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Friday, 5 November 2010

"The Special Relationship? Built to Last": Nick Clegg

I reproduce below a brief extract of an article by Ian Davis from the excellent latest issue of NATOWatch, analysing the current state of Britain's foreign partnerships. the Anglo-French Treat is unlikely to inaugurate a fundamental shift in Britain's imperial self-concept.

The UK's [recently-published] National Security Strategy recognises that Britain cannot go it
alone in the world. British troops have only operated independently twice in the past 30 years
- in Sierra Leone (2000) and in the Falklands (1982). The bulk of UK military activity has been
undertaken in co-operation with allies. There is much talk in the NSS of partnership, therefore,
both within NATO and the EU, as well as a new emphasis on stronger bilateral relations with India, China and other emerging powers. But one thing is abundantly clear: the ‘special relationship’ with the United States remains fundamental. As the NSS document says, “our strong defence, security and intelligence relationship with the US is exceptionally close and central to our national interest”. Critics may argue that it was subservience to Pentagon paranoia that got Britain into the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan (and may yet again draw Britain into a future foreign crisis). Many were hoping for UK leaders to end their 'slavish' devotion to Washington – the words of the current Deputy Prime Minister during the general election (although now he praises a 'built to last' relationship with the United States).

Earlier in the year, the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee reported that "the perception that the British government was a subservient 'poodle' to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas". And the Committee concluded that "this perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK". The sight of British Ministers scrambling to provide reassurance to Washington that the defence cuts were less deep or wide-ranging than the Pentagon and White House initially feared only reinforces that perception.

It is also unlikely that the landmark Anglo-French defence cooperation treaty announced on 2 November represents a strategic realignment away from Washington towards Paris (and certainly not to the EU-side of Brussels). Rather, as the Prime Minister pointed out, this represents a "practical, hard-headed agreement between two sovereign countries". It is also interesting to note that David Cameron needed to stress that the treaties would not weaken British sovereignty and did not amount to a sharing of the UK's ‘independent
nuclear deterrent’ (which, ironically, would have required permission from Washington).

In essence, behind the preamble about shared strategic perspectives and common adversaries, the pressing reality is that both countries want to retain their global reach, but neither can afford to do so in isolation.

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