February 14th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

QUEENSLAND STATE ELECTION Governments want belt-tightening, but voters want jobs

CANBERRA OBSERVED The Coalition government's self-inflicted troubles

SOCIETY Joblessness drives the retreat from marriage

EDITORIAL IPCC pushes for new binding climate treaty

NATIONAL AFFAIRS What's behind the Australian Liberty Alliance?

ISLAM Middle East's bishops urge Christians to work with Muslims

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Productivity Commission's IR inquiry doomed before it starts

POLITICAL PARTIES Why Victoria's Liberals are perennial losers

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Greece launches diplomatic offensive against EU austerity program

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS UK-US special relationship 'hanging by a thread'

CULTURE Further inquiries into the case of Sherlock Holmes


BOOK REVIEW Chronicle of a world we have lost

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UK-US special relationship 'hanging by a thread'

by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, February 14, 2015

Writing in the London Telegraph, the former British Ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, claims Britain’s “special relationship” with the U.S. in “hanging by a thread”. 

British Prime Minister

David Cameron

British ambassadors are not, by virtue of a lifetime’s training and experience, given to wild or exaggerated statements or “causing embarrassment”. Therefore this statement needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness. 

U.S. President Barack Obama, significantly half-Kenyan, demonstrated his contempt — and probably hatred — for Britain in one of his first acts in office, gratuitously insulting the country by returning the bust of Sir Winston Churchill which had been presented to the White House.

Not only, of course, was Churchill the enormously-admired hero of World War II, but one of his great dreams and ambitions was a unified, Anglo-American-led union of the English-speaking peoples. 

While language was probably the greatest unifying factor, along with culture, values, democratic tradition and law, Churchill, descendant of the great Duke of Marlborough but also himself half-American and summing up the union in his own person, knew better than anyone else, how much Britain and the British Empire had come to depend on the U.S. for naval and military security.

U.S. President Barack Obama

Britain has long clung to the idea that it enjoys a privileged status with Washington, and during World War II and most of the Cold War this was in fact the case. The U.S. under President Ronald Reagan sacrificed much goodwill in Latin America in order to help Britain during the 1982 Falklands War. More so than ever today, intelligence co-operation between the two is of the most vital importance.

However, Sir Christopher commented: “But we should treat all the public displays of bonhomie and photo-ops with a pinch of salt. There are dangers for the UK in the repeated invocation of a special relationship between America and Britain. 

“The U.S. actually bestows the accolade on many friendly nations. Yet in the UK it can lead to the hubristic delusion that Britain, above all nations, enjoys a privileged status in Washington.”

It is impossible to know what goes on in President Obama’s mind — whether his systematic weakening of America in every possible way is the result of incompetence or deliberate destructiveness — but plainly the idea of any “special relationship” with Britain is not at the forefront of his ideas and values.

It is obvious that on every occasion Obama takes the most left-wing position possible short of provoking impeachment or even a military coup. Now, in his role as an anti-Churchill, he is aiming at nothing less than to change the voting demographic and Anglomorph social makeup of the United States — even in defiance of U.S. law and of Congress — by the uncontrolled admission of millions of illegal immigrants.

Obama has an appalling record of betraying and insulting America’s allies: scrapping the missile defence treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia after they went to the line for America; treating Egypt’s President Al-Sisi as an enemy to be destabilised rather than one of America’s few Arab friends today; and going out of his way to insult Israel’s President Netanyahu. 

He has even gratuitously insulted Australia, an ally through thick and thin, arrogantly lecturing it on how to manage the Great Barrier Reef. 

On the other hand, he intends to restore relations with communist Cuba, whose maniacal President Fidel Castro supported every anti-American movement in the Western Hemisphere and who, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, tried to get the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear strike on the continental U.S. (see News Weekly, January 31, 2014). 

Possibly, Obama has a visceral hatred of Britain as the former principal African colonial power.

Yet Obama’s odd behaviour is only part of a disquieting story. Apart from the White House, there is reported to be growing American concerns about Britain’s reliability as a major ally. Had Scotland voted for independence last year, it would have demanded the closure of Britain’s sole nuclear submarine base at Faslane.

American diplomats do not think the danger of Scottish independence has gone away. What happens, they ask, if Labour wins enough seats in the May general election to govern but not in its own right and forms a coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP)? What concessions would Labour have to make to the SNP? 

Further, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has declined to commit to spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, the modest NATO target (which no NATO member except the U.S. has reached). The British Army is down to 82,000 men, smaller than it has ever been in modern times. One wonders how it can attract high-quality recruits when offering such miserable career-paths. Recently, Britain had no aircraft to track an incursive Russian submarine — the Nimrod trackers have gone.

The Falklands garrison numbers only about 1,500 men and seven aircraft, of which only four are modern fighters. Further, it is hard to imagine how, if Argentina attacked the Falklands again, the shrunken Royal Navy could put together a relieving force. In an emergency, Harrier jump jets could have been flown from a variety of platforms, but Britain no longer has any Harriers.

Yet, bizarrely, Britain has enshrined in law a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of its national output on foreign aid, a figure more or less plucked from the air by the UN in 1970. 

It is incomprehensible why the Cameron-led Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government, while refusing to cut foreign aid to corrupt dictatorships, and subsidising an Indian space program such as Britain itself cannot afford, has cut its own national defence to the point of non-viability, with further cuts reputed to be on the way

Mr Cameron probably thinks he can take for granted the conservative, “right-wing” defence-minded part of the electorate, because there are historic grounds for believing whatever Labour offers would be worse. Times have changed since Britain’s postwar Labour PM, Clement Attlee, in the late 1940s poured millions of pounds into the development of a British atomic bomb. But the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) may hold out a nasty surprise for Mr Cameron.

Sir Christopher states: “Our Armed Forces are braced for still further cuts, whoever wins the May election, such that our traditional ability to field significant expeditionary forces abroad, often in tandem with the U.S. and reflecting our status as one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, could be damaged beyond retrieval. 

“To this must be added the blows to our military reputation from failures of political and military leadership in southern Iraq and Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Many Americans feel that they had to dig us out of two consecutive military holes of our own making. Unfortunate comparisons are made with the recent success of French military operations in Africa. 

“Nor is our diplomacy what it once was. In 2009 the former Foreign Secretary, Lord (Douglas) Hurd, noted that the Foreign Office was no longer a ‘storehouse of knowledge’ and that it needed to ‘repair and restore its tradition of excellence’. With savage cuts to its already tiny budget, this has clearly not happened, despite former Foreign Secretary William Hague’s best efforts. 

“Is it any surprise that, in allied consultations on Ukraine and Russia, Washington’s first port of call is Berlin, even Paris, not London? 

“Contrast and compare with the late Eighties when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan worked hand in glove on managing the dying years of the old Soviet Union.”

Sir Christopher concludes: “This may or may not be David Cameron’s swansong in Washington. Either way he must cut through the rhetorical mist of the special relationship and decide what kind of ally he wishes Britain to be to the United States.”

Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer. He was recently joint winner of the Prime Minister’s $80,000 history prize for his book, Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II, which is available from News Weekly Books.

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