Prospects for the U.K.-U.S. “Special Relationship” in Obama’s Second Administration
On April 16, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted a mid-afternoon discussion on the broader defense challenges facing the U.K. right now, especially with regards to cooperation with the U.S., NATO, and EU partners. Senior Transatlantic Fellow Mark Jacobson moderated the conversation with Professor Michael Clarke, the director-general of the Royal United Services Institute in London. The event was attended by about 25 people, including a mix of embassy, military and civilian officials, academics, and a few industry representatives.
Jacobson opened the session with brief introductory remarks addressing possible prospects for U.S. - U.K. relations during President Obama’s second term. Clarke then began by expressing his distaste for the term ‘special relationship’ when referring to the U.S. and the U.K. acknowledging the historic unity, he pointed out that U.S.-UK relations are actually a top-bottom partnership. On the surface, many American and British leaders maintain quite intimate friendships, as can be said for the closely-tied militaries. On the other end of the spectrum, the media in both the U.S. and the U.K. is infatuated with the other country’s pop culture and society, inevitably linking each population to one another. Yet, this leaves the middle devoid of a tangible everyday impact on one other, whether its politics, policy or government. This realization highlights the tendency for perceptions to taint the actuality of U.S.-U.K. relations, which results in the ebbs and flows evidenced today. With this a backdrop, Clarke launched into what he believes to be the path that both countries are headed down. The U.S., he stated, expects more European coherence, as it engages in new ways in the Middle East and spreads its scope over Asia. Clarke feels the transatlantic bridge between the U.S. and the U.K. is now underutilized and outdated, which will force the Brits to realign their security and defense priorities, if they want to remain closely tied to the U.S. These opening remarks were followed by an engaging question and answer session that brought forth the topics of the formation of bilateral alliances versus ‘coalitions of the willing’; NATO’s changing role; Europe’s decrease in defense spending and its implications; common procurement; American protectionism; the future of Afghanistan and Iran; and finally the fragmented and diverse views within the EU.