What Kind of Foreign Policy under "Prime Minister Gordon Brown"?

By Rubin, James P. | European Affairs, Fall-Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

What Kind of Foreign Policy under "Prime Minister Gordon Brown"?


Rubin, James P., European Affairs


When the British Foreign Office and the U.S. State Department provide briefing papers for the first working summit between President George Bush and the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown--a pretty good bet to occur sometime next year--the agenda will look very familiar. And despite the change at the top in Britain, the most salient issues and policy choices are likely to be phrased in terms of "we."

With sanctions already in place against Iran, and Western intelligence experts saying Iran continues moving closer to mastering the crucial technology and engineering, is there anything else that "we" can do to stop Tehran's drive for nuclear independence? How do "we" push the Iraqi government to help stop the Shiite-Sunni violence that most describe now as a civil war: indeed, should "we" be looking for new leadership there? Can "we" get any of the other NATO allies to help deliver security, aid and reconstruction to the people of Afghanistan so that they don't turn against NATO troops? Is there anyway to kick start the Middle East peace process despite the chaos in the Palestinian territories? And is there anything at all to be done about President Vladimir Putin's increasingly anti-Western policies?

As the variety of these agenda items demonstrate, the commonality of interests and objectives for London and Washington covers most of the world. Indeed, the "special relationship"--much maligned these days in some quarters but obviously very much alive--is more a function of the permanent bureaucracy than the personalities of the leaders of the two countries. Whether it is the unparalleled sharing of information, sources and analysis between the CIA and the British secret service, the extensive joint training, personal ties and comfort level of the U.S. and UK military establishments, the shared experiences of British and American diplomats all around the world, or just the common language and historical comradeship of the two peoples, there are no two countries in the world that work as more of a team.

The personal relationship between a Prime Minister and a President can affect the style and pace of this teamwork, especially its public presentation, but the fundamentals are deeper than even the biggest personalities of U.S. and British leaders.

Indeed, the personalities of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown couldn't be more different. One is, like Bill Clinton, a great communicator who seems to love the camera. The other is more cerebral and shy--qualities that are often underestimated in superficial characterizations of him as simply a "taciturn Scot" or "dour Presbyterian." And Blair and Brown have not seen eye to eye on Iraq, which unfortunately serves as a kind of barometer of anyone's foreign policy outlook these days. Brown supported Blair--but not with great enthusiasm and apparently with a heavy dose of skepticism about a plan for building a democracy on the back of a brutal dictatorship without much international support for the nation-building involved.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown has won plaudits for an unparalleled run of prosperity for the British economy. While serving as Chancellor (and maintaining his position as the presumptive heir to Blair), Brown has seemed wary of foreign affairs, limiting his statements and actions to development in Africa and a key role in eliminating the debt of less developed countries around the world. He is a believer in globalization and has much in common with America's push for privatization and a freer economy. So those issues should go smoothly with Washington. Problems could arise, of course, if Brown's intensity regarding aid to the developing world and America's relative stinginess on the subject come into conflict in the run up to a G-8 summit or as the result of a calamity in Africa. You could imagine Brown stubbornly holding up agreement in the hopes of pushing Bush to real commitments in the area of foreign aid--something Blair avoided in his dealings with successive U. …

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