Ever since the phrase was first uttered by Winston Churchill in his ‘Iron Curtain Speech’ of 1946 the ‘special relationship’ shared by the UK and US has waxed and waned periodically. Some leaders have strongly embraced it, others given it short shrift. The rapport between Thatcher and Reagan and close relationship of Blair and Bush is easily contrasted with the evident tensions between Heath and Nixon as well as Eden and Eisenhower.
However, despite assertions from some that this trans-Atlantic bond is merely a figment of British imagination (former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt once referred to it as “a relationship so special that only one side knows it exists”) the ties between the United Kingdom and United States are extensive and go beyond interstate links between any other two countries. While shared culture, language, heritage and, to an extent, ideology form the foundations of the relationship, the security ties between the two powers are at the fore. Co-operation between the two states’ militaries, intelligence sharing and collaboration between nuclear programmes is not to be found anywhere else in the world.
Despite some concerns that the current President, Barack Obama, would put less emphasis on the Anglo-American association in favour of more strategic collaboration with countries in Southeast Asia; this has not come to pass. To coincide with Prime Minister David Cameron’s official visit to the US in March, an article was penned by the two leaders for the Washington Post, highlighting the close co-operation in Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO and the UN between the US and UK. Indeed, the President went as far during Cameron’s visit as to describe the ‘special relationship’ as “one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known”.
Thus, it would seem that strong US-UK relations are safe under the current incumbent, however, would this still be the case should the Romney-Ryan ticket prevail on November 6th? One would imagine with a Conservative government in Downing Street that a Republican opposite number in Washington would only serve to strengthen the bond. An aide to Romney has already suggested that the Governor’s ‘Anglo-Saxon heritage’ puts him in a better position than Obama to appreciate the importance of the ‘special relationship’ (although this could easily be viewed, by the more cynically inclined, as a cheap attempt to bring ethnicity into the election…). During the final Presidential debate on foreign policy, Romney even took an unexpectedly dovish approach to international affairs, agreeing with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by 2014, declaring war a last resort in the quest to cease Iran’s nuclear ambitions and maintaining that the US should do everything possible to avoid direct intervention in Syria; all policies that will sit nicely in London.
This, however, is not the whole story. While Romney has softened his stance on the US approach to the Middle East, this is merely in order to court undecided, moderate voters in the direct run up to the election. Throughout the Governor’s campaign he has used far more hawkish rhetoric, including stressing the need for a credible military option against Iran, which will concern the British executive.
Then, there is Romney’s visit to these shores. While some political wounds are easily healed one cannot help but feel that the Republican Presidential candidate’s lack of diplomatic tact has done him few favours. His scepticism as to whether London could hold a successful Olympics brought the ire of both David Cameron and the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, while his address of Labour leader Ed Milliband as “Mister Leader” simply caused ridicule. With the status of the ‘special relationship’ often solely dependent on the relations between the leaders, it is difficult to see Romney and Cameron taking up the mantle of Bush and Blair.
Should Mitt Romney succeed in resigning Barack Obama to the history books as a one term President then, in all likelihood, a huge change in US-UK relations will not occur. However, with Britain war weary from campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, Romney may merely be too abrasive in his rhetoric for the British Government and his gaffes too grating. While the ‘special relationship’ would ultimately survive a Romney Presidency, it is difficult to see it flourishing.
Interact UK – http://interact-uk.org.uk