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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 14:22 GMT
Special relationship: End of the affair?

special relationship, n, •state of political and diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the United States of America forged during World War II; by extension, occasional status of personal relationship between British and American leaders, eg: Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt; Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan; Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

USAGE 1: denotes common history between the countries, common culture, legal tradition and language.

USEAGE 1a: also joint political strategies, esp. on diplomatic and defence issues. Blair frequently referred to special relationship with ex-president Clinton: "Bill Clinton became a close friend of mine." As Blair gears up for meeting with new president George W Bush, there is speculation over whether the special relationship will survive their greater ideological distance.

CONTESTED USAGE 1: with its global interests and multilingual population, the US has several other close foreign associates, namely Israel, Japan, Mexico and Canada.

CONTESTED USAGE 2: as a member of the European Union, the UK ascribes to the EU's stated aim of "European co-operation". Its enthusiasm for a European rapid reaction force and siding with the EU in trade disputes is said to have diluted close US-UK relations.

DISPUTED: following 1939-1945 war, US vigorously challenged the UK as a global trading power. President Eisenhower failed to back Britain in Suez Crisis (1956).

CURRENT OMENS FOR SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: Blair's office has spoken of desire to develop a "pick up the phone" relationship with Bush. The UK joined the US in recent bombing of Iraq. Blair has signalled he may eventually co-operate with controversial US plans for a National Missile Defence system.

ORIGINS: "What I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples ... means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States." Winston Churchill in 1946 Sinews of Peace address to US president Harry S Truman.

A PROBLEM WITH PERCEPTIONS? More commonly acknowledged in the UK than America. It has been said that this special relationship was special mainly in that only one side knew it existed.

Reader Naomi Cheesman adds: Special relationship is also a term I've heard with reference to a homosexual relationship, used by people who can't quite bring themselves to say "partner" or "lover". It also crops up in a snide way in some of the more moralistic media.

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See also:

23 Feb 01 | Americas
Blair pledges 'to contain' Iraq
23 Feb 01 | Americas
US and the UK: Special relationship?
14 Dec 00 | UK Politics
A not especially special relationship?

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