Foreign Policy Blogs

The End of the Special Relationship?

Interesting commentary by the Atlantic Council’s James Joyner on what the UK election results will mean for the Anglo-American “Special Relationship” here.

Courtesy of the London Daily Mail and Google Images

Courtesy of the London Daily Mail and Google Images

Joyner believes the abundance of common interests in the U.S.-UK relationship will ultimately prevent it from fraying too much, and history suggests that he is right.  In addition to those interests, the “Special Relationship” (as it is often called) is unique because the two governments have achieved a deep level of integration that makes it highly resistant to harm from political disagreements and change.

While the U.S. emerged from the Second World War a superpower, it is sometimes forgotten that it was not one when it entered the war.  It had a much smaller military and lacked many of the capabilities it needed to match its Axis enemies.  During the Great Mobilization, these capabilities were often developed in conjunction with the UK, notably in the areas of intelligence and atomic weaponry development, and cooperation with the British continued in these and other areas even after the war as matters of custom and course.  At war’s end, the U.S. emerged as a superpower with a national security apparatus that had a high degree of interoperability with its British counterparts and a tradition of information-sharing and policy coordination.

These ties, and the economic, philosophical and cultural ties derived from America’s conception as a network of British colonies, continue and have made the U.S.-UK relationship a durable one capable of weathering even strong disagreements over policy differences like the U.S. conflict in Vietnam and the British-French-Israeli bid to reclaim the Suez Canal.  How does it manage this?  Well, mostly because integration in other areas is simply too deep already to be affected by temporary rows.  The incentives to institute a meaningful separation simply aren’t there, and, despite Prime Minister Cameron’s suggestion, rising powers are just no substitute.  In other words, the relationship is “special” because the shared history between the two countries and the ways they do business virtually guarantee that they will remain uncommonly tight no matter who occupies 10 Downing Street or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.



Ryan Haddad

Ryan Haddad is the Senior Blogger for U.S. Foreign Policy at FPA. A foreign affairs and national security analyst based in Washington, D.C., he worked in European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Bush Administration and is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Providence College. He can be followed on Twitter at @RIHaddad.