THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Sign up to The American magazine's newsletters (below) to receive more regular news, articles and updates on America in the UK.
The Special Relationship Defined
Many speak and write of this bond, without giving an explanation or definition. So, what is it? Ask someone at the heart of it: Sir Robert Worcester.
Over the past nearly 50 years I've lived in Britain and as a member of the Pilgrims Society and its Chairman for 17 years, I have certainly on scores if not hundreds of times had to explain that since the Pilgrims Society's founding in 1902 it has only one object: "the furtherance of Anglo-American good fellowship". The society (along with its sister organization in the US) are the two oldest and most prestigious Anglo-American organizations, principal custodians of the "Special Relationship". Former President Obama described our two countries' relationship as "Special, and Essential". In a joint newspaper article on May 24, 2011, President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron pointed to the close relationship between our two countries and said it is vital not just for Britain and America, but also the rest of the world. They wrote:
"When the United States and Britain stand together, our people and people around the world can become more secure and more prosperous.
"And that is the key to our relationship. Yes, it is founded on a deep emotional connection, by sentiment and ties of people and culture. But the reason it thrives, the reason why this is such a natural partnership, is because it advances our common interests and shared values.
"It is a perfect alignment of what we both need and what we both believe. And the reason it remains strong is because it delivers time and again. Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential relationship – for us and for the world."
On the following day, in President Obama's address to both Houses of Parliament, after the introductory pleasantries, the first point the President made was this:
"Our relationship is special because of the values and beliefs that have united our people throughout the ages. Centuries ago, when kings, emperors, and warlords reigned over much of the world, it was the English who first spelled out the rights and liberties of man in Magna Carta."
Pause, and think a moment.
Here was the President of the United States giving one of the defining speeches of his Presidency about human rights and the rule of law, and his very first point of reference is to the special relationship, with its roots in the Magna Carta sealed at Runnymede on 15th June 1215, more than 800 years ago.
From the start of the last century, certainly recognized in the 1902 founding of the Pilgrims, the Anglo-American 'special relationship' has been in force, no matter how often denied in the media and by the occasional politician or diplomat. No two countries have worked together before in a passage of world power, handed over with remarkably little acrimony as strength and changing situations and relationships with other nations, especially the Commonwealth, forced the transfer.
The US/UK Special Relationship depends on solid bonds in four key areas: diplomatic, defence & intelligence, nuclear and business. These are all in very good shape now – and for the foreseeable future, no matter these 'inside the beltway/chattering class' stories.
A fellow Pilgrim, the former senior Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock said as much on Newsnight when Director of Ditchley. Most current and former British Ambassadors, whether they've served in America or not, will tell you the same, and that while recognizing that Britain is the junior partner, they'd a lot rather Britain to be in alliance with the USA than not.
There is no question either that when you speak with one of Britain's top military commanders, Navy, Army, or RAF they all endorse its importance. They know their opposite numbers, many have served with American forces, and all of them hold the defence special relationship in high regard. This is true not only on this side of the Atlantic; it's also true in America.
There was no stronger advocate of this than the former Chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, the late Admiral William Crowe, Ambassador to the Court of St James's. Ambassador Crowe was living proof of the high regard with which both the American diplomatic and military at the highest level regard the contribution made by Britain not just to partnering with the United States but also the contribution that Britain makes to the United Nations, its Security Council, the G7/G20 and to the world.
British universities are respected by their educators as are our scientists. Of the latest 'top world universities' the UK came second only to the USA in the number of universities in the top 100 and had five in the top ten. The UK is not as rich, that's for sure, but in the clichéd phrase Britain certainly punches above its weight in education and science and in demonstrating British values shared with the American establishment. After all, Americans learned them from its British colonists.
So, what is the "Special Relationship"?
• What it is: The relationship between two nations
• What it is not: Exclusive
• What it should be: Plural
• What it does not have to be: Comprehensive
• What it must be: Flexible
• What it is defined as by former President of the United States Barak Obama: "Essential"
There are many arguments for it.
1. Constitutional and Legal: The Rule of Law, the cusp between retributive justice and codified justice was first expressed in England during the rule of King Aethelbert of Kent, c. 604, then recorded in the Textus Roffensus, in the Coronation Oath of Henry I in 1100, and in the Magna Carta of 1215 wherein the Rule of Law and Human Rights, if not universal, became, in 1297, the law of the land.
2. Political: I have addressed approximately 50 audiences in this country, from 6th formers and university undergraduates to Rotary clubs. In every one I've asked for a hand's up of those who are interested in the American Presidential contests. In every one a majority have put up their hands. Why is it that the British-American All-Party Parliamentary Group is the largest cross-party/Commons and Lords committee of its type? Why are there people in this country, some four in ten, who express little interest in our British elections yet say they are very interested in what's happening in America?
3. Financial: The USA and the UK are each other's largest investor country; the US is the UK's top export destination; the US is Britain's second largest trading partner.
4. Cultural: Each of our countries are each other's biggest market for TV and cinema production and distribution, there are more auction houses, more exchanges of theater, opera, classical and rock concerts; even country & western music than any other two countries, and we are the countries of the largest publishers of books, magazines and scholarly articles in English.
5. Historic: Partly because of cinema and TV, and books, our peoples take a keen interest in each other's political, military, and cultural histories. I know one MP who knows more about the American Indian tribes than any American I know, and another person, a Judge, who certainly knows more, much more, about the American Civil War than I do.
6. Educational: The most sought-after educational exchanges in terms of both students and faculty are UK to US, and US to the UK.
7. Journalistic: The elites in the USA and the UK are each other's largest readers of each other's newspapers and magazines. One read here by both Americans and British is titled The American. In an informal interview conducted by Michael Burland published in The American, in the November-December 2017 issue, US Ambassador Woody Johnson said:
"I think post-Brexit the Special Relationship will be fabulous, it will be strengthened and enhanced because we know how much we rely on one-another for both prosperity and security. We share information, with all of our agencies working hand in hand on a level of trust that is unequalled – we have a good relationship with the Five Eyes [an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand as well as the United Kingdom and the United States] but the UK-US relationship is very, very strong."
I'm proud to fly the flags of both countries, championing the Special Relationship while respecting the cultures of each.