The term ‘special relationship’ was coined by Winston Churchill, during a tour of US universities, as he described Anglo-American unity in the face of the Cold War. Since then it has been used time and time again to explain why the US and the UK seem to be so closely linked on foreign policy matters. But is there really a special relationship?
The special relationship between the UK and the US, it is argued, first came into being during the early twentieth-century, when both countries were experiencing a shift in their global power. Britain was nearing the end of its colonial hegemony, and America was emerging from its self-imposed exile from world affairs. Following the Great Rapprochement of the 1890s, the Americans and the British slowly started sharing information and trading. American involvement in both world wars, and their loans that continued into early Cold War, helped stabilise the British economy.
The special relationship came about through shared interests and continued due to the monetary debt the British owed the Americans, providing a further incentive on both sides to maintain their alliance.
But the monetary argument loses its value when one considers that the UK hasn’t been in debt to the US since 2006. And even then, the two countries have differed over things before without the US abandoning the UK.
So, then, the question arises. Why has the US stuck with the UK for the past seventy-three years? One could argue it is a feeling of familiarity. The US and the UK are both English-speaking nations that espouse liberal views, and their shared cultured has helped foster bonds. Whilst there may have been disagreements in the past, both countries have always recognised that they are stronger together. Hence the joint operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
On the other hand, one could argue that there is no special relationship between the UK and the US and that there never has been. Instead, the alliance between the two countries has been one of convenience. The Suez crisis was one of biggest tests facing the special relationship. Britain was left looking incredibly foolish as it tried to undo the work of Nasser and maintain control over the canal. The Americans strongly condemned Britain’s declaration of war and slapped them on the wrists.
Just as Anthony Eden had to back down like a dog that had been beaten, the current British government is having to go cap-in-hand to the US government to ask for a trade deal. With Britain leaving the EU, the British government has turned to its second biggest trader: the Americans. Donald Trump, like Barack Obama, is driving a hard bargain, demanding all sorts of things before even considering a deal.
With Trump’s unpopularity in the UK, the British government has not given him a state visit. But this bold decision is only an aberration; the world sees Britain as nothing more than a obedient servant to America, according to several officials.
Trump has rallied his base, continually opposes the Iran deal, and is still being investigated for links to Putin, who the British Military High Command have identified as a threat.
The ‘special relationship’ is used by British politicians to give the impression that the UK is still on an equal footing with America. It is nothing more than a joke, a veneer constructed to hide the utter dependency the UK has on the US. It is not reciprocated and never will be. The sooner the UK can deal with that fact the better.