270 rocket artillery, the Apache gunship, and C-130 transport aircraft.
- 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.
- Cultural Links
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 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 highlight the nature of the special relationship by increasing the importance of Britain in relation to the US. Following the September 11th Attacks in New York and Washington DC, British Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to Washington. In a speech to the United States 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 international support for military action. The BBC estimates that, in total, the prime minister held 54 meetings with world leaders and travelled more than 40,000 miles (60,000 km).
President Bush also said Britain was America's "closest friend in the world" in a November 2003 in the Banqueting House in London. Of course President Bush also emphasises close ties to other countries, for example "We have no greater friend than Mexico" (September 2001), and "We have no better friend than Canada" (February 2002). Traditionally, a new president meets the leaders of the US's neighbours before those of other nations.
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's involvement in the war in Iraq has damaged his standing at home (both in the country and large and especially within his own party) and in Europe but will butress the relationship at least to the end of his term in office due to the reelection of George W. Bush. It was supposed that Third Way/Clintonesque Blair and the Republican Bush would have little common ground but in fact their shared beliefs and responses to the international situation following September 2001 (their previous meetings were stiff and awkward) formed the commonality of purpose so important to the special relationship. Blair like Bush was convinced of the importance of moving against the new threat both perceived to international order. Warm personal relations apparently followed.
The presidential election of 2004 presented Blair with a politcal dilemma. The Labour Party has traditional ideological links with the Democrats. Blair therefore, could not demonstrate any preference of candidate in the election. Although the majority of his party were backing Kerry, the Prime Minster was unable to voice such support for fear of damaging relations with Bush if he were to be re-elected. Supporting Bush would have damaged links between Labour and the Democrats as well as infuriating a large proportion of backbench Labour MPs, many of whom are highly critical of Blair's relationship with Bush. Such sentiments are shared largely by the British public, Blair has been parodied as Bush's "poodle", particulary after the Blair government supported and participated in the war in Iraq
Most recently, in welcoming Bush's re-election in November 2004, Blair made clear that he expected a renewed effort in the Middle East peace process and a more sympathetic stance towards environmental issues. These issues will establish a benchmark against which Bush's willingness to galvanise American policy at British request can be measured and demonstrate whether Britain has actually made any political capital from its involvement in Iraq.
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