Being special: 28 March 2010


A group of British Members of Parliament have been critical of the numerous references to the special-relationship between the US and the UK.  Their argument is that this arrangement doesn’t really exist, and we should stop harking on about it.

Several quick points to note/raise before I return to the joy ofSouthampton football club fighting for glory on the television

There are obvious reasons for the ‘specialness’ – the linguistic similarities, the common popular cultural binds, the common underpinnings of laissez-faire even though we’ve got nowhere near as far on this. Bolt on to this the historic ties (be it in the origins, and in the wars), and the privileged opportunity to spend a Queen’s ransom on nuclear deterrence and other niche military products and you have the makings of ‘specialness’.

The reasons that cast doubt on it are well-rehearsed. The Americans (with early and due apologies to Pericles for the use of a collective term…) are still a hegemonic power and they can pick and choose their allies. Their special relationship with Germany was decidedly more special than the one with Britain in the early 1990s; and whilst Bush was a confirmed Atlanticist, Obama seems keener on others than our own dear leader. The intelligence liaison relationship is special… but it’s not that special. It’s just more special than with other, leakier nations and we retain our listening posts and our monitoring services partly to please the Americans and to be able to offer them something interesting. So, that might make it special, but only by default. The slump in this relationship can be traced back to Fuchs and Philby, and the tidal wave of mistrust that swept over these links.

So, should we worry about the views of these MPs… well, no. There is an emotional link to the relationship, and on both sides. If we wanted to get picky we could point to moments of fluidity – more special, less special, on different issues and for the reasons why. But this relationship and this framing arrangement (certainly for us – because we’re not going to be come committed Europeans any time soon) is important. It probably is overplayed, but hanging on the coat-tails of the empire is an ancient pass-time, and having been camping several times in my life (several too many..) it’s better to have a wee outside of the tent, than in it.


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