The Foreign Service Journal - April 2017
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APRIL 2017



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

unnecessary duplication.

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

trans-Atlantic alliance.Without

wholehearted commitment by

all of its members, the alliance

would be weakened severely,

possibly fatally.