Open marriage on the international dance floor
This weekend several MPs decided to pronounce the UK/US ‘special relationship’ dead. They appeared to believe that this was, in some way, a story that belonged in the newspapers – unfortunately the newspapers broadly agreed.
But what on earth are we declaring dead? The US and the UK’s friendship is enduring because it is not a relationship that requires a great deal of work to maintain. It is not ‘special’ because we bend over backwards for one another (that wouldn’t really be special at all, it would be subservient) it is special because, on a broad range of issues, our interests have tended to coincide over the last 100 or so years. They coincided in opposing Nazism, they coincided in contempt for Communism, they coincide now in our vulnerability to terrorism. The fact that we broadly share a system of government, legal coda and an approach to civil rights and obligations means that we have always had similar enemies and, therefore, a relationship of mutual reinforcement and respect.
What the ‘this parrot is dead’ brigade have misunderstood is the difference between ‘special’ and ‘exclusive’. Our interests sometimes lie with the US – because of all the commonalities of culture, language and history that bind us – but sometimes they do not. Other relationships will occasionally come between us, be it America’s love affair with Taiwan or our own (sometimes tempestuous) affair with continental Europe. If this is a marriage it is an open one – the key to making it work lies in our ability to ensure that we’re not the needy partner. Recognising the rules of this game means acknowledging that whilst we have affection for our American cousins, may even sometimes be cousins of the ‘kissing’ variety, they’re by no means the only partner on our dance card and nor we theirs.
So before we declare this relationship dead, perhaps we ought to consider it for what it truly is. There is much to celebrate in the enduring friendship between our two nations – be it the liberation of Europe (not once, not twice but thrice) or the securing of peace in Northern Ireland (assisted deeply by President Clinton) – let’s remember that and do it justice in our attitudes and our actions. Above all, let’s avoid the bitterness that so often clouds misunderstood friendships and unrequited affairs of the heart and keep repeating, over and over – ‘we’ve not been dumped, we were never an item’.