cool britannia
The Not-So-Special Relationship

Seventy years ago, D-Day marked the pinnacle of the U.S.-UK “special relationship.” Today British military power is a shell of its former self.

Published on: June 5, 2014
Raphael Cohen is a predoctoral fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. Gabriel Scheinmann is the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center.
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  • ShadrachSmith

    This too will pass.

  • RAS743

    And, gee, how did this come to pass? Might it have something to do with math, wherein the world view and governing “philosophy” of “all the right people” on both sides of the Atlantic have left both nations light in the purse and morally disarmed? Churchill, after Munich, spoke of restoring Great Britain’s “martial vigor.” The Left, its true believers as well as the cynical opportunists or careerists along for the ride, laugh at the phrase while the jungle waits just the other side of the threshold.

  • NotYouNotSure

    There was never really a “special relationship”, looking deeper into past historical relations between the two will show that it is nothing more than shallow sentimental thinking. The USA was not pro British empire and very pro British in general, forcing Britain out of Egypt during the Suez crises should be enough of an example that there was no special relationship.

  • PR

    Tony Blair was an American ally.
    Average and especially “elite” English are more than happy to tell you how much they hate the United States and how well they were doing against Hitler without us.
    If Scotland leaves, the English Empire which once spanned the world won’t even span its own island, so anything Elite English recommend should be taken as the wrong thing to do. They have a 150 tradition of screwing everything up.
    And, they’re just another useless European ally we should be walking away from.
    NATO is dead. RIP

  • Marie Shanahan

    I hope Britain fights back and comes out stronger! It may take several years, but it’s possible. They are our dear friends and we should do all that is necessary to support them. This “brotherhood” between us is real and if Scotland does leave, we should be right there to support them.

  • EllenO

    What about a broader perspective than the here and now. The UK is becoming irrelevant for a completely different reason.

    Last year 50% of all births in the UK were to Muslims. Unlikely that the special relationship will last more than another generation.

  • Brett Champion

    So be it. The special relationship with Britain should exist only so long as it’s beneficial to the United States. Though there really is no country out there that could fill the void left by a diminished Britain.

    Strategic importance is a necessary trait for a country to have to fill that role, but it isn’t sufficient. The history that exists between the US and UK has also been necessary to the relationship. It’s a history that we have with no other country, save perhaps Canada and Australia, neither of which has the military power or global influence necessary to fill Britain’s shoes.

    But it does seem a bit much to expect a country of Britain’s size (both demographically and economically) to continue to play such a large role in world affairs when the cost of military power has gotten as expensive as it has. And that price will only rise in the future as China and India continue along their paths of military modernization.

    This is why the US should be encouraging the development of a federal European state, even if it doesn’t include Britain. Only a European superstate would have the demographic and economic weight to construct a full-spectrum, highly capable military that the US could partner with. And while such a political entity would be more likely to become antagonistic to the US than the individual European states would on their own (especially if it didn’t include Britain), we would likely still have a better relationship with it than what is likely to develop with India. US history with India isn’t of the kind that would be likely to foster a close working military relationship. And the kinds of events that would need to occur in the future for that relationship to develop would be devastating for the world if they happened.

    • Marie Shanahan

      Could this, perhaps, have something to do with how distrustful they are of us? Even if what you said is true, it was spoken without much honor, if I might say. They are our brother nation and so long as true, goodwill exists, perhaps we would be better off helping them back up as opposed to knocking them down “shacking up”with India because they have more weaponry. India is a nation, I don’t doubt much would “cut our throat” immediately should it become “tactically convenient” for them. People say “oh, it’s just politics.” Though this is true, it has always also been true that “politics” are better practiced with a high degree of honor. If human history, under God, has taught us anything, it should be this.

      • Brett Champion

        First, I actually said in my comment that we would not likely be able to have the same relationship with India as we have with Britain (the idea of India doing what Britain did in Iraq and Afghanistan anytime soon is risible), which makes me think you didn’t read the whole post.

        Second, trust has nothing to do with this, which makes me think you didn’t read the whole article either. Britain is reducing the size, reach, and capabilities of its military not because they don’t trust us, but because they don’t have the economic heft to support the kind of military that the US would need in an international partner. There is a high level of fixed cost in creating a world class military with global reach that Britain’s economy simply can’t support any longer. It will of necessity have to make choices that will seriously degrade its usefulness to the US.

        Third, honor has nothing to do with it. As Lord Palmerston once said: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” The US government has three primary jobs when it comes to dealing with other countries: 1) to protect and defend the Constitution, 2) to protect and defend the American people, and 3) to protect and promote the interests of the American people with and within foreign countries. If having a special relationship with Britain detracts from those jobs, then the special relationship must be downgraded.

        Fourth, that doesn’t mean, though, that we just chuck Britain over the side of the boat. Britain is a part of NATO, and NATO isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Plus, our intelligence, political, and economic ties to Britain should remain strong as Britain will still have a presence and influence in many corners of the globe where the US has an interest but that just don’t rise to the level of places like East Asia or the Middle East (e.g., Kenya). It just means that the “special relationship” as it has existed since World War II is due for a rethink in the military realm. It’s highly unlikely that we can expect Britain to provide in the future the kind of military support that we received from it during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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