|Special relationship will survive - as before
By John O'Sullivan
'It's déjà vu all over again," Yogi Berra, the American baseball star, is alleged to have said in a famous malapropism. But it is the literal truth of my response to the reports that the infant Gordon Brown government is "distancing" itself from the US and downgrading the Anglo-American special relationship in foreign policy.
Since I began writing about such matters for a living, there have been just two occasions when London or Washington seriously thought of downgrading the alliance to the (still important) level of Washington's relationship with Paris or Berlin.
The first was when Edward Heath, having secured Britain's membership of the European Community, made plain to the Nixon administration that Britain would act more closely with France and Germany than with the US. With Opec quadrupling its oil prices and Arab countries threatening an oil boycott, this looked like a combination of hard-headed national interest and European idealism.
In fact it was foolish self-deception. Heath's posturing took place almost immediately before a series of geo-political threats to Britain (and Europe) revealed the necessity of the link: Opec, hyper-inflation, the installation of Soviet SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe, terrorism, crises in southern Africa, the rise of the Soviet Navy, the invasion of Afghanistan. Europe could not possibly deal with these crises without the US.
All of Heath's successors - Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher - recognised that reality. Their main problem in the late 1970s was the poor quality of American leadership under Jimmy Carter. But when Ronald Reagan replaced Carter and, in particular, when he strengthened the special relationship in his great partnership with Mrs Thatcher, these crises were resolved with surprising speed.
Indeed, the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cold War came to an end and, for a moment, we seemed to be living in a peaceful and prosperous world.
So, naturally, reports began to appear that the special relationship would be mothballed. This time, the reports originated in Washington. Anxious to distinguish themselves from the Reagan administration, the new Bush team let it be known that they intended to place greater reliance on Germany than on Britain.
This was justified on the grounds that in the post-cold-war world geo-economics was more important than geo-politics and Germany enjoyed a stronger economy than Britain. Its rationale, however, was that German reunification was the biggest problem facing the administration. Working with Chancellor Kohl was essential. And largely because of Soviet weakness, that success came very quickly.
Before Washington could relax, however, Kuwait was invaded by Saddam Hussein.
Germany was very little use in that conflict despite its large economy. It had a land-locked army, a constitution that forbade intervention abroad, and a national pacifist sensibility.
What Washington needed was allies with armies, intelligence services, strategic mobility, and a foreign policy tradition of upholding international order.
Indeed, the British were sometimes more determined than Washington. Over Kuwait Thatcher issued her famous encouragement: "This is no time to go wobbly, George." She and John Major helped to win the first Gulf war and make it internationally respectable.
The special relationship was once more in favour where - with wobbles over Kosovo and Iraq - it has remained in both capitals.
Why does the special relationship manage to survive and re-emerge repeatedly in foreign affairs? Its enemies - they include European countries, the State Department, Europhile politicians in Britain, some ultra-nationalist Tories, and Little Englanders - tend to attribute its annoying permanence to sentimentality, especially on the British side.
In fact the special relationship is rooted in two things. First, because Britain and the US (and Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India) share a common language, culture, and legal and political traditions, they tend to see the world in much the same way. The "Anglosphere" countries believe in a liberal international order and are more prepared to uphold it by force than other liberal powers.
Second, since 1941 Britain and the US (and, again, countries such as Australia, Canada, etc.) have developed practices of mutual cooperation in fields as various as war, trade, electronic spying, investment, and international institution-building.
These suit both (or all) countries very well. The British armed forces and defence industry have benefited enormously from their intimate relationship with larger and more technically advanced partners in the US. It is one reason why Britain is the single most important military power in Europe (even under a penny-pinching Labour government).
Well, now it's déjà vu all over again.
When Peter Rodman, a di