THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
How Special a Relationship?
We British like to think that we enjoy a unique “special rela-
tionship” with the United States. In America that relationship is
often thought to be rather less exclusive than the British would
prefer, even when it is described as essential. But however it is
characterized, there is no doubt that both countries look with
favor on their closeness. Practical illustrations of this are to be
found in the sharing of intelligence of the highest possible qual-
ity and close cooperation over nuclear weapons. We are each
other’s first ally of choice.
History shows us that when there is a warm personal relation-
ship between a president and a prime minister, the bilateral
relationship is closest. Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, Harold Macmillan and John F. Kennedy, Margaret
Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush and Tony
Blair are all testimony to that—although many U.K. citizens
thought the last of those pairings proved extremely disadvanta-
geous when it led to their joint policy of military action against
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
The bilateral relationship has not always been perfect. Brit-
ish Prime Minister Harold Wilson refused to send any troops
to support the United States in Vietnam despite the request by
President Lyndon Johnson for just one company of the Black
Watch and its pipe band. Prime Minister Thatcher's exchanges
with President Reagan when the United States unilaterally and
without warning invaded Grenada in 1983 were incendiary.
As U.S. foreign policy emerges under President Trump, Lon-
don and Brussels should take every opportunity to encourage
him to recognize the need to maintain the United States’ com-
mitment to a rules-based system and to a trans-Atlantic relation-
ship in which Britain can play a prominent and effective role.
At a time when there is more fragile uncertainty internationally
than at any time since 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down,
NATO and that relationship have never been more important on
both sides of the Atlantic.
Pres. Trump has a point when he says that the European
members of NATO have not contributed sufficiently to the cost
of their own defense. The target of 2 percent of annual gross
domestic product (GDP), which the 2014 NATO summit in Wales
set, is a bare minimum; yet three years on only a handful of
NATO members have reached it. Indeed, some argue that even
the countries which have reached that level have done so by
virtue of creative accounting. In the case of the United Kingdom,
London has met the goal, but many commentators warn that 2
percent of GDP is inadequate to meet both the country’s domes-
tic and international responsibilities.
The credibility of the alliance depends on its capability. And
capability depends not only on how much is spent, but
is spent. European members can make a much more effective
contribution if they embrace the principles of force specializa-
tion, common procurement and interoperability. Proposals for a
so-called European army are not credible and would constitute
NATO Is Not Obsolete
The judgment that NATO is obsolete does not reflect reality.
When Russia deploys nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad,
it is not only the Baltic states that should feel concerned, but
the whole of Europe. When Russian generals are reported to
have endorsed the use of battlefield nuclear weapons, every
NATO member should be concerned. Such developments are
eerily reminiscent of the Cold War. They give rise to the risk of
accident, misjudgment or provocation, real or imagined.
The relationship between London and Washington is the
central pillar of the principles of conventional and nuclear deter-
rence set out in NATO’s strategic concept, and reaffirmed at the
2016 NATO summit in Warsaw.
The obligations contained in Article 5 of the North Atlantic
Treaty are only credible if the United States and the United King-
dom stand ready to fulfill them. Those Americans who question
the strength of that obligation should recall that the only occa-
sion on which it has been invoked was in 2001, when terrorists
struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Equally, it is not credible to contemplate offering a sphere of
influence in Europe to Russia. To do so would only assist Presi-
dent Vladimir Putin in achieving his twin objectives of under-
mining the European Union and destabilizing NATO.
NATO is the essential glue in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
NATO is the essential glue in the
wholehearted commitment by
all of its members, the alliance
would be weakened severely,