Monday, 20 January 2014


When someone you have convinced yourself is your best friend (and you believe has your best interests at heart) says something truthful but hurtful about you that can be upsetting. However, when they say it publically for all to hear then it’s twice as hurtful and if you had any sense you might be well advised to question the value of your so called friendship. The former US defence secretary, Robert Gates has said that cuts to the UK's armed forces will limit the country's ability to be a major player on the world stage. And that the spending cuts would mean the UK could no longer be a full [useful] military partner of the US.

Under the current Con Dem Coalition government’s plans, by 2020 the Army will have lost some 20,000 personnel, with the Royal Navy losing 6,000 and the RAF some 5,000. Despite the cuts the MOD was quick to point out that the UK still has the fourth largest defence budget in the world. However, when interviewed by BBC Radio 4's Today programme (16.01.2014) Robert Gates noted that - for the first time since World War One - Britain did not have an operational aircraft carrier.

Mr Gates, who served under presidents Obama and Bush, singled out cuts to the navy as particularly damaging. He said; "With the fairly substantial reductions in defence spending in Great Britain, what we're finding is that it won't have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past." Incidentally, last month the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, warned that the UK could be left with the "spectre" of a hollowed-out force. While this latest American  intervention probably won’t reverse Cameron’s defence cuts it will wound the UK's pride and may shatter a few still held illusions or possibly delusions.

The not so big secret to the UK’s so called ‘special relationship’ with the USA dates back to the dark days of the Second World War is that the relationship is not that special. The UK was dependent on aid from the USA well before Pearl Harbour brought the Americans into the war. Our history (or more like our spun history) tells us that ‘lend lease’ saved us, what’s not said is that ‘lend lease’ was more like ‘cash and carry’ i.e. they take our cash and we do the carrying across the broad U Boat filled Atlantic even after America came into the war.

By the war’s end Britain was pretty much broke (or at least financially challenged) and stretched pretty thin militarily (in terms of manpower UK and Commonwealth forces peaked out in the autumn of 1944|). The Empire and with it ‘imperial responsibility’ unravelled surprisingly rapidly in the post war years. Britain walked from Palestine and Greece, and India, Pakistan, Burma and Sri Lanka gained their independence, despite this the delusionary myth of Imperial greatness and the ‘special relationship with the USA remained.

The reality was that the USA since the early part of the twentieth century had been one way or another pretty much determined to break up the British Empire. Any delusions that the ‘Brits’ had about their position in the world, should have evaporated during and after the Suez crisis when an irate President Eisenhower, told Britain’s Prime Minister Anthony Eden bluntly to halt the military invasion of Egypt or face up to the economic and political consequences. Britain and France found themselves up against it in the face of US economic and political power and interests in 1956 and both lost.

The French decided to maintain an independent foreign policy, which if it coincided with US interests was all well and good, but if not then no matter. The Brits made a different choice, they decided never to oppose US interests again, at least not publically, from 1956 onwards US interests would be British interests requardless. Under continual pressure from the US the remainder of the Empire vanished far more rapidly than it was acquired, being mostly gone by 1964.

The Brits pretty much never stepped out of line again, unlike the French, who retained control of their own foreign policy. Now all this may be slightly delayed fallout from the so called Westminster elite’s failure to secure a majority in the House of Commons for military action over Syria. With the ‘Brits’ making the awkward transition from useful ally and friend  to potential liability people may well be forgiven for wondering where does that leave the so called ‘special relationship’?  

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