US-UK Relations: Gasping for Air?

-

cameron and obama dc.jpgI am a believer in strong relations with Great Britain — which has been a key ally and partner of the US for many decades and with which America has deep historical and cultural connections.
But there is a point when the trappings that define a relationship look too frilly and antiquated to fit the modern world. UK-US relations need reinvention and need to be about something the world needs — which is something like delivering for real on Israel-Palestine peace or, perhaps alternatively, creative revision of the world’s global governance structures.
No two nations have been more important than the United Kingdom and the United States in defining the current world order and nearly all of its most vital global institutions. They built themselves in with stacked dacks of power — and need to somehow cede that power in new arrangements without necessarily losing influence.
That is how to take US-UK relations and put them on a new and potentially vital course.


The New York Times‘ Helene Cooper captures the kitsch-ish feel of the relationship in her piece on Prime Minister David Cameron’s first outing in his new role to DC. She writes:

It was not quite the Tony Blair-Bill Clinton love fest of 1997, but President Obama and the newly minted British prime minister, David Cameron, appeared game to do everything they could on Tuesday to take some of the recent chill out of the relationship between their countries.
Standing side by side in near-identical dark blue suits and blue ties in the East Room at the conclusion of Mr. Cameron’s first visit to the White House as his nation’s leader, the two fortysomethings systematically papered over the few areas of daylight between the United States and Britain (stimulus spending versus deficit reduction, the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan, the need for an inquiry into the release by Scotland of the only person convicted in the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie).
Instead, before the assembled press corps of Washington and Downing Street, they joked about cold beer versus warm beer, whether their children kept their bedrooms tidy and the England-United States World Cup soccer match that ended in a tie.

This is not the stuff of a vital, even special, or “truly special” relationship, as President Obama termed things.
Politico‘s Laura Rozen emailed me yesterday evening for a quote about Cameron’s visit and the challenges for UK-US relations, but I missed her deadline.
She seemed to like what I wrote, which I’ll share here while simultaneously expressing my admiration and support for the UK, its smart and clever diplomats, my many friends over there, and for my blogging friend, the former UK Foreign Minister David Miliband.
I wrote to Rozen:

The UK-US “special relationship” is one of those that gasps for air in a world that has moved to new arrangements. Their may be ego gratification in the relationship and occasionally constructive collaborations now and then, but on the whole, never has the UK-US relationship mattered so little to so many in a complicated world scene….

I think that this can be fixed — but first leaders of these great countries need to fix on challenges bigger than they are adopting now and throw themselves collectively into it.
Rewriting the rules and system of global governance would be the way to make this relationship relevant again and globally significant.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

14 comments on “US-UK Relations: Gasping for Air?

  1. Don Bacon says:

    nadine,
    I’m not very good at searching for my inconsistencies, if any. Being human I probably have some, but I can’t pinpoint any. Would you be kind enough to bring some specificity to your allegations, if you have any?

    Reply

  2. nadine says:

    Don Bacon, when the UN is at odds with the US, which is most of the time, you use that as evidence that the US is wrong. When the UN is not at odds with the US, you use that as evidence that the UN has suddenly become the lackey of the US, which is still wrong.
    There is only one constant here, and it has nothing to do with the behavior of the UN.

    Reply

  3. Don Bacon says:

    The UN Security Council is clearly a creature of the US. Its Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon is a US lackey, the IAEA is now headed by a US lackey also, and so this council and this agency pretty much do the US bidding.
    The Iran sanctions took a long time to finalize because, while the US can still cow the western European countries into compliance, it doesn’t work with Russia and China. So the sanctions don’t require any countries to do anything, a feature sought by Russia and China because they don’t intend to do anything except increase trade with Iran which will benefit them. Total Petroleum, for one, will suffer the consequences.
    Meanwhile, with the West-oriented UN and NATO concerned with frivolous military matters, the real movers and shakers, and where the real economic growth is, particularly in Asia, are moving in other formats with other alliances to get the real work of the world done now that the US and the UK — “the most democratic and free nations” — are slowly fading into also-rans.

    Reply

  4. larry birnbaum says:

    “So the problem is the West’s mis-use of the UNSC to push its false agenda; the UN concept and Charter and other UN functions are fine and effective.
    “International institutions can’t ever work without the honest participation of member
    countries.”
    The fact that the West happens to encompass the most democratic and free nations in the world is, apparently, some kind of illusion. Governance elsewhere is far more honest. Iran, for example.
    It is absolutely amazing how people can get themselves twisted up like this.

    Reply

  5. Don Bacon says:

    The toothless UN sanctions don’t reflect upon the UN, because the UN can’t specify any violations on the part of Iran v. the NPT.
    Iran’s failure to halt its legal nuclear program in response to illegal UN orders are recognized in the part of the world not controlled by the US to be no failure at all. Therefore they won’t be observed, in fact quite the opposite: the West, in its stupidity, has merely driven Iran further toward Russia and China.
    So the problem is the West’s mis-use of the UNSC to push its false agenda; the UN concept and Charter and other UN functions are fine and effective.
    International institutions can’t ever work without the honest participation of member countries.

    Reply

  6. WigWag says:

    “UK-US relations need reinvention and need to be about something the world needs — which is something like delivering for real on Israel-Palestine peace or, perhaps alternatively, creative revision of the world’s global governance structures.” (Steve Clemons)
    I’m afraid you’re dreaming Steve; the Wilsonian fantasy of creating durable global governance structures is completely dead.
    Just look at all the international endeavors to work cooperatively on matters of global concern in just the past several months:
    1) The Copenhagen Climate Conference at which almost every nation in the world was represented accomplished absolutely nothing. Action to halt global warming through cooperative international mechanisms is completely moribund.
    2) The recent G-20 meeting was a joke. As the developed economies of the world face the prospect of a crippling deflation, every significant nation in the world is flying off in a different direction. Some are trying to further stimulate their economies; some are practicing austerity; all are making their own decisions without regard to what any other nation in the world thinks.
    3) The 2009 World Conference Against Racism held in Geneva, Switzerland, broke up in disarray. Canada, Israel, the United States, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland and, Australia refused to participate. Representatives from Britain and France walked out when Ahmadinejad spoke and the conference lapsed into animosity and irrelevancy.
    4) The UN NPT Conference held in May turned out to be a joke partly because of the incompetence of the Obama Administration. First Obama promised the Israelis that he would not support language calling for a nuclear free Middle East; then, during the Conference he supported the language that he promised Israel he would eschew. Then two months later, during his tet a tet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Obama explained that Israel has special security needs and that the language his Administration supported in May was just for show.
    5) The International Criminal Court is becoming a laughing stock. In March, 2009 the Court indicted Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir for crimes against humanity and genocide but the Muslim World just yawned. Not only does al-Bashir travel freely throughout the Muslim world with no fear of arrest; Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has issued al-Bashir a pardon by informing us that “Muslims don’t commit genocide.”
    6) Even the War Crimes Tribunal designed to punish war crimes in the former Yugoslavia has turned into a farce. They actually killed one of their defendants; Milosevic, by denying the former Serbia strong man appropriate medical care and just today, the Tribunal announced that it wanted to retry a former Kosovar military commander who it had recently acquitted. Here’s the link about that,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/22/world/europe/22hague.html?ref=europe
    I guess they never heard of the concept of double jeopardy in the Hague.
    7) Sanctions on Iran. The United Nations worked for months to develop a sanctions resolution that could pass the Security Council but the sanctions resolution that passed is recognized by everyone to be toothless and ineffective. Literally everyone acknowledges that the sanctions won’t work. It Tells you everything you need to know about the United Nations doesn’t it?
    The point of all of this is that international institutions don’t work and multilateral diplomacy is a waste of time at best and counterproductive at worst.
    The reality may be unfortunate, but international governance structures can’t be revised or fixed because they’ve never worked. The only governance structure that’s truly relevant in the world today is the United States armed forces; before that, it was the British Navy. In the future it may be the armed forces of another great power.
    Worrying about international governance structures is for losers.

    Reply

  7. Don Bacon says:

    How could a US Secretary of State make a state visit to Argentina and not be on track regarding the Falklands? It boggles the mind.
    Remember the campaign phone call?

    Reply

  8. frenchconnection says:

    The UN resolution is ridiculous because it doesn’t take account of the Island’s population’s will. Argentina was never a British colony (at the time the first settlers arrived Argentina wasn’t even an independent nation but a Spanish colony) and there was no indigenous population except penguins and seals.
    One can always sit down and discuss, but the EU has stated that the Falklands are British territory, as much as St Pierre and Miquelon, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyana are French to take some examples. And Groenland is autonomous but still Danish (hear Canada).
    Sorry Hillary but your attempt to revive the Monroe doctrine is rather pathetic. The EU isn’t whining at the UN that the status of Hawaii or Puerto Rico is a “matter of discussion”.

    Reply

  9. Don Bacon says:

    Gasp! I wonder if Cameron and Obama discussed the failure of SecState Clinton to recognize the UK sovereignty of the Falklands, as she expressed on March 1 in Argentina, and perhaps why Clinton didn’t get the Shirley Sherrod treatment as a result of her gigantic faux pas.
    Q: “Would the U.S. consider some kind of mediation role between the UK and Argentina over the Falklands?”
    President de Kirchner:” . . to get both countries to sit down at the table and address these negotiations within the framework of the UN resolutions strictly. We do not want to move away from that in any letter whatsoever, any comma, of what has been stated by dozens of UN resolutions and resolutions by its decolonization committee. . .”
    Clinton: “And we agree. We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way.”
    Or was Clinton merely “rewriting the rules and system of global governance” to recognize — gasp!- the UN?
    UN Resolution 2065, Dec 16 1965:
    “Invites the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to proceed without delay with the negotiations recommended by the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the problem, bearing in mind the provisions and objectives of the Charter of the United Nations and of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas);. . .”

    Reply

  10. Don Bacon says:

    SC: “No two nations have been more important than the United Kingdom and the United States in defining the current world order.”
    You must mean disorder, considering the US/UK collaboration to destroy Iraq and Afghanistan, and allow I/P to stagnate.
    SC: “Rewriting the rules and system of global governance would be the way to make this relationship relevant again and globally significant.”
    What’s the United Nations Charter, chopped liver? It requires – REQUIRES:
    # All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
    # All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
    The US/UK consortium has been in violation of international law, and they continue to collaborate in illegal imperialism — which kills, injures and dislocates thousands — even over their too-cute-by-half discussions of beer and sports.
    If this special relationship has become “too frilly and antiquated” it’s probably a good thing, as both former empires spiral downward particularly in the Afghanistan morass where the locals have probably never heard of beer.

    Reply

  11. JohnH says:

    The US-UK relationship definitely needs rethinking. The UK, America’s lapdog, does not need the US leading it into pointless, counterproductive wars that drain the Exchequer.
    And the US does not need an sycophant ally that serves little purpose but to bolster its credibility and determination to pursue pointless, counterproductive wars that drain the Treasury.
    The relationship is like two drunks egging each other on to have one last drink before jumping into the car and hitting the road.

    Reply

  12. WigWag says:

    “What makes the relationship ‘special’ – i.e. qualitatively different from other alliance relationships – is the deep level of institutionalisation and bureaucratic cooperation, particularly in the intelligence services.” (Nick Kitchen)
    That may be true but what makes the relationship

    Reply

  13. Steve Clemons says:

    Nick — terrific comment, and I agree. What a missed opportunity this exchange was.
    You are hereby invited to do a guest post for The Washington Note if you are interested….and brevity is loved.
    best, steve and the team

    Reply

  14. Nick Kitchen says:

    The only problem with the UK-US relationship occurs at the level of media focus on the personal relationship between the two leaders; a fact demonstrated convoncingly by the vacuous show of bonhomy at this press conference.
    What makes the relationship ‘special’ – i.e. qualitatively different from other alliance relationships – is the deep level of institutionalisation and bureaucratic cooperation, particularly in the intelligence services.
    So forget about whether Obama and Cameron are as chummy as Bush and Blair; forget about whether they’re as ideologically aligned as Reagan and Thatcher: these relationships are not what constitutes the ‘special relationship’ and never have been.
    For more on this argument, see http://www2.lse.ac.uk/IDEAS/publications/ideasToday/04/04_UK-USRelations.pdf

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *