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Friday, 23 April 2010

Anglo-American Relations: An Immensely Special Relationship

A disappointing election debate last night from a foreign policy perspective.

What were the big questions on which hardly anything was said:
1. The Iraq War
2. British authorities' complicity in torture of terror suspects in US detention facilities
3. The timetable for withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan or the illegitimate character of the Karzai regime
4. The attitude to the emergence of China as a global power.

Nick Clegg stood out as the only candidate opposed to the next generation of Trident nuclear missile systems and both David cameron and Gordon Brown told him to "get real": New Labour has travelled very far since the unilateral disarmament days of the early 1980s. They don't even listen to elements of the UK military establishment on this matter, raising the spectre of a nuclear-armed Iran (no evidence advanced on that matter, of course) and North Korea.

USBlog applauds Clegg on taking that stand and not caving in to extreme pressure, though he did justify scrapping Trident on the grounds that Obama was also decommissioning large numbers of US nuclear missiles (ironic really given what he said later in the debate). Cameron repeated the usual guff about Trident being Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent, although he knows full well that the United States controls the "trigger" and targetting of Trident.

It was also Nick Clegg who declared that Britain should not be at America's "beck and call" on all matters, although qualified his comment by preceding it with the usual line: the UK's alliance with America is "an immensely special relationship" - though he did not define the characteristics that make it "special". As a recent book by Durham's John Dumbrell argues, America has quite a few "special relationships".

Yet, Brown (quite gratuitously) accused Clegg of being "anti-American". On that issue, USBlog may comment later.

But let's be clear: all three parties are for continued war in Afghanistan; are likely to go for more interventions abroad in the global war on terror; and will spend whatever it takes to finance military operations. Indeed, Gordon Brown emphasised that Somalia and Yemen are already in Britain's (and America's) sights.

Why? Because "Britain is a force for good in the world", according to Nick Clegg last night, the MoD, and the other liberal and conservative interventionists that dominate debate and decision-making. There are monsters to destroy out there and Britain will do its bit.

"IT CAN BE DIFFERENT," according to Nick Clegg: not on last night's performance.

3 parties, one view!

Inderjeet Parmar is Professor of Government at the University of Manchester and Vice Chair of the British International Studies Association.  This post first appeared at his excellent US Blog

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post! Clegg, perhaps unwittingly, is recycling the "force for good" New Labour message. The phrase was first used in 1997; by 2002-3, it became the frame for Operation Telic. Even Thatcher was not so consistent on the special relationship as these three were the other night.