Security and Defense: Making Sense of the Special Relationship (Excerpt)
(Source: The Heritage Foundation; issued April 27, 2006)
Except from an April 27 speech by Dr. Liam Fox, MP, defence spokesman for the British Conservative Party, at the Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC.

The Right Foundations

Over the years, all sorts of clever people have smirked and scoffed at the Anglo-American Special Relationship. The phrase was apparently banned at the British Embassy here by a recent ambassador altogether.

But no matter: I shall use the expression "Special Relationship," even with a capital "S" and a capital "R," about the ties between the United States and the United Kingdom without apology today. I shall try to explain in realistic terms what it is and what it ought to be. I shall describe the benefits that accrue from it. I shall assess some current threats that face us. Finally, I shall mention what I see as a long-term challenge to our defense cooperation.

I must also mention in passing another different but very special relationship--that between American and British conservatives. Some chill has entered recently into relations between the American Republican and British Conservative Parties. As a Conservative politician who is a great enthusiast for America, I can understand why.

(Portion of speech cut for cogency. The full text of the speech is online at )

Europe, America, and Britain's Future

The question which Britain's American friends should honestly ask themselves is whether the Special Relationship is robust enough to continue. It certainly deserves to do so. Those common values which bind us together are not going to weaken with globalization. In fact, a greater cultural, economic, and political importance may well be attached to the so-called Anglo-sphere family of countries as the years go by.

But there is another area where future security cooperation between America and Britain is at risk. This lies in the choice which Tony Blair wants to duck, but which events now force upon him, about where Britain's defense and security interests should gravitate towards--Washington or Brussels.

In 1998 at the French port of St. Malo, Tony Blair reversed Britain's earlier Atlanticist defense strategy. He did so not, of course, because he was anti-American. He did it simply because he wanted to prove his European credentials in a way that he thought would have only a small political cost. In cooperation with France, Europe's only other nuclear power, he pledged the integration of Britain's defense effort with that of Europe.

The implications of that decision have only gradually become apparent. At each stage, assurances have been given to the United States, and these assurances have even, it seems, been taken at face value by some in positions of authority within the Administration. Unfortunately, while politicians' words fade with the setting sun--and few fade faster than Mr. Blair's--the goals of European institutions do not. One of these goals is to use defense procurement as a means to lock Britain irrevocably into a European megastate with its own government, laws, and armed forces.

Defense procurement is a powerful instrument for integration, because individual decisions often receive little public attention. Which satellite system the military uses to navigate by may not sound like a matter of geopolitical importance, but we are in an age where such decisions may well end up influencing military alliances. For those who would seek to see a European army replace NATO, defense procurement offers the perfect means of undermining the Special Relationship by stealth.

Decisions being made now and in the immediate future are of special importance, because they will affect whether British forces can operate on the same battlefield as the Americans or whether they can only do so as part of a European force. This is not the place to go into the details, but within Europe, there is now enormous pressure for integration at every level. At the same time, there is a well of deep-rooted hostility to American superiority, particularly in France, which is driving matters forward.

Put these impulses together and you have a dangerous combination. Unless a new direction is given to British policy--one which reduces the obligation to look always to European procurement options rather than simply the best available option for British military needs--America may not be able to count on Britain if the rest of the EU refuses support for U.S. policy.

It is therefore crucial for America both to understand the direction of current developments and to provide countervailing solutions. It is, of course, tempting for the United States to react to European ambitions by turning inwards. When one considers the bad company which Europe keeps in defense matters--for example, its closeness to China--and when one remembers Europe's notorious leakiness in military technology, it is easy to see why America might like to pull up the drawbridge. But if it does so, it risks leaving Britain outside and in the opposing camp. It would, in turn, validate the present British government's keenness to achieve further military integration with Europe.

This brings us to the vexed question of the Joint Strike Fighter. It is understandable that savings should be sought in America's defense equipment programs. Other things being equal, it is also understandable that regard should be had to America's own, not to anyone else's, priorities. But other things, as I have explained, are not equal.

Moreover, this particular program is of great importance to Britain. We are relying on the JSF variant, the F-35B, for use on our planned new aircraft carriers, but this variant may apparently be cancelled. Those two supercarriers will be central to our ability to project our power and to protect our interests. Large sacrifices have been made elsewhere in the defense budget to afford them. To jeopardize their security or effectiveness in this way would be completely wrong.

More than that, such an outcome would confirm in many people's minds the mistaken idea that America cannot be relied upon to support us, even while calling upon our support to fight its wars. We also want to see the second engine variant where Rolls Royce has a major interest, and we need software codes so that we are able to maintain and alter the capabilities of the JSF according to our own needs. In such matters, the calculations of wider strategy, not just those of profit-and-loss accounts, must be considered--at least among friends and allies.

In the end, what makes any relationship special is trust. Britain and America trust one another because we look at the world in the same way. We share the same roots, nourish the same aspirations, thrill to the same ideals. The challenge now is to turn that commonality of views and interests into a common strategy for our defense. Churchill was right: That is how the "Special Relationship" must in the end be judged.

Dr. Liam Fox, MP, is a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners and Shadow Defense Secretary in the United Kingdom. He entered Parliament in 1992, representing Woodspring near Bristol, and within a few years rose to become a whip and then a minister at the Foreign Office.


prev next

Breaking News from AFP See all

Press releases See all

Official reports See all