Thursday, December 03, 2015

Sorry Tim but its Europe and our place in it that matters, notthe "Special Relationship"

Political commentator, Eurosceptic and (mainly !) liberal Conservative Tim Montgomerie is spending a year living and studying and writing in the United States. His article in The Times today is premised on the idea that the Americans will be relieved that with the Syria bombing vote the UK is back in the fold. Tim finishes his article as above. 

A key element of conservative Eurosceptism of whatever Party is the idea that the "Special Relationship" (along with the bizarre notion of the existence of an "Anglosphere") will be there to comfort and protect us when we flee the warm embrace of the European Union. It's a nostalgic look back to a time around 70 years ago when arguably it was true - at least Churchill thought so. He said when he postulated the idea of a "United States of Europe" that Britain would not be part of it because of the Special Relationship and because of our Empire/Commonwealth. Well the latter has gone (as significant anyway) and the former is just a bit of nostalgia. We may be, as Tim says, "admired" and "loved" by our cousins across the pond but that is more "Downton Abbey" and Queen Elizabeth than any sort of basis for constructive political partnership.

America knows that what Dean Acheson said  back in 1962 that "Britain had lost an Empire  and not yet found a role" was true when he said it and it has been increasingly true since. The "decline" of Britain as a "Great Power" was inevitable and, many of us would thnk, desirable. The twentieth century saw power move from the old European Empires to the new ones based on political/military/economic strength (America, USSR/ Russia, China, Japan) or partnerships of nations (especially the European Union but also ASEAN and other pan-national groups). In this world none of the "old" powers can operate on its own - not even the economic powerhouse of Germany, and certainly not Britain.

Britain's relationship with the United States is not really bilateral anymore. We may have, as Tim puts it, "common enemies" but these are not peculiar to Britain. The fight against Islamic terrorism is not an Anglo-Saxon imperative but one shared by most nations, and certainly all European ones. So Britain's decision  now to bomb ISIS across the border in Syria rather than just in Iraq is of marginal significance militarily and politically. We were already part of the anti-ISIS military coalition. That it is now the R.A.F. which is (also) bombing targets in Syria is no big deal - if they weren't doing it one of our other partners would be. Britian's decision does not increase the effort against ISIS, it just refocuses it a bit.

I have no doubt that the Americans and our other partners in the ISIS fight are pleased to see us extending our commitment. But despite what the British media is saying we are not really significantly more "at war" than we already were - it is a marginal change at best. And the reality of Britain's place in the world is only as a major part of European alliances - the EU and NATO especially. Our relationship with America is through our participation within these alliances not as a bipartite partner is some nostalic special relationship. 


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