With President Obama and David Cameron toasting one another in Washington and bonding at a March Madness basketball game in Ohio, the “special relationship” between the US and the UK seems to be in good shape. But is it?Beneath all the warm-and-fuzzy, there’s a sense on the British side that the two allies are drifting apart, at least according to a recent report issued by a British joint committee on the government’s National Security strategy and summarized here by the BBC.The report argued that the United States had shifted its attention away from Europe, and questioned whether it was in Britain’s interests to maintain such a close bond with an ally that was no longer focused on the Atlantic.The wide-ranging report makes for glum reading. It also discussed a host of economic and security challenges posed by the ongoing financial crisis in Europe. Among the report’s findings:
- UK ministers should develop a plan to deal with the break-up of the Eurozone “as a matter of urgency”;
- The full or partial collapse of the euro was “plausible”;
- EU allies are likely to cut defense spending if financial instability continues to drag on;
- Economic migration between EU member states could become a feature of European life.
Looking at that list, one might think that instead of loosening ties with its transatlantic ally, the UK should be strengthening them. But the gloomsters of the British joint committee don’t seem to think much in terms of solutions; their report goes on to state that Britain was entering an era of “diminished resources” that would see its power and influence decline in the “medium and long term.”Decline of course would be nothing new for Great Britain, a country that ruled one fourth of the world’s surface and one fourth of its people just 100 years ago. And it’s understandable that so much of the British establishment would at this point just be braced for more of the same.But Via Meadia notes that three prime ministers in quite different ways said no to decline in this period: Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Nobody much remembers the British leaders like Stanley Baldwin or who counseled making peace with decline; Via Meadia suspects that David Cameron—if he is thoughtful, principled and clever—can still make his mark on the world.Perhaps the voices of doom and decline are right; perhaps the UK’s international profile is fated to wither away. That’s not the impression one gets from walking around London, where some of the world’s brightest and most ambitious people still come like Dick Whittington to seek their fortune. It’s not the impression one gets talking to university students at Britain’s world class universities in places like Oxford, Cambridge and London.But even if the doomsters are right and decline is baked in the cake, there is no reason a British prime minister shouldn’t take Dylan Thomas‘ advice:
Do not go gentle into that good night,Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
If Britain decides to take that advice, it will continue to find its special relationship with the United States, and the affection and regard in which Britain is still held here, to be an important asset.