How special is the UK’s relationship with the USA?

Many UK leaders and commentators lay great emphasis on the “special relationship”. I agree with them that it is special in two respects.

The long joint history is the first tie. It started well with the plucky story of English settlers establishing the core of the eastern seaboard colonies that were to be the decisive influence on the emerging USA. These associations of kith, kin, and shared values do matter, despite the way these same “English virtues” had to be asserted in new language and with muskets by the settlers in the War of Independence. Both sides are largely at peace with their past. The US can be relaxed about the War of Independence because they won and went on to far greater things. The UK can be relaxed because many of us think the settlers were right to revolt against crass decisions by the British government of the day. We enjoy some reflected glory in what the US became.

The willingness to co-operate, take up arms and mutually support is also what most of these commentators and strategists believe. There is some truth in that. There is a high degree of co-operation between the intelligence and military forces of both countries. The UK has been most willing to assist the US in a wide range of military interventions worldwide in recent years. Whilst the US has been the dominant military partner, the presence of the UK with voice and supporting military capability has been helpful to the US in putting its case worldwide and showing it has friends and allies who share its outlook. NATO remains the bedrock of UK home defence against possible future serious threats, and the US commitment to the NATO guarantee is central to strategic thinking. I am all in favour of us working for a strong NATO and developing our joint working on intelligence and military matters wherever possible.

However, the world can change. The US and the UK in the end need to consider their own individual national interests. They are not always the same. The US undermined the UK at Suez. The UK stayed out of the Viet Nam war, which turned out to be a good call, without undermining the whole alliance. The US was not willing to back the UK against Argentina over the Falklands, trying to pose as a peace making friend of both countries when Argentina had violated international law and trodden on the UK’s interests and duties to the islanders. The USA did not enter the 2nd World War as a fighting ally of the UK until late 1941, and had been an even later entrant to the Great War of 1914-18. The UK needs to remember its history and make sure it has its own capability to defend our interests overseas and our own islands when need arises.

Sometimes people say all is well if the Prime Minister has a strong relationship with the President. Again history should lead to some shading of this view. Margaret Thatcher’s relationship with Mr Reagan was very good, but it did not produce US military or diplomatic support over the Falklands. Churchill’s relations with the White House were actively cultivated but it did not produce the early and strong military support he needed. Mr Cameron’s relationship with Mr Obama is as far as I know a good one, but this President has a different view of our shared history and a wish to reorient the US more towards the Pacific where the UK can offer less help.

All the time the US State department holds the view that the UK should get on with submitting itself to the EU to be of more help in the councils of Brussels to the US, the more the relationship will have its strains. The USA, proud of its own hard won independence, needs to grasp just how strongly many UK citizens oppose the idea of losing our independence to the EU.

Some pro EU people I n the UK make out the UK would need to become more dependent on the US if we left the EU. It appears that the choice is rather different to that. We either become more dependent on both the EU and USA, or we become more independent of both. From my reading of history and based on my instincts I think we need to be more independent of both, capable of defending ourselves if need arises.

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79 Comments

  1. Gary
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    petrodollars, vast revenues from petrodollar recycling and war to enforce this hegemoney ?

    It is a modern form of colonialism.

  2. lifelogic
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Well done Harold Wilson for keeping us out of Vietnam a great decision. Such a great shame Bliar did not show some similar wisdom. Had the voters been asked they would have got the decision right on the pointless wars. As they would have done on expensive energy, the EU as currently arranged, the ERM, the Millenium Dome and nearly every other disastrous decision the UK government has made recently.

    It it not this dreadful Mr Obama who was making a big thing regarding BP. By endlessly calling then “British” Petroleum, in his rather childish and pathetic way? It does not seem to be that close a relationship to me at all.

    We do indeed need to be more independent of both the EU and USA and capable of defending ourselves if need arises. To do this we need a government that allows a strong economy. Not one that endlessly over taxes, over regulates, rams expensive energy and the EU down people’s throats and over regulated virtually everything. A smaller government and yet one that delivers some decent roads, rubbish collection, new airports, schools and healthcare or better still just allows them to be delivered.

    A country that has a strong defence force that is there to deter attack and not to conduct entirely counter productive and hugely damaging wars.

    • lifelogic
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      A great shame that voters are almost never asked their opinion on anything they are right far more often than MPs. Voters have to work by voting for MP who one elected simply never do what they promised and usually follow the misguided party line for pure career reasons.

      In the case of Cameron they do almost the complete opposite to what they promised.

      These wrong on everything MPs then end up in the Lords where they often continue their wrong on everything approach for years to come.

      • Hope
        Posted December 29, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        The US is an ally not a friend. Reagan failed to help with the Falklands, Clinton with the IRA, Obama with Argentina and BP, the U.S. instigated a run on the pound during the Eygypt conflict. Time for the half wits at Westminster to wake up.

    • DaveM
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      “Well done Harold Wilson for keeping us out of Vietnam a great decision. ”

      Not only a great decision but one which showed strength and resolve as a leader.

      It also means, however, that the US will (even now) hesitate before doing anything without UK support. The Americans don’t ask the EU or any of its other member states what they think, they ask the UK. However, unless our leaders regain their independence and show a bit of steel, that’s all going to stop and the UK will lose its importance on the world stage.

  3. Cheshire Girl
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I agree with the last sentence in your post, but that’s not likely to happen, is it, with the cuts being made to our Armed Forces.? They are being asked to do more with less. I have noticed that the Reservists are not signing up as hoped. We need a strong Defence. I believe ours has been weakened under this Government.

    • Mondeo Man
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Cheshire Girl,

      Who would want to sign up ? To be sent to hostile zones to fight dubious wars, bound up by rules of engagement (followed around by accusing no-win-no-fee lawyers) and living in fear, day in, day out of being mutilated by IEDs.

      • Mondeo Man
        Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        In addition to my comment to Cheshire Girl – who would sign up to fight for a country which has lost its identity ?

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 28, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        Indeed who would want to sign up to fight entirely counter productive wars, ill equipped and clearly entered into on a blatant lie by people like Blair and all his hangers on?

  4. formula57
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Your realism regarding the US relationship is commendable. The UK should certainly recognize and protect its own separate and distinct interests (just as the US does aggressively for itself) whilst cultivating the Americans. And certainly too we should not be led into folly by some fond and naïve commitment to “history, sentiment and politics” of the type that resulted in us being lumbered still with Scotland.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      So would you mind if an enemy of England was allowed to establish military bases in Scotland, or would you be willing to go to war to prevent that?

      • formula57
        Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Resorting to war might be appropriate if such bases were doing us material harm, likely not so if they just had potential to do harm. It must be doubted that any country with the means to do the UK serious harm would have a need to resort to bases in Scotland to accomplish that.

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted December 28, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

          So you are willing to put the future defence and security of England at risk on the basis of your own unreliable strategic assessment of what threats may or may not arise in the future.

          • formula57
            Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

            Yes, since I don’t think my assessment is flawed. Note England’s future defence and security may well be advantaged by the economic and political boost it would gain by ceasing to have to account for Scotland. As noted hitherto, it was out-dated strategic thinking that helped delay the UK’s exit from Ireland, to no worthwhile purpose (Napoleon having long since ceased operations etc.). At least the Americans have a better record of keeping up with the times.

      • DaveM
        Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        Scotland would have been allowed into NATO almost immediately so that would never have happened. The Scots also didn’t want a war with England, they just wanted self-determination. And Sturgeon doesn’t care about anything other than the closure of Faslane (incidentally the largest single employer in the West of Scotland).

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted December 28, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          Once it was a sovereign independent state Scotland would make its own decisions about treaties and alliances, and it would certainly not be bound to follow whatever unproblematic course English separatists now think it should or would take; in the effectively unlimited time available in the future there is no saying what its government might decide to do at some point, indeed there is no saying that a present alliance such as NATO would still exist.

  5. alan jutson
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Your views and suggestions sound very sensible to me John.

    For too long we have followed the US into conflict without question.

    For too long have we now been tied to the EU.

    Yes have friends, have partnerships, even work with others on joint ventures, but we do not have to sell our soul.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Your leader seems to think the relationship is very special as the Sunday Times reported 21/12/2014:

    “DAVID CAMERON will visit Barack Obama at the White House next month in a public relations coup that aides hope will boost his prospects of re-election. In what is being seen in Tory circles as evidence that the US president would like Cameron to win the election in May, the prime minister will visit Washington for two days in mid-January.
    The trip is payback for a visit that Cameron made to the United States in March 2012 when Obama was seeking re-election.”

  7. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    JR: “The USA, proud of its own hard won independence, needs to grasp just how strongly many UK citizens oppose the idea of losing our independence to the EU.”

    You have a much bigger problem on that score with your own party leader. I was intrigued to read in today’s Telegraph under the heading “Sir John Major tipped to lead talks on EU” it reports:
    ” It could be one of the most surprising political comebacks of all time: Sir John Major could be given the job of renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the European Union if the Conservative Party wins May’s general election…….
    Now ‘People’ can reveal that Sir John’s name is being touted in Westminster circles by senior Tory MPs and members of the Government as a strong candidate to lead those talks.
    Sir John is seen as an ideal choice because he was a strong supporter of the EU when he was Prime Minister between 1990 and 1997, frequently clashing with Eurosceptics.”

    What do you make of that?

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Oh, it would be another “Game, set and match for Britain”, like Maastricht.

    • Douglas Carter
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      In a strange ironic way, I’m hoping the reports are actually sincere in their intent.

      Because after all this time, one theoretical alternative would be unthinkable. That alternative being that Major’s name is being suggested for the specific reason to let any candidacy of his fall by the wayside for a ‘compromise’ candidate less toxic to principled EUsceptics. Somebody equally egregiously Europhile, but just not Major. Somebody like Douglas Hurd or Sir Crispin Tickell.

      If – like ‘we won’t pay that bill on December the first – it isn’t going to happen’ – this is just another cynical and shabby sequencing game once again played, it would simply highlight the custodians of that game have nothing but contempt for the electorate. If ‘they’ think this is a clever ploy, then I’d literally rather have Miliband in Downing Street than endorse such arrogance, contempt and stupidity. The subtext for the electorate behind such a silly game naturally being ‘we STILL think you’re stupid’. For Cameron, such a procedure would be an extremely dangerous game to play.

    • matthu
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Wonderful news!

      Have them all together in the same leaky boat at the same time: Major, Clarke, Heseltine, Mandelson, Alexander. Throw Cameron, Clegg, Huhne and Miliband in for good measure.

    • forthurst
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      I don’t use Twitter, but if I did I would prabably set up a hashtag, #WeAreAllBastardsNow.

  8. John E
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    The U.S. has weaponised it’s control of the global financial system as Russia is finding out.
    The U.K. is dependant on this financial system to support our twin deficits in trade and government spending. While this continues we are not able to run an independent foreign policy.
    If we want any meaningful independence we have to pay our own way and rebuild our defences.

  9. The PrangWizard
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I fully agree with your final sentence and have expressed the same view here a number of times. I favour withdrawal from the EU – a new relationship should be from the outside.

    As for the US, my younger daughter, a son-in-law and two grand-daughters are there. I am tied to that country more than Europe even though I have a daughter living there too, and would not like to see any serious rift but we must start breaking away from US military and economic power.

    I am very supportive of many of the things they do in the world, it would be a sorry place without them, but they are too dominant in a whole host of ways, we have come to almost not realise it. We should not have allied ourselves to a European ‘power’ just to get away from another. We have been lazy and weak over the decades since the end of WWII. Short-termism has been our ruin yet again.

    I like the parts of the US I have seen and the people I have met, but most Americans of today don’t know much about us and have no more interest than they do in many other nations. They are extremely polite, but the ‘special relationship’ is superficial or imaginary – I find phrase embarrassing when I hear it – ; millions of them have no historic ties with the UK, theirs are with Germany or elsewhere in Europe, Mexico and so on. It would be interesting to speculate on what history would have been like if they had chosen German as their official language instead of English, all those years ago. We are not so special to them.

    We need to realise this and change our romantic view. Our leaders need to gain some backbone, take a long-term view and start striking out on our own again. Lets get some self-respect back.

    • Keith Moore
      Posted December 29, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      My family and I lived in the US for 16 years and my 2 daughters are naturalised citizens married to American born citizens.
      My dealings with Americans, in business at all levels, and in private has always been polite, cordial and friendly. I have friends there as close as any I have here in the UK.
      Although the many people I came into contact with in the US were well disposed to the UK, none of them showed any sign of ever having heard of the ‘special relationship’. I would have felt embarrassed to mention it and try to explain it.
      I am sure both the UK and the pragmatic US leadership fully understand the true relationship, but the ‘special relationship’ as promoted to the people of the UK by our government is a fiction. Its only use is to provide a reason for our politicians to try and gain kudos at election time by toadying up to the US leadership.

  10. Andyvan
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Particularly special is the manner in which retired UK politiicans earn very large sums working for US corporations or US controlled organisations. One might almost think it worked as a payoff for services rendered which would certainly explain their poodle like devotion to Washingtons every whim whilst on office.
    Lets be honest here, the UK is Americas lapdog, we’ll go along with any illegal war, destabilisation or false flag operation. Just look at the appalling accusations levelled at Russia without the slightest evidence by both the UK government and media. As soon as the Yanks identify their next target for attack we’re there justifying and adding to the propaganda.
    In many countries around the world Britain is regarded as a joke that is known to take it’s orders from America, the EU is pretty much the same.
    In short the special relationship is more like owner and pet.

    • zorro
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Indeed…crumbs from the table. As time goes by, I get more and more disturbed by the nature of my country’s actions and its future…..

      zorro

  11. Margaret Brandreth-J
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    In politics it is always difficult to read sub tex and who is using double think to reach their goals or is this my suspicion alone?

  12. alan Wheatley
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I agree entirely with your last sentence.

  13. Bryan
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I agree.

    The relationship with the USA only seems to flourish when they want something from us, yet our political leaders still fawn in front of them. Hence the Cameron triumph of an ‘overnight’ at the White House next year. This cuts no ice with the British public.

    I also read that Sir John Major, dentally challenged and pro EU, will likely lead the negations with the EU next year.

    Oh dear!

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      I take it that you meant to write the “negotiations” next year, although it is true that in the rather unlikely event that any such are attempted they will probably turn out to consist largely of “negations” by the governments of some other EU member states.

    • alan jutson
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Bryan

      I really do hope your wrong on Major leading negotiations, as that would lead absolutely nowhere other than more fudge and ever more complications.

      Far better for Cameron to use our host as the main man, with some of the more like minded members making up the rest of his team.

      Indeed even Mr Farage would be far, far better than most failed/retired/current Conservative Mp’s

    • Duyfken
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Negations! If only.

      • Leslie Singleton
        Posted December 29, 2014 at 1:49 am | Permalink

        Duyfken–Negation is what we are going to get from the other 27 but not necessarily all at once, one at a time will do. How could it be otherwise? For anything meaningful there needs to be Treaty Change and the hope of all 27 plus us agreeing to that seems pure fantasy. Apart from all else, as Hollande pointed out many countries would need a Referendum for a Treaty change : why would they, they that need to do so that is, and all of them to boot, even begin to want to volunteer to have one for us? Understand that many hate us because we steered clear from the wretched Euro and have been proved right. Their ghastly mentality, perhaps right for them, is all or nothing. Let’s hope Greece begins to blow the whole thing sky high and very soon.

        • Duyfken
          Posted December 29, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          Yes, Leslie, I see only two ways of our being free of the EU yoke: either the EU self-destructs (perhaps assisted by the Greek situation) or we have somebody tender notice under Article 50. In neither case however, should we be hopeful.

          As for negotiation, as against negation, if Cameron does not provide a specific set of points before the GE, how can anybody take him on trust ? It’s just make-believe. What really surprises me is that our worthy host, JR, seems to be prepared to go along with this farce.

    • zorro
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      I am sure that JR will be standing right behind Sir John….. Guiding his path of course 😉

      zorro

    • zorro
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      ‘Negations’ ….. If only….. I doubt that Sir John will worry the EU in any meaningful sense.

      zorro

  14. oldtimer
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I agree with your analysis and conclusions.

    A couple of points worth adding. In the 1920s, US wargames, which covered a number of scenarios, included one of conflict with the then British Empire and, presumably, the prospect of useful pickings from the debris. The Anglo-French Suez adventure (prompted by Nasser`s nationalisation of the Suez Canal),was brought to an abrupt halt by US financial pressure. The US had not been tipped off about it beforehand. Likewise the US invasion of Grenada to overthrow the local regime was carried out without forewarning to Mrs Thatcher. These episodes illustrate the different interests at play. That said the wo countries are natural allies.

  15. Border Boy
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with the sentiments expressed in this article. The USA/UK relationship is close, but one sided. The USA and UK share Intelligence secrets and military cooperation to their mutual benefit although I think the Americans regard us as rather less useful these days because our military capability has become so reduced.

    When it comes to vital national interests the Americans look after themselves. They fatally undermined us at Suez for their own foreign policy ends (perhaps mercifully) yet we sacrificed our national interest for theirs in Iraq in 2003. I am unaware of any such selflessness on the part of the Americans and nor should there be. We need to take our example from them and look after ourselves more completely.

    • zorro
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      The question is what was it that made the UK government so slavishly follow the neo-con line against Iraq in 2003? What hold did the USA have over our key politicians… some may wonder?

      zorro

  16. Bert Young
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Totally with you on our independence . US foreign policy has been seriously flawed for some time – Bush Jr and Obama were and are poor leaders . We should also not forget Suez . The USA pulled the plug on us when we were seeking to defend our route to oil and our links to Australia and India . Since that time we have played a poor second fiddle to the USA and have chosen to go along with them come what may .

    At the moment we are drawn into the mix of the USA and the EU with the result that we have become neutralised . If our voice is to be reckoned with in the future and we are to be trusted and respected by the world , we must assert ourselves by being independent of both influences . When Obama is ousted , we can re-adjust to the USA but , the EU is a different matter ; we must exit at the earliest opportunity and let it continue on its inevitable downward spiral .

  17. dumpling
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Britain did get military equipment and intelligence from the USA for the Falklands campaign due to the heroic efforts of Caspar Weinberger to persuade Regan to do so.

    It should also be mentioned that the USA pulled the rug from underneath us over Suez.

    In truth the USA will not help anyone unless it is in their interests. Digressing, after we gave our support to the US in Iraq, Bush thanked us by placing an embargo on our steel exports in order to prop up the ailing steel industry in Pittsburgh. It did not save a single job as the US car manufacturers were obliged to pay more for their steel with a resultant further loss of jobs.

    • Tom William
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Without the use of the US base on Ascension Island, massive amounts of fuel, the provision of AIM 9L air to air missiles and considerable intelligence assistance the UK could not have defeated the Argentines.

      Obviously the USA had to try and prevent a conflict, for geopolitical reasons, but when the chips were down they supported us wholeheartedly without a fanfare of publicity.

    • zorro
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      The USA will only pay you respect if you are strong and stand your ground…. Otherwise you are a sap….

  18. English Pensioner
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I’m in favour of a stronger “Anglosphere”, those countries which have a culture largely derived from their British heritage – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, plus any dependent territories.
    Generally we have a similar outlook on life, have broadly similar judicial systems, speak (more or less) the same language and are broadly Christian based whilst allowing freedom of religion. This, I believe, would provide Britain with far more influence than the EU which is a largely inward looking bureaucratic organisation.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately, the current US President is changing the USA, probably permanently. Their outlook will be less and less like our own.

  19. Mark B
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Good morning.

    I think your last sentence summarizes exactly how I see things. We need to start to think of and about ourselves and our commitments. UK first !

    Being part of the EU suits the US as this removes a potential competitor from the field. Russia is feeling the effects on non-military aggression, and China is clearly next on the list.

    The UK is in an enviable position because despite losing our Empire, at the assistance of the US, we still maintained strong links through the Commonwealth. Those links can serve us well and I think the US knows it.

    We are preeminent in the world of finance and insurance. Our currency is both well known and respected, along with our credit history.

    We once had, and could again, have a world class Navy and armed forces. Small, but well trained and equipped.

    We are proud Island Race with a proud and long history. A confident people who have been undermined by a minority of those who sought power, only to find that they did not know what to do with it. So they gave it away instead. Yes, they had ambition, but they lacked the vision necessary to take a nation and its people forward.

  20. Denis Cooper
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Wilson was right to keep us out of Vietnam, and Thatcher was right to press Bush senior to form an alliance to expel Saddam from Kuwait; but Blair was wrong to allow us to be dragged into the invasion of Iraq on false pretences to suck up to Bush junior. The 9/11 attacks were clearly covered by the NATO treaty and we had an obligation to assist in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, notwithstanding our previous largely unhappy experiences in that part of the world, but we should have concentrated on thoroughly cleaning out that nest of vipers rather diverting resources to another war for no good reasons, and moreover a war which has proved counter-productive.

  21. Tad Davison
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    A fair appraisal, and I too agree with your last sentence – ‘From my reading of history and based on my instincts I think we need to be more independent of both, capable of defending ourselves if need arises.’

    I was never against the US whilst it pursued ethical foreign and domestic policies, but that country has morphed into something I believe the founding fathers would not recognise. And Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in which he states, ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’ now seems more of an aspiration than a reality.

    It seems that a dark malevolence has overtaken the US in the past fifty years or so, and that goes against my own values for I do truly believe the American people matter far more than big businesses. It is hard to find a place of tension or a trouble spot anywhere in the world that the US hasn’t got its dirty fingers in. So I now largely resent the US, and I wish for my own country not to be associated with them to anything like the extent we were in the past. We really DO need a very long spoon if we are to sup with the Devil.

    Perhaps we need to consider more closely who actually runs modern-day America. It seems it’s a conglomeration of people so powerful, they have the leverage to remove most references to their power, so few rarely see what is happening before their very eyes. But to distance ourselves in the UK from the US and the EU is only part of the equation. We also need to distance ourselves from our own past mistakes. Our government needs to be whiter than white if we are to win the confidence and trust of the international community, as well as the trust of our own people. That the integrity of our politicians and our institutions is now a sick joke, has its own sad commentary.

    Tad Davison

    Cambridge

    • turbo terrier
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Tad

      I note with much interest your use of confidence and trust!

      It will only happen when politicians actually start to live by the principles of a political ISO 9000 process. We say what we do. We do what we say.

      Therin lies the problem. All the time they keep on talking and doing the opposite it drives more and more into the arms of the smaller parties which only dilutes the process of real politics. We have this now as in the real world there is very little being done at Westminster of any great consequence as the majority of the politicians are totally focused on saving their seats. Some of the stuff that is coming out of Westminster will I am sure come back and bit us very firmly in the a***.

      It is the price that has to be paid of having full time politicians running the country with not one tad of business experience. They have no idea on what a cause and effect fish bone process is, let alone how it works.

      I am surrounded by wind turbines and not one of them is turning. With all the subsidies and constraint payments they receive, should there not be a law that they have to pay back to the consumer when they are not operating as intended? After all the turbine subsidy is a 24/7 payment. Either scrap the Climate Change Bill now or only pay them as a % of what they actually produce. The cause and effect of high energy prices is very well documented and who apart from our host and a few like minded companions are listening? Nada, zilch and nobody because by the time they are gone they will be in a secure job with a possible knighthood or an even better reward for total incompetence whilst trusted with a position of total power regarding the safety and future of this once great country

  22. turbo terrier
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    One thing the USA could help us with in getting rid of the £1.5trillion debt is to lease us their nuclear submarines and weapon systems should HMG decide they want them and carry out all the refits and maintenance in American dockyards which will enable the UK to close down Faslane give the Scottish parliament the off shore oil and gas areas off of the west coast and then transfer all the crews and necessary engineers to Plymouth to build up our conventional sea forces to combat more of the small scale threats facing the UK. For this reason alone we still do need the Yanks

  23. John Wilkin
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the Falklands, the US did come down on our side eventually and supplied us with the latest variant of the Sidewinder missile, which gave the Sea Harrier the edge in air combat. I believe that Ronald Reagan’s personal admiration for Margaret Thatcher was a key factor in this, there were people in the State Department, notably Jeane Kirkpatrick, who were sympathetic to the junta.

    I think however that the Reagan-Thatcher era was the only time there ever really was a special relationship. FDR was certainly no great friend of the UK, and as someone has already mentioned, the behaviour of the Eisenhower administration over Suez was a distinct low point. From a British perspective the current President is probably the worst since Eisenhower

  24. zorro
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Good hard headed post John…. John Foster Dulles….’The USA does not have friends; it has interests’……

    How many times do we have to remind ourselves of this statement? You forgot to mention the USA’s unique approach to helping us deal with the Northern Ireland issues…..

    The USA wants us in the EU so it can have some ears there…… The USA wanted a United Ireland within Europe, hence their unique approach to supporting us there. Does anyone really think the USA gives a damn about Europe’s economy with its constant provocations against Russia?

    We need enlightened self interest and some realism with our relationship with the USA and its proxies……

    zorro

  25. Douglas Carter
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    It’s probably an unreasonably cynical comment in this festive period but I’d like to see some proper evidence that any UK Westminster Government was willing to show a ‘special relationship’ with the UK Taxpayer.

    Beyond that, with regard to ‘senior, serious’ figures who might be signed up to ‘renegotiate’ our relationship with the EU, I’m not trying to be unfair John, but…

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/11314404/People-diary-Sir-John-Major-tipped-to-lead-talks-on-EU.html#disqus_thread

    If that was the bright idea of someone to placate serious Eurosceptics, then it’s about as disastrous a message as the note the soothsayer handed to Caesar saying ‘beware the Ides of April’. If that particular ‘senior, serious’ figure was sent to renegotiate, I’d conclude the Party leader agreeing to any such thing was enthusiastically intent on losing the next election. I’m aware that there was supposed to be a pre-election truce over the EU, but ‘red-rag to bull’ comes to mind. If that story was to be shown to be true, then only incompetence or contempt could be behind such a suggestion. I would hope and expect – ill-concealed behind the scenes – that communications advising against the selection of this have been transmitted.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      It would be even more of a disastrous decision to let Sir John Major have anything to do with the EU renegotiation than it was to appoint Lord Patten to the BBC.

      This dreadful man still has not accepted responsibility for his idiotic ERM disaster. Anyway he is clearly not intellectually capable of anything much. He struggles even to put a single sensible, meaningful & coherent sentence together. He also conned UK voters with his “subsidiarity” claims. Major is, needless to say, a favourite of the BBC. He is never asked anything much beyond what would you like to say Sir John.

  26. fedupsouthener
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Having lost a brother in the Falklands war, I had conversations with many serving in the army after this event and many said that the USA provided a lot of help during the conflict. However, I do feel we join the USA in too many conflicts in the middle east and Afghanistan not knowing what the end result will be and what the long term effects on the UK will be. Our forces seem to be sent into any old conflict lately and without the equipment necessary to do so. We many need the USA however if the SNP get their way and we are forced to remove Trident. Perhaps some solution could be found using their nuclear capabilities. Unless we spend some serious money on our armed forces we won’t be able to defend ourselves.

  27. CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    One is reminded of TV footage when US troops having no doubt seen their friends killed at their sides, entered a hospital in Baghdad. No doubt grossly underfunded the hospitals in Iraq were NHS and free to all at the point of delivery. There in the foyer to the hospital they pointed guns at white coated staff and shouting they should lie on the floor with arms apart face down. They did. One trooper shouted “Who owns this hospital? ” Only a murmur was heard in reply. He shouted again “Who owns this hospital?” A barely audible reply came from a white coated male doctor on the floor: ” No-one ” The trooper shouted the question again with an added expletive “Who owns this goddam hospital? ” The troopers and their guns moved in closer.The Iraqi doctor spoke more loudly this time in reply in an accent he could only have acquired in a very private and expensive posh British school ” Well I suppose Saddam Hussein owns it.” All was quiet.

    I felt proud the good doctor had had a complete education in our country and could even discern the very subtle differences in concept and meaning of American and English words and sentences. Who knows what may have befallen him had his education been anything less than superb.

  28. Ian wragg
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Just an update. Wind is providing just 2% of our electricity. Tell me again how much subsidy does it receive.

    • fedupsouthener
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Ha,ha,ha Ian, we’ve just been out for a dog walk and can see 52 turbines from our house and a further 28 on a hill about a 1mile away then another 60 in the distance and not one is moving and that includes a 79m turbine on a farm along from our house. A total of 0% in South Ayrshire! Scotland’s turbines received over £100m in constraint payments last year to do nothing. So, no coal, old nuclear power stations and no wind. Where is the power going to come from for all the electric cookers, cars, boilers etc. etc???? When Mr Cameron tells us he has had enough of the ‘green crap’ can we believe him? Same as when he tells us he is stopping subsidies for wind turbines. How can we believe this when in the next sentence we learn he is doing away with gas and fossil and replacing it with renewables which will mean thousands more turbines. Without a subsidy they will not get built. Do our politicians understand anything?

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 28, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        And they should not be build so scrap the subsidies now and retrospectively as the operators clearly also knew they were bonkers.

        • Bazman
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

          And the subsidies for the rest especially nuclear. Completely non viable without subsidy and never can be viable payments mostly being made to foreign government owned companies?

  29. DaveM
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    NATO is more important politically than any other alliance at the minute. And the UK has developed (and continues to develop) its expeditionary capability to the point where it provides the first choice of theatre-entry troops in just about every NATO operation. This is crucial because it means we get to call a large number of the shots at the earliest point of planning, right back to int gathering and sharing in the “doughnut”.

    The problem with funding for defence at this time is that the 2nd phase units are being neglected – the cuts to the defence budget need to be stopped before capability drops any further. No-one ever thought reserve armies were a good idea (not on my side of the fence anyway) not least because employers were never going to release employees regularly enough anyway.

    The argument for reserves was: because they had to attain the same standard in tests etc they were sufficiently trained. Would the same bunch of fruitcakes and loons who came up with that little idea sack their whole accounts department and fill it up with freshly qualified 21-year-old accountants who only came in twice a week??!!! I think not.

    Although NATO countries do send troops to NATO operations, realistically it’s only the US, UK, Canada, the Netherlands and sometimes France who make a meaningful contribution. Germany will tell you they had troops in Afghan, but they never actually left their camp – likewise the majority of the rest of NATO contributors. In all fairness, the E Europeans tried their best with very limited equipment or support, but they wouldn’t have been missed.
    To that end, we have to maintain strong relations with the US. There IS this EU reaction force nowadays but it is so far down the list of priorities that half the personnel who are on the 6-month roster don’t even know about it.

    Ultimately, though, as our host says, we need to be an INDEPENDENT member of alliances, bound by treaties perhaps when it suits, but not reliant on anyone. As soon as we lose the political will or political self-determination (and military ability) to pursue our own foreign policy we will become less relevant anyway, and will not be sought out by other nations to join such alliances.

    It all comes down to the same thing again – we need to leave the EU in order to have 100% control of ALL of our policies, and we need strong balanced leaders to make those policies and make them work.

  30. They Work for Us?
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    We should always put put our own interests first because a few kind words to our leaders, telling what valued friends they are and after we have been shafted is cheap for the U.S. A.
    Obama should have been told that a compensation without end campaign against BP would not be tolerated and like the French would do, we should be targeting US firms with costly impediments to profits until the US got the message. Nothing personal Mr Obama, just business. As a valued friend I am sure you will understand. We of course continue to love you dearly.
    Digressing I hope the Eurosceptic MPs will tell Cameron that using John Major to renegotiate terms withe the EU is unacceptable and an open goal for UKIP and that the remaining Conservative supporters are eagerly waiting for evidence that progress towards EVEL is proceeding apace.

  31. Robert Taggart
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    The ‘special relationship’ be only really special on this side of ‘the pond’.
    One recalls ‘Tarzan’ once postulated that the only special relationship ‘Cowboy Country’ enjoys be that with Israel – and they have nothing to offer other than ongoing troubles !

    Methinks your last two paragraphs Johnny sum up this conundrum perfectly…
    ‘Cowboy Country’ wants one thing for Blighty – ever grater union with Europe – because it be simply in their interest.
    Blighty meanwhile wants to distance itself from Europe – if not actually leave it – in order to enjoy that same feeling of independence which they take for granted.
    Mid Atlantic would be our choice of positioning – strong enough to defend our interests – but perhaps with the help of one of those two sides against the other !

  32. Terry
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    The “Special” Relationship is only “Special” when the AMERICANS want it to be. JohnR has provided the warts on our Relationship over several decades and different PMs.

    Look at the way Obama treated Gordon Brown when he visited the US in his capacity as Prime Minister of this country. GB was a terrible PM but he was in the USA as the representative of the British people yet he was shunned like a Third World Dictator. That was shameful.
    Such disgraceful, unprofessional international diplomacy (At that level) is virtually unknown in diplomatic circles but The White House could not care less about that.

    There was certainly no inkling of a “Special” relationship there and neither was there during the IRA UK bombing campaign when our Security Services wanted to extradite perpetrators from their hideouts in Kennedy country. Not one murder ‘suspect’ was forced out of the USA and in fact they were protected by the White House.
    Yet when the Americans wanted to extradite one of ours we willingly gave him up because of the agreements.

    Yep, there may well be a ‘Special’ Relationship but it is purely one sided and certainly not in our favour. Considering that Britain’s total inward investment in the USA is larger than the rest of Europe put together, I would have though we would have received much more respect than we get. I look forward to a change in the White House, for the better but I will not hold my breath.

    • formula57
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      If this is true – ” Britain’s total inward investment in the USA is larger than the rest of Europe put together” I suspect the Americans do not believe it, recognizing that whilst for tax and political and no doubt other reasons much investment is routed through the UK, the actual source of funds is from elsewhere. Accordingly, the prima facie position is not revealing of the truth.

    • turbo terrier
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Terry

      The problem is the arrogance of the yanks. The truth always out and they know that during the Falklands they did help “big time” and saved Mrs Thatchers hide and they know it.

      One of my clients was in the Falklands operating a forward observation post attached to third para and they called upon air strikes to take out a heavily defended Argentine position. After the air strikes were over one of his squadies came out of his foxhole and said ” sir I did not know that we had so many harriers left” His reply “when did the RAF fly F16s? Markings mean nothing” He often mentioned the undercover assistance provided by the yanks. Some believe because we owed them big time, we had no choice but to follow them into their middle east adventures!!

      What goes round comes round.

      With the Americans I suppose it is better to be in the tent with them aiming outwards than have them out the outside aiming inwards !!!

      The Americans come up with a great idea and procees called shale oil and gas and just do it. We just dither.

      Never lose the sight of who paniced parliament into the Climate Change Act.

      As we carry on as we do, we have learnt nothing. We are becoming a sadder, sicker country for it.

      • Tom William
        Posted December 29, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Nice story about F16s, but totally untrue.

  33. Terry
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m not so sure that Obama knows what the EU really is. He recommends that we stay with it but is he thinking of the old European Common Market, I wonder?
    If so, he needs a full briefing on the subject and from a Brit – not one of his own ignorant, unqualified staff.

    Maybe our Ambassador in DC should ask him if America would be prepared first to join a union of North and South American States for trade purposes, only to become a Full blown Political Union, all governed by a group of unelected ex-Marxists based in Caracas. The mirror reflection of the EU in Europe.

    I am confident he would shy away from such a catastrophical event which would diminish American power around the world and lose him the election had he been available. Can somebody please properly advise him? Or is he just happy to see our power diminished in the world? Hmm!

  34. zorro
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Interesting picture over all John, but what hope is there that this government or a future Conservative one (with Cameron in charge) would go within a million miles of a policy like this based on recent experience of his/their actions?

    zorro

  35. Jon
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Agree with that, with a dynamic global economy and political issues I think it would be better to have direct access to those global bodies and to have the flexibility to adapt. We retained our currency. it is an option to look to for us. We have too many crowd followers and socialists.

  36. Anne
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    I say AMEN to that.

  37. Fairweather
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    No one has mentioned TTIP
    The EU negotiation for trade deal with America
    Read Douglas Carswell’s blog from Nov:
    http://www.talkcarswell.com

  38. Atlas
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Little to disagree with with what you say John.

  39. bluedog
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    An important post, Dr JR, and there should be no criticism of an honest assessment of the value of the ‘special relationship’. Every external relationship needs to viewed through the simple test; is this relationship to the benefit of the UK, and what is the cost?

    In the case of the EU, the benefit seems no greater than that obtained by non-members such as China, Japan, Korea and the US, all of whom have developed economies which export large quantities of sophisticated products to the EU. On the other hand the EU is explicitly a threat to the British state by virtue of its policy of ever-closer union. The EU policy of a federal Europe presents an existential threat to the United Kingdom that should not be tolerated. In short, the EU is the diplomatic enemy of the UK and as yet, lacks the military capacity to threaten the UK, but this may change. The cost of EU membership is manifestly greater than the benefit and those office holders in the British polity unable to recognise this reality need to find more appropriate career paths; they are incompetent.

    On the other hand there are clear net benefits to the UK of maintaining a defence agreement with the US. Undoubtedly the US has historically played an active, but peaceful, role in the demise of the British Empire and the global reach of British power, in order to seek its own unfettered global hegemony. Having achieved global hegemony the US has acquired global vulnerability, something that seems not to have occurred to US planners in the early stages. Indeed, the US now is suffering from massive imperial over-reach, with far more commitments than it can possibly honour. As the UK retains global influence through the network provided by the Commonwealth and other historic relationships, the UK is thus in a position to exploit the benefits of the US power structure at relatively low cost to itself.

    The principle cost of playing this game comes from being a permanent member of the UN Security Council, where the price of membership, inter alia, is the possession of a credible nuclear deterrent. Despite the UK’s somewhat reduced circumstances as a global power, there is currently no prospect of the UK being evicted from its privileged position because such an outcome would weaken the US position. British membership of the UN is therefore a key US asset.

    The weakness in the UK’s nuclear weapons posture is that the Trident missile system is essentially an adjunct of the US Trident missile system and lacks the capacity for independent targeting. This must change.

    The other flaw in the UK’s nuclear posture is that Trident is deemed to be a second strike revenge weapon. Given the geographical limits of the UK, this position is sheer madness. A single nuclear strike on the UK, inevitably on London, would cripple the entire country; the UK is not a continental power with the ability to absorb nuclear battle damage. The only viable option is to declare that Trident is a first strike weapon that will unhesitatingly be deployed before the UK itself is vaporised. But to do this requires the capacity for a truly independent deterrent, which the UK has surrendered to the US.

    Dr JR, it falls to you to ensure that the survival of the UK is no longer subject to a potential US veto.

    • Bazman
      Posted December 31, 2014 at 12:02 am | Permalink

      Trident is an offensive weapon with first strike capabilities. A truly independent weapon using only British technology would be massively expensive like in France. However the use of trident alone could be enough to poison the world.
      We need to get the Chinese and Russians to run our defence industry like we do the rest. America could produce the equipment and we could lease it via these two countries. Come a war the cost would not be our problem as it would be sub contracted out. Would Russia and China risk damaging their shopping and money laundering facilities? How sensible.

  40. Stephen O
    Posted January 2, 2015 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    The special relationship is about the degree of institutional trust between the two countries, below the political level, which allows the sharing of military technology and intelligence and better coordination of the armed forces and intelligence agencies in peace time. This is advantageous to both parties. But it does not alter the fact that the US and UK have differing interests and policies, with the UK having limited political influence over the US.
    However these seems to be much confusion in the minds of journalists and politicians in the UK about what the Special relationship actually is that leads them to suppose it means the two countries have some sort of common policy and the relationship is in danger whenever there appears to be gaps between the views expressed by each countries leaders. But actually it is only to be expected that the two countries have differences, as the issues which confront them change.
    During the Cold war the US and UK common interest in the defence of Europe led to a coincidence of Interests & policy while the end of the cold war left the west with no alternative threat to cause any obvious divergence of interests. With the focus the threat of international terrorism there was again a common threat, but with greater divergence of views and policies on how to address it.
    Now broad instability across the Middle East/North Africa and the rise of China are potential concerns. The UK, in conjunction with Europe (especially France), has relatively greater concern around those areas geographically close to it (such as North Africa), compared to the US. China is a major US concern, but a much more remote concern for the UK, therefore our interests are going to differ to those of the US, much more in future.
    The misunderstanding of the nature of the special relationship seems to have led the UK to conclude that its default foreign policy must be to stick close to US policies and contribute to US lead wars, and it can’t afford too much independent thinking. Perhaps there is an underlying assumption that if needed the US would reciprocate if the UK need its assistance, but this seems unrealistic, except in circumstance where US interest align sufficiently with the UK and the US would provide assistance any way.
    A second problem with this UK policy is that it may be the US may not have fully thought through how its actions will achieve the policy results it seeks. Then the UK simply compounds the error by mindlessly joining in rather than providing constructive criticism which would be far more valuable.
    A third problem is that UK defence policy, (also in response to financial pressure) has focused evermore on making a ‘contribution’ to an allied response. This is financially convenient, as it provides the intellectual cover for both specific ‘capability holidays’ and the general rundown of the armed services. This much reduces the UK’s ability to protect its interest if they happen to differ from those of the US. This was demonstrated by the Libyan campaign where even with France, in a part of the world relatively close to Europe, the UK struggled to act to support its own policy, without the US’s assistance.

  • 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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