What will happen to “the closest intelligence relationship between any two nation states in history”?by Calder Walton / August 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
The past month has seen an earthquake of magnitude ten in British politics, producing seismic shocks across the European Union and the Atlantic. First came the decision to exit the EU, the most surprising political result in modern British history, which not only led to the downfall of David Cameron, but also plunged the UK into a constitutional crisis. Then came the publication of John Chilcot’s long-awaited report into the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which reveals that Tony Blair’s government went to war on the basis of faulty intelligence. Although the referendum and the Chilcot report were not connected, their quick succession has pulverised the British Establishment. The summer of 2016 is when fundamental questions are being asked about the future of the UK, its politics, and its role in the world.
Before the referendum, a vigorous debate arose from comments made in this magazine by Richard Dearlove, a former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), who argued there would be national security advantages for Britain leaving the EU. Now the UK has voted to do so, previously speculative debates are reality and will have to become policy matters for the new Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Both before and after the referendum, one subject has received insufficient attention: its likely impact on one of the most important aspects of British foreign policy at present, the “special” intelligence relationship between Britain and the United States. Contrary to what other commentators have suggested, Brexit threatens to undermine, and even terminate, the UK-US special intelligence relationship. The reasons for this are historical: it is only by considering Brexit’s broader past context that we can appreciate its full implications. Brexit, a tectonic shift, represents the biggest realignment in European security since 1945.
In the years since 1945, the trans-Atlantic intelligence relationship between Britain and the United States has been closer than that between any other two countries—in fact, it has been the closest intelligence relationship between any two nation states in history. It was forged during the Second World War when, in the face of a common enemy, the two countries pooled intelligence resources together in unprecedented ways. During the war, Britain was the undisputed senior intelligence partner; but soon after it, facing massive economic cuts, it became junior to the US.