Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Special Relationship, or the Special Relationship?

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, once said "I consider the British as our natural enemies." 200 years later, George W. Bush said the United States "has no truer friend than Great Britain". The reality of the Special Relationship is probably somewhere in between these two statements.

Yesterday, the Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee no doubt felt it was closer to the former when they announced they had been forced to suspend their investigation into the release of the Lockerbie Bomber due to lack of cooperation from the United Kingdom.

Eight years ago things seemed very different. American and British troops were fighting side by side in Iraq and the British Prime Minister was worshiped in Washington. A change in government on both sides of the Atlantic, the BP oil spill and the release of the Lockerbie Bomber has diminished that. But even at its height, the UK didn't get much out of the Special Relationship, throughout the world Tony Blair was portrayed as an 'American poodle' and whenever British coroners investigated British deaths from American friendly fire, the US always refused to cooperate.

The history of the relationship between the US and UK is long, complicated and swings from mutual mistrust to shared adoration and back again with the regulatory of a pendulum. The future of the Special Relationship is unclear. Currently, the US's most important international association is with China, and the UK's links with Europe and increasingly India (with which the PM wants to create a 'New Special Relationship') are far more central to the British economy.

When meeting David Cameron last week, President Obama kept referring to the US and UK having 'a' Special Relationship, as opposed to calling it 'the' Special Relationship. Barrack Obama is the first US President not to be an Anglophile and David Cameron has little interest in foreign affairs. As a result, the Special Relationship would seem to be entering one of its many dormant stages.

It seems unlikely that the US will ever be just another country to the UK, or vice versa, but in the near future, the relationship between these old enemies and allies will not be so special.

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