Magazine article The Spectator

Relationship Counselling

Magazine article The Spectator

Relationship Counselling

Article excerpt

Who would want to go down in history as the man who ruined Britain's special relationship with America? Not Tony Blair, who governs with more than half an eye on tomorrow's history books. So no one should be surprised that a Labour prime minister is to be found shoulder to shoulder with the beleaguered Bill Clinton, inching towards a controversial military endeavour of uncertain outcome. Nor should observers be puzzled by the spectacle of Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary and a known anti-American, touring the Middle East to drum up support for what he might have been expected to regard as a pointless exercise in imperialist aggression. Like Martin Luther, there they stand, they can do no other.

Does the special relationship, despite its status as a touchstone of British foreign policy, deserve such careful handling? It may be that it would be in Britain's interest to support and participate in military action against Saddam Hussein. But is the need to nurture our rapport with the United States reason enough, on its own, to risk British lives? There is no doubt that a close alliance with the world's sole remaining superpower is a valuable asset to a small island nation in an uncertain world. America, however, is often inclined to forget or neglect its end of the bargain when it no longer needs our support for some foreign adventure.

In time of peace, it is to Germany that American leaders travel first when visiting Europe. Chancellor Kohl, they argue, leads the European Union. Britain, they believe, should drop its reservations and commit itself as soon as possible to this powerful geographical and political grouping. Their view of Europe, however, is a historical hangover, a legacy of the 1950s when the European Economic Community was formed. At that time, the United States of America conceived a united Europe as the second pillar of the anti-communist alliance, a continental bulwark between the Land of the Free and the Red menace.

Also, in the 1950s Europe was committed to free trade and market economics. Still weakened by the war, Europeans needed the military and economic support of America, the world's greatest free market power. The new German state's economy was founded on the free trade principles of Ludwig Erhard, minister for economic affairs under Konrad Adenauer. Americans could be forgiven for believing that a European federation would espouse the same economic values as its counterpart across the Atlantic.

Times change. Europe's approach to economic policy has changed with them. …

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