The American alliance

The US alliance served the UK well in the Cold War, and was at its best under Reagan and Thatcher when their combined pressure helped bring communism down in Eastern Europe. The relationship has not always been so strong.

In 1939-41 the US was reluctant to come to the aid of the UK at its time of greatest danger. Only the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour brought the US  decisively to the war and ensured ultimate Allied victory worldwide as the US cranked up its mighty industrial and military machine. In the 1960s a UK Labour government refused to offer military support to the USA in Viet Nam. The US subsequently lost a major military encounter with communism.

Mr Blair and Mr Brown decided to support the various military endeavours of the US during their terms of office.  Looking at today’s Iraq and Afghanistan, and across the borders to Iran and Pakistan, it is by no means clear that our joint strategy will bring lasting peace or secure better government in that troubled part of the world. The UK needs to ask itself  if it should commit to such military interventions in countries with such different cultures and traditions, where there has been a long and sorry history of  unsuccessful western interference.

The prime task of the UK government should be to ensure the defence of our home islands and of our dependent territories. Today these are less threatened than usual.  Our nearest powerful neighbours and former opponents France and Germany are both peace loving democracies with no territorial claims on us. The Russian threat to western Europe has been lifted by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Russia’s Eastern European empire. The new powers in the East have preoccupations with their Pacific area, not with our Atlantic territory.

Our island situation is a great strength, as it always has been. Our home defence can be achieved by  keeping sufficient capability in ships and planes to make it impossible for any invader to cross the seas close to us  as a precaution even though there is no such threat currently.  Our dependent territories also require us to keep sufficient sea power supported by air power to act as a warning to any country with military expansion plans.

As the government has stated, the new threats come from terrorist groups and rogue states prepared to embark on asymetric warfare. That requires us to be strong in intelligence and ready to handle attacks through cyberspace and on the streets of our cities. It is also wise to retain an effective nuclear deterrent. It might also be both wise and sensible to wnsure we have possession of all the military technology we might need here at home. After all, the UK had to develop its own nuclear bomb after 1945 , and could doubtless do so again.

The US has strong views on the future of the Middle East and Far East, and a substantial military presence to back up its view. We need not always share that view, nor always be available with military support for it.

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20 Comments

  1. Stuart Fairney
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    At the risk of being pedantic, it wasn’t even Pearl Harbour that brought America into the European war. It was Hitler’s senseless declaration of war on the USA that did that and the subsequent U-boat attacks on US costal shipping.

    Up until then our American friends had fleeced us for gold and then sent us 100 obselete destroyers and small arms in return for 100 year leases on bases all around the world.

    From wikipedia…

    Before Lend-Lease aid could begin, Britain was forced to sell all her commercial assets in the United States and turn over all her gold. FDR (US president Franklin D. Roosevelt) sent his own ship the Quincy, to Simonstown near Cape Town (South Africa, then a British colony) to pick up the last $50 million in British gold reserves

    With friends like these………

  2. lifelogic
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I agree fully.

    There is certainly no guarantee we can improve the state of places we invade and every likely hood that as unwelcome outside invaders we will do the exact opposite.

    This particularly when the government cannot even decide what its actual aims are.

  3. Alex
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Absolutely right. No more military adventures and no more unconditional support for war crimes. We are not a global empire anymore and should stop trying to pretend we are. Alliances usually spell trouble, drawing us into wars that have no possible upside for us, so why carry on with an outdated and dubious view of the world.

  4. APL
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    JR: “France and Germany are both peace loving democracies with no territorial claims on us. ”

    What utter tosh. What is the treaty of Rome if not the initial tenticle of an invasion completed thirty years later by the Lisbon treaty?

    If by some miracle, one day we find ourselves outside the European Union, we will be fighting off territorial claims the sole authority for which will be the European treaties signed by our treacherous political class over the last thirty years.

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    A rather obscure topic when there is the EU meeting and Mayor Johnson’s ridiculous comments to discuss.

  6. Fred
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    John,

    During 1939-41 President Roosvelt was a strong supporter of the UK before Pearl Harbour. During this period, the US provided direct military support (e.g. convoy protection) and millions of tons of hardware. Pearl Harbour was the excuse he needed to provide full-scale support. And also bear in mind the grand strategy adopted between the US-UK alliance was “Europe First”.

    Our new National Security Strategy (NSS) involves retrenchment and disarmament; with our main instrument of averting international crisis amounting to no more than Appeasement. The NSS indicates that we don’t want to fight abroad anymore, and even if we did we will only deploy a weakened force.

    I fear that the next despot waiting to join the long line of despots since WWII, e.g. Milosovic, Karadic, Galtieri, Hussain, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, Bin Laden, etc, will be quite pleased that the UK can be discounted from spoiling his ambitions.

  7. Iain Gill
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    there are pros and cons of all nations that we have varying amounts, and different styles, of relationship with

    one of the biggest countries in the world was declared to be at least 30% corrupt by its own head of anti corruption, in its case we would do well to indendantly check everything they say, all the way down to boring admin forms

    the USA is a strange mix, with some great strengths, but some unexpected weaknesses which you wouldnt expect unless you spent a lot of time there understanding

    we need to have ties with lots of people but we need to understand their strengths and weaknesses much better than we do now, and play to those

    part of our problem is that such a small section of british society is in charge of the inter government relationships, there is a healthy ex pat british community in chicago for instance with a proper cross section of brits who barely recognise the unrepresentative public school crowd who represent us officially – those ex pat brits are the people we should listen to more

  8. nonny mouse
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    We had a valid reason for going into Afghanistan. The taliban let people attack America and we were bound by NATO to help defend them (and it was in our own interest anyway).

    We do not have a valid reason for still being in Afghanistan in the way that we are. We could return to a secure base and just run strikes against any bad guys to stop the terrorists using it as a training area, much like we do in Pakistan.

    We had no good reason for going into Iraq. Blair et al. made up reasons which hurt our case. Again we should not have stayed in there so long. At least we have left Iraq, even if we are letting our soliders continue to die in Afghanistan for no benefit.

  9. Mike Stallard
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Two things:
    Wars come out of the blue. Who would have expected the First World War in even July 1914? Or the attack on Pearl Harbor? Or the twin towers, Iraq and Afghanistan? Let’s not get complacent.
    Secondly, America is no longer run by us English. For some years, there has been a good influx of Germans, and other races and nationalities. Also there was the great awfulness of black slavery which today is bearing very bitter fruit.
    If we want the USA to be there for us when Europe goes mad – as it will – it will pay us to be nice – not doormats, but generally in alliance.

  10. Freeborn John
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The end of the USSR is the main change in the world which affects our security relationship with the US. For much of the post-war period the USSR represented an existential threat to us, to which the USA was the only credible countervailing power. With the USSR gone (and Russia’s population falling) we simply don’t need the USA as much as we did before from a security perspective. However our relationship with the USA still seems to be backward-lookin, i.e. to still over-emphasise military/security factors and under-emphasise economic ones.

    This despite the USA being our main source of FDI such that many of us work for American companies.. The emergence of China and India as low-cost destinations for FDI has led to American companies moving almost as many jobs as possible from the UK to those lower-cost destinations so we need some new advantages to counteract our cost disadvantage. A bilateral agreement on freedom of movement for workers between the USA and UK could be one step that we could take (while remaining an EU member) to advance our national interest in being a more attractive place for American FDI than low cost Asian countries.

    It would be also be our national interest to remove all customs duties between the US and UK. Though this is harder to achieve while remaining in the EU, we should be pushing for an EEA/EU/NAFTA Free Trade Agreement. This might also open up some options in our relationship with the EU in future, i.e. we could by joining the NAFTA retain free trade with the EU if such a transatlantic FTA was in place.

  11. Alte Fritz
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    We had a world presence because we had forced ourselves on the world through the British Empire. We can no longer afford such presence at the time when the world forces itself on us economically, politically, and through terrorism.

    We need to defend ourselves, and probably can, but do we condemn ourselves always to be reactive by never going to the source of trouble to confront it? Probably so.

  12. lola
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    “The prime task of the UK government should be to ensure the defence of our home islands and of our dependent territories.”…and our trade routes with our trading partners.

  13. EJT
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    As the extent to which the defence review forces operational interdependence with the EU (France), it becomes clearer that the decision has been made to distance ourselves militarily from the US. Too late to debate – a done deal, as ever.

  14. Glyn H
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Our threats are from China, resurgent Russia and Islam. We trade round the (known) world as we have for 2,000 years. We need Trident and those carriers, err and with their planes!

    What we don’t need is the inward looking, sclerotic and socialist dream that is the EU.

    As someone who is both europhile and Atlancist we cannot trust to either for our defence and security.

    Regretfully Barrack O’Bama and Baroness (!) Ashton are not our trustworthy friends.

    So let’s ditch Heathism and look back to Palmerston now that the vile Brown era is over!

  15. forthurst
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    “This fortress built by Nature for herself
    Against infection and the hand of war”

    In the early twenties, a societal theory based on Marxism was incubated at the Frankfurt Institute of Socilal Research (Frankfurt School) and whose technicians fled to Chicago when Hitler took power. Cultural Marxism which is commonly referred to as ‘political correctness’ is a virus designed to create false equivalences with the objective of destroying a society from within by obliging it to adopt policies which counter man’s primary instinct for self-preservation. These equivalences relate to culture, race, religion, sexuality, education, behaviour or pretty well anything else and are enforced by draconian laws and societal pressures which severely penalise dissenters. The USA which first fell to this infection has exported it to us and to Western Europe through tertiary academic exchange and a dominant ‘entertainment’ industry. The high priests of this belief system who do not practice it themsleves, have also sought, at the same time, to demonise a group which is nevertheless, by definition, ‘equivalent’ in terms of culture and religion to become our greatest new ‘enemy’.

    Even more pressing an issue than whether we actuallly need aircraft for our aircraft carriers is our own ‘colony collapse disorder’ and the infection that has caused it and whether we can put our own interests above those who would pervert our course to act as their attack dog as we have too many times before.

    When a perfect opportunity arose, namely, the ‘banker’ caused recession and necessary budgetary restraints, to deprive of funding so many Humanities departments and the BBC which instead of educating, as their charters determine, have been acting as (vectors for attitudes which undermine etc), one really has to wonder whether Dave and his crew live in too rarified an atmosphere to know what is going on around them.

  16. Norman Dee
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I make no comment about who should do what with who, or who is to be blamed for anything, but the one thought that always occurs to me is that the USA never seems to be any poorer for any war it fights, they always seem to make a profit somehow. They even sold the guns to the indians !

  17. Austin
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Sir: Without quibbling about U.S. aid prior to Pearl or UK indifference during Nam, where do you think Britain’s fate ultimately lies? To the East with the autocratic Germans and their French poodle allies making accomodations with the Russians; or to the West with America and the English-Speaking Commonwealth and their open, liberal, capitalist societies? Do you believe history has stopped?
    I would still argue that the most serious threat to Britain’s territorial integrity and sovereignty will involve France, Germany, and Russia and the best anti-dote to Continental control over these islands is a strong and at times difficult alliance with the United States and the English-Speaking Commonwealth.

  18. Conrad Jones
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree – we should not embark on military adventures in remote parts of the world whether America dictates it or not.

    It’s interesting to look at Countries like Switzerland and why they never seem as interested in War as the UK. The very makeup of their Armed Forces or Defence Arrangements would suggest that they would be able to repel an invasion – no matter how unlikely. All men between the ages of 18-34 – if judged fit for duty; will serve in the Swiss Militia. A well armed and trained civilian population. Effectively the whole Country is ready to defend itself.
    After Military service they keep their personal assault Rifles at home.
    They have Fighter Aircraft, Tanks and Canon – not state of the art but enough to make a mess of the target.
    Permanent Fortifications in the Alps serve as temporary shelters in preparation for retaking Land after an Invasion. Their aspirations for Foreign Invasions appear to be nil.

    A strong and determined Defence with no aggressive tendency outside the Country. And afterall, there’s no greater motivation to fight an aggressor if they’re standing on your land.

  19. Conrad Jones
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I would say that the Alliance between the American People and the British People is rock solid.

    The problems with our two Nations (If we can still call them independent Nations) is with our Political and Financial Systems.

  20. J.
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    The special relationship served the US and the UK well in the Cold War. While the Cold War has ended the fact that the US and the UK still have common strategic interests hasn’t; freedom of the seas and a fear of a united Europe remain. France and Germany are peace loving democracies now? Such dewy-eyed observations are usually relegated to those you have so strongly opposed for over two decades. German nationalism did not die in 1945. The Germans are still stuck in between France and the Russians who control Europe’s energy supplies. France is in bed with the Germans because they have not forgotten the past 140 years. Also, Russia still does not have a natural western border. Mr. Redwood your prediction of the end of conventional warfare is tantamount to those who called World War I “the war to end all wars.” We (Americans) are often criticized for thinking the world was created in 1776, but you seem to think history began on September 11th. In 1972 who would have thought that a naval task force would sail over 8,000 miles to the South Atlantic and launch an amphibious assault just a decade later. According to the C.I.A. Factbook, India spends slightly more as a percentage of GDP on defense than the British who subsidize them. Also, India’s GDP (Purchasing Power Parity) is $1.4 trillion more. Now is the time to prepare for challenges a generation away. Challenges that neither you nor I can predict with any certainty. Britain should prepare for conventional and asymmetrical warfare with her natural ally and cousin the United States.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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