between The United States and The UK
JULY 18 2010

For any readers needing a conventional history reminder on the subject there is plenty of that here:

The United States has special relationships with a number of nations. The countries from which the founding fathers came have a natural bond and, in the case of Britain, also a rivalry such as that which traditionally may arise between progenitor and offspring. The bonds due to culture and language have, however, far outlived the temporary intense outbursts of hostility which surrounded the breaking of the umbilical cord and the declaration of independence. The US has a special relationship with France and with Germany, again for deep-rooted historical reasons. The special relationship with Israel is perhaps the most complex of all, in that it is regularly advertised by US Presidents in office as being unbreakable, to the extent that we are led to believe it is unconditional, though that remains to be seen. A special relationship with Japan was forged out of a titanic struggle for Pacific supremacy. That with Ireland on the high proportion of Irish families who emigrated to the US. All these relationships, and some others, are special in that they exceed the norms of formal, conventional alliance or shared membership.

The special relationship with the UK is not unconditional because we expect a lot of each other, but it is also the deepest and broadest in matters of simple fact, based on many interlocking structures in finance, defense, security, national interest, philosophy, law and language. Because of this intimate and complex involvement, the conditionality does not mean that the relationship can be switched of or on as a whole at the top political level. However, paradoxically, it is at the highest political level that the condition of the relationship tends to be analysed. This is misleading. Equally unenlightening are the views of disgruntled journalists such as Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail who wrote:

"I was once phoned up by a White House official who had become aware that I was writing uncomplimentary articles about this. She wanted to brief me into softening my views. But she wrecked the whole thing by comparing Bill Clinton's intervention on the side of Gerry Adams with his involvement in Yugoslavia. 'So', I said to her 'You regard Britain, your wartime ally, a sovereign democracy with a thousand years of history, the origin of your own constitution, as the equivalent of Serbia?' She went very quiet. Because in fact that is exactly how the White House then regarded Britain, and I should think is pretty much as the White House regards us now."

Most of us would quite understand why she went quiet, having discovered too late in the day that nobody in their right mind would grant an interview to Peter Hitchens, the only thing to do is keep your mouth shut. The incident gives me an opportunity to discuss one aspect of the Special Relationship at this point, the military one. I do not know much about the military relationship on the Naval side other than there are few collisions between our respective ships and submarines and one well-known incident...

During the closing days of W.W. II it had become obvious that the Royal Navy, up till then the world's biggest navy, had been eclipsed by the United States. Admiral Sir James Somerville, who had been head of the British Naval Delegation to Washington, was on his way home when he received this signal from Fleet Admiral Ernest King USN, who was no lover of the RN, "How does it feel to belong to the world's second largest navy?" To which Somerville replied, "How does it feel to still belong to the second best?" 

Fortunately, relations between our two military establishments are more relaxed these days even when tensions run high. The respect is mutual. Our soldiers get remarkable support and cooperation in the field from their US NATO partners, support that goes at times well beyond the agreed logistical support and, when it comes to fighting, no ducking and diving. At command level, it is evident that communications are good even though the political and diplomatic channels can get so screwed up that procedures appear to be failing on occasions. The integration of high tech equipment in the air and on the ground, while keeping integrity and security, is remarkable in the circumstances. Yes, there have been cases of 'friendly fire' casualties but given the number of operations and personnel involved in US military operations there are remarkably few mistakes. The policy complications that arose around the way to handle the militants in the Basra region gave rise to some disagreements when the British approach did not toward the end get the results, but there was little chance to have played it differently earlier with the forces available. I would say that on the military level the special relationship has never been better, the global credit crunch notwithstanding.

On the matter of high-level security, nuclear weapons and research and development, the special relationship has two interfaces, the technical and the political. To a very large extent it is the technical that runs the show for purely pragmatic reasons. Security in these matters is a matter of technology and human resources. The banking crisis has shown us the degree to which the technology alone can create scenarios that run ahead of the ability and understanding of management calculations. In this case they can can run ahead of political and diplomatic calculations. The UK has a permanent civil service, but the US appears to be more open to change of personnel at the administrative helm of the analytical machinery that generates the options. It seems to me that due to a general internationalisation of top-level research, along with the development of ITC and the Internet, a wider special relationship has developed of which the UK-US relationship is but a part. It is not diminished by this but can be seen as less exclusive. I believe this is good and could lead to a better relationship with Europe, the UK and the US.

In civil aviation there is very special relationship indeed. It has its competitive elements and that is inevitable. There are all sorts of arguments as individuals and companies fight for their corner, but we are interlocked and have been for a very long time. The vital thing is to ensure that the fall-out from the competition is positive for the planet as a whole and for the citizens of our nations, not a slugging match in which the innocent are the victims. This applies to all commerce, so it is not an issue for a discussion of the special relationship other than to point out that this relationship is the very way we can avoid the harmful outcomes.

These are some of the realities. In contrast we are bombarded these days with a lot of froth such as complaints by some political opportunists about the BP Oil Leak cock-up - a very big cock-up which BP (an international company with a Swedish chairman and a British CEO and many US workers and shareholders) has to pay for, from which all will learn - and about the decision of the Scottish Minister of Justice to send a dying prisoner, accused of being one of those responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, back to Libya. Both of those matters could be cock-ups, but to be lectured on cock-ups by the United States, who have made so many more and bigger, we do not need. Nor do we need to 'work on' or 'repair' what we call the Special Relationship. We could do a bit more to value it on occasions and to help spread it rather than see it as exclusive.

Still, why not read these for alternative views

And bear in mind that the most special relationship of all now is the one between the USA and China. It is not even one of the USA's choosing, just a matter of fact, driven by the hopes, fears, ambitions and appetites of Americans and the leaders that emerge from their confused society. We don't really know what Sarah Palin, who until recently belived humans and dinosaurs once lived together, thinks about this.

DECEMBER 4th 2010
So, now we have some 'WikiLeaks', from fairly inconsequential diplomatic players, on The Special Relationship. I have to say I find an element of truth in them in that the UK media are tedious and yes, paranoid. As a result
the current Tory leaders appear to have an immature approach to it (particularly Fox and Hague), but this may be a reaction to the media.

Files newly released by the Wikileaks website highlight what is described as the UK's "paranoia" about its so-called special relationship with the US.

In one cable, a senior US diplomat describes "excessive UK speculation" after Barack Obama became president.

"This over-reading would often be humorous, if it were not so corrosive," it says, according to the Guardian.

I have to say I agree with that last remark, attributed to Richard LeBaron. The surprising thing is that any of this stuff had to be written at all, by anyone, but I suppose it is part of the job to supply a running commentary. I see on re-reading my original entry in this file I did not refer to Winston Churchill. This was because I assumed every reader here would be fully informed of his history. However it is naturally necessary to be familiar with this and the details of the 2 world wars to understand where we are now. Those with a knowledge of relationships at the top level during this period are now mostly dead and unfortunately the records do not fully reflect the reality. The idea that Britain was 'begging' the US for support, and to enter the war against Hitler and Japan is misleading. The problem was for those US political leaders who understood the situation only too well to convince the US public and their political opponents to commit lives and national treasure; and who can blame those who were reticent when the blood was still drying from WWI. The support was unstinting long before Pearl Harbour. The return of Winston Churchill's bust to Britain by Obama was better than removing it to a less prestigious location and was more a symbolic change from GWB's Whitehouse image than anything to do with UK/US relations.

All this stuff will blow over. Of far more consequence is the fact that the USofA are in deep trouble on a great many fronts. That will not blow over. When a big nation is in big trouble the effects can cause waves that batter the world. Mr Assange will have stirred the paranoia pot and in so doing caused more angst in those already suffering. It will be up to those not with this disease but nevertheless aware and sensitive to those who are susceptible to calm any wheel-wobble. The US will need good relations with Britain more than it ever did for many decades.