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Power & Interest News Rept: The U.S.-U.K. Alliance

The U.S.-U.K. Alliance

By Power and Interest News Report (PINR) report
14th January 2004

(PINR) – One of the results of al-Qaeda's unprecedented terrorist attack on the United States in September of 2001 was to thrust the United Kingdom into a new and conspicuous geopolitical role. Though not unfamiliar with acting as the bridge between the unilateralist-leaning U.S. and a more pluralist greater Europe, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, more so than ever before, found his country dangerously straddling the ever-growing U.S.-Europe schism.

On September 11, 2001, Blair made it obvious that the U.K. would be Washington's steadfast partner in what may lay ahead, which would come to include a war in Iraq. On that day, he said,

[M]ass terrorism is the new evil in our world. The people who perpetrate it have no regard whatever for the sanctity or value of human life, and we the democracies of the world, must come together to defeat it and eradicate it. This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism, but between the free and democratic world and terrorism. We, therefore, here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy, and we, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from our world.

The very next day, Blair was to give voice to a theme that would become dominant within the rhetoric of the Bush administration: "[T]his was an attack not just on a number of buildings, but on the very notion of democracy."

He also began to articulate a new global philosophy and policy that echoed sentiments previously expressed in Washington. This was at a time when, especially during the lead-up to the war, countries such as France, Germany, and Russia were stymieing Washington's advances in the U.N. Security Council and firing off criticisms at every diplomatic turn. This only served to emphasize that London was leaning westward in its politics and Europe would have to define its resistance to U.S. pressure without a United Kingdom in the mix.

In many ways, a U.S.-U.K. alliance is natural. It was, after all, residents of the monarchical, island nation that settled in North America and began a new country and created the political body that would become the United States; there obviously exists a shared language and history, as well as a philosophical vision -- but there are also strategic reasons for both parties involved.

For Washington, a close relationship with the U.K. gives the U.S. leadership influence in shaping European politics, especially those that revolve around the growth, strength, and ambitions of the European Union. Other European countries, such as France, envisage a bolder, economically surging European Union as a Eurasian counterweight to U.S. economic, military and cultural hegemony. Washington wants to nip this attitude in the bud and demonstrate to all doubters, whether they be critical countries on the United Nations Security Council or tiny, fledgling states, that in the coming decades it will be more prosperous to concede to U.S. desires in world affairs than to conspicuously resist.

London's loyalty to Washington nets it a certain place in the global order, fosters a certain image, and sets it apart from the other leading powers in Europe, such as France and Germany. Throughout recent history, London has largely distanced itself from the states on the European continent, only intervening when it needed to reset the balance of power.

There's also a new set of European countries that have, like the U.K., chosen to side with the United States in the manner in which the "war on terrorism" will be implemented on a global level. Among these countries are Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Poland. Within the context of these countries, the U.K. is the most intimate and senior U.S. ally.

For both countries, it's largely a win-win situation, though certainly the more precarious of the two perches is that of the United Kingdom's. Having a dutiful ally in the U.K. only boosts Washington's already significant leverage in all aspects of world affairs. Considering the good nature of the U.S.-U.K. friendship, even a less than compliant relationship is still bound to be somewhat profitable for Washington.

But, on the other hand, the U.K. has to live with a diverse and sprawling European mainland right on its doorstep, the only isolating factor being the island nature of the country. London is going to have to continue its intimate diplomatic and economic ties with these countries, so it is more affected by a potential cooling of relationships between erstwhile allies, such as France and Germany and the United States. If a hypothetical and significant split grew between, for example, France and the United States -- as some Washington insiders like Richard Perle are advocating, to the point of calling France an enemy as a matter of policy -- the pressure would grow on London to perhaps fully side with the United States in a conflict.

At an Anglo-French summit press conference in November of 2003, French President Jacques Chirac spoke about Europe and the U.K.'s role within that concept:

Europe is being built. Europe is enlarging. This is a very considerable effort that is being made. That effort requires determination, imagination and it is an effort which is justified by what binds us together, by the essential issues. An effort to ensure that democracy and peace take route once and for all in Europe: that is what justifies the enlargement. The rest, of course, will follow: economic progress, social progress, that one can expect because of a greater development of a united Europe. … What is absolutely essential is to make sure that democracy and peace are rooted in our continent. With the enlargement, more than ever, the role and the importance of the U.K. are absolutely decisive. It is not possible to imagine a Europe in which Great Britain would not have an imminent role to play. It would be a Europe which would be missing something.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union may be on three completely different trajectories, with the U.K. on the most tumultuous path. European-U.S. relations may come to be the dominant factor in what role the U.K. plays in the coming years, as a new security and war doctrine is implemented by the United States.


Matthew Riemer drafted this report.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an analysis-based publication that seeks to, as objectively as possible, provide insight into various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. PINR seeks to inform rather than persuade. This report may be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast provided that any such reproduction identifies the original source, All comments should be directed to

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