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UK Joint Committee: We are Doomed

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,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
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.

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  • Lexington Green

    It seems like it is always Americans who see all the untapped potential in England.

    I am reminded of this vivid paragraph in one of my all time favorite books, Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, Or a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. In that book London is the chief city in a global network of English speaking people called Atlantis — in about the mid-21st Century. Victoria II is on the throne. The world has gone through some cataclysm, but there are four major “phyles” that have survived: Han, Hind, Nippon and Atlantis — i.e. China, India, Japan and the Anglosphere. I do not look forward to decline for England. I look for the rise of a global, Anglophone Atlantis.

    I cannot resist quoting this passage, where the word Anglosphere was first used, and where London is still the city of opportunity, drawing people to it from all corners of the world, as it has been for centuries, and as it should continue to be for centuries to come:

    After a simple dinner of beer and pasties in a pub on the fringes of the City, they rode south across the Tower Bridge, pierced a shallow layer of posh development along the right bank of the river, and entered into Southwark. As in other Atlantan districts of London, Feed lines had been worked into the sinews of the place, coursing through utility tunnels, clinging to the clammy undersides of bridges, and sneaking into buildings through small holes bored in the foundations. The tiny old houses and flats of this once impoverished quarter had mostly been refurbished into toeholds for young Atlantans from all around the Anglosphere, poor in equity but rich in expectations, who had come to the great city to incubate their careers. The businesses on the ground floors tended to be pubs, coffeehouses, and music halls. As father and daughter worked their way east, generally paralleling the river, the lustre that was so evident near the approaches to the bridge began to wear thin in places, and the ancient character of the neighborhood began to assert itself, as the bones of the knuckles reveal their shape beneath the stretched skin of a fist. Wide gaps developed between the waterfront developments, allowing them to look across the river into a district whose blanket of evening fog was already stained with the carcinogenic candy-colored hues of big mediations.

    (The Joint Committee should be asked to read the book.)

  • WigWag

    Dylan Thomas was Welsh and it isn’t entirely clear that the Welsh want to remain in the United Kingdom. If Scotland breaks free of Great Britain it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Welsh independence movement get stronger.

    The British can “rave at the end of day” until their blue in the face. The “dying of the light” seems like it’s just around the corner.

  • Jim.

    Britain’s decline was only assured once its people became convinced that their way of life was no better than others, and that the way of life that had gotten them the power and status they had before was not the way of life they wished to lead.

    I’m not usually a big supporter of “all you have to do is believe in yourself” boosterism. That’s not “all” you have to do. You also have to be right — in the case of nations, you have to have a culture worth having, with beliefs and practices that help rather than hinder your national interests.

    Britain had it, in the 19th century. America had it, in the first half of the 20th.

    We could have it again, if we wanted it. The gameboard has changed, and it’s tougher now. But that doesn’t change who we could be.

  • Toni

    Well, I think Obama and the Democrats want nothing to do with talk of austerity, budget-cutting and fiscal responsibility that’s all the rage in Europe now. As the euro crisis began, he tried to get France and Germany to expand their budgets to stimulate the world economy. Non and nein, they said.

    But Britain is our mother ship. Surely she will produce another leader who believes in her greatness and brings out the best in her people. But if she never does, she will always be the country whence sprang the philosophic political and economic underpinnings of the freedoms enjoyed by Americans, Indians, and many others.

    Yep, I’m an Anglophile, almost as grateful to Great Britain as to America.

    And the U.S. may also find a leader better aware of Britain’s strengths as an ally than the current one.

  • danniapearl

    The British can “rave at the end of day” until their blue in the face. The “dying of the light” seems like it’s just around the corner.

  • Tom Richards

    Dylan Thomas was Welsh and it isn’t entirely clear that the Welsh want to remain in the United Kingdom. If Scotland breaks free of Great Britain it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Welsh independence movement get stronger.

    There is a clear majority against independence even in Scotland. The idea of Welsh independence is a joke, not least because the Welsh know perfectly well that their standard of living would collapse without subsidy from London. The part of the UK that actually might be able to find a majority in favour of independence is England, where an awful lot of people are fed up with being governed by MPs who represent socialist whingers from the Celtic fringe.

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