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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 00:31 GMT 01:31 UK
Analysis: Anglo-American 'special relationship'
PM Bush and President Blair
UK leaders have often tried to be a moderating influence
test hello test
By Ben Wright
BBC US affairs analyst
line

Since World War II, Anglo-American relations have often been characterised as "special".


Some commentators have judged the special relationship it to be an unequal partnership, dogged with infidelity, and unbalanced in its power

The shared cultural and historical inheritance of the two countries is seen as underpinning their close diplomatic and military co-operation.

Behind the simple clarity of the phrase, however, is a relationship that is considerably more colourful and complex.

Some commentators have judged it to be an unequal partnership, dogged with infidelity, and unbalanced in its power.

The former US ambassador to Britain, Raymond Seitz, tried to expunge the term from diplomatic dialogue all together.

Times of crisis

But times of crisis have historically made the special relationship appear blooming and monogamous, and the term is again being used to explain the close collaboration between London and Washington since 11 September.

As UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush talk tactics in Texas this weekend, Anglo-American relations look as solid as they did in September, when the US president told Congress that the US had "no truer friend" than Great Britain.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill was the first to coin the term "special relationship"
Mr Blair has unswervingly backed the United States in its real - and rhetorical - war against terrorism.

British and American marines are currently fighting the remaining al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters in Afghanistan and the British Government has played a visible role on the diplomatic front.

In the weeks after 11 September Mr Blair embarked on frantic shuttle diplomacy to try and cement an international coalition and it was the House of Commons that first heard evidence linking al-Qaeda to the suicide attacks on the US.

The term special relationship was first used by Winston Churchill during his Iron Curtain speech of March 1946.

For the length of the Cold War, cultural and historical similarities, diplomatic consultation and defence and nuclear co-operation meant that there was a particular closeness in Anglo-American relations.

Not always harmonious

Both powers had something to gain from the relationship.


Not only does the US dwarf it British ally, both militarily and economically, but it also has "special" relationships with countries such as Mexico and Israel

As well as securing military protection, Britain could continue to exert an influence in international affairs far beyond its fading status as an imperial power.

The US gained a loyal ally in Europe and a key strategic base on the Soviet Union's doorstep.

Not that it has always been a harmonious affair.

The relationship was severely strained during the Suez crisis and again during the Vietnam war - when Britain resisted US pressure to send in troops.

Harold Wilson angered the US by winding down British commitments in the Far East and British concerns were over-ridden when the US invaded Grenada in October 1983 and when the US used British bases to bomb Libya in 1986.

Britain has often sought to restrain and dampen the actions of the US - during the Korean War for instance. This has particularly been the case during the post-Cold War period when it has frequently been Britain that has needed to prod and coax its America ally.

It was Margaret Thatcher who told the first President Bush not to go "wobbly" in the Gulf and it was Tony Blair who bullied a reluctant Clinton administration into intervening in Kosovo.

Unlikely personal alliances

The relationship has spawned some unlikely personal alliances over the years too. Harold Macmillan and John F Kennedy got on famously, as did Henry Kissinger and Jim Callaghan.


If Tony Blair cannot begin to bridge the gap then his importance both in Washington and on the continent may begin to wane

The suspicion also remains that it means slightly more to Britain than it does to the US.

Not only does the US dwarf it British ally, both militarily and economically, but it also has "special" relationships with countries such as Mexico and Israel.

In 1952, Anthony Eden, then Winston Churchill's foreign secretary, remarked that although American leaders were "polite" and "listen to what we have to say", on most issues they make their own decisions.

The "special relationship" is not a chimera but it is more complicated than it often appears. That is why Tony Blair is in an increasingly difficult position today.

Bridging gap

On the home front, his enthusiasm for US-foreign policy is beginning to anger his party.

Alarmed at the prospect of a second gulf war, many in the Labour Party and beyond may wonder what Britain is actually gaining from its uncritical support of the United States.

Although Mr Blair believes it is better to have access to the ear of the president than it is shouting invective across the sea, it is a risky political gamble.

Then there is the question of how Mr Blair is really being received in Washington.

Throughout the Cold War, Britain was a key bridge between the US and Europe and Washington has long valued Britain's role in mediating relations between the two continents.

Today though, relations between the US and Europe are at something of a nadir and Mr Blair has not yet seemed able to reconcile the two.

On missile defence, Iraq, Kyoto, trade and the Middle East, the paths of the US and Europe are diverging.

If Tony Blair cannot begin to bridge the gap then his importance both in Washington and on the continent may begin to wane.

See also:

06 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair flies in with ceasefire agenda
05 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Mid East crisis tests allies
05 Apr 02 | UK Politics
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