War in Iraq has exposed the"special relationship" as a liability that has damaged British interests in Europe and the Muslim world. Inside the British establishment the special relationship is now supported only by prime ministers, submariners and code breakers. We must become just good friendsby Rodric Braithwaite / May 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Whatever other casualties the Iraq war produces, whatever difficulties and opportunities appear in the aftermath, one thing is clear. Even in victory the principles on which British foreign policy have been based since Suez are now amongst the walking wounded.
Tony Blair and his predecessors—with the exception of Edward Heath—have often told us that the most important of these principles is to preserve Britain’s unique “special relationship” with America. American technical and logistic support for our highly competent military and intelligence agencies gives us a special weight in Nato. Our influence in Washington enables us to bridge the gap between Europe and America. It underpins our privileged but precarious position as one of only five powers that can exercise a veto in the UN Security Council. It is thanks to the American link—and, of course, to our own unrivalled historical experience—that we still punch above our weight in the affairs of the world.
That is the story. But foreign policy is more complicated than that. It involves balancing objectives, rather than subordinating all to a single aim. In the field of trade and commerce we have no inhibitions about using all the weapons at our disposal—including our membership of the EU—to defend our interests in negotiation with America. But the concentration on the special relationship in matters of foreign affairs and defence has distorted British policy for many years. And in the run-up to the Iraq war, our determined and blind adherence to the US line has undermined our other interests—in the proper functioning of the UN, in the Nato alliance, and in our relationships with our partners in Europe. It also damages our standing in the Muslim world, and makes us more, not less, vulnerable to terrorism. Most galling of all, it has reduced our freedom of manoeuvre to the point that we are now widely seen as incapable of having a mind of our own.
There is, in any case, a good deal less to the special relationship between Britain and the US than meets the eye. For the British, it is an emotional comfort blanket for a declining power. The British feel at home with Americans, with whom—so they believe—they share a common history, political system, culture and values. They assume that Americans think the same way about them. They are wrong. Ordinary Americans barely think of Britain from one year to another. The British are actively…