Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another CHANGE in the Anglo-American Special Relationship, As Well?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Washington DC to talk with US President Barack Obama and give a speech at the Congress on March 3 and 4. Though media focused how President Obama hosted Prime Minister Brown, things must be discussed through reviewing a set of ministerial diplomacies, including multilateral talks such as NATO meetings.

Opinion leaders on both sides of the Atlantic interpreted fact that Barack Obama did not mention Britain in his inauguration speech implied a change to end the special relationship. Let me mention some commentaries by the media. The Daily Telegraph notices that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said “The United States and the United Kingdom share a special partnership”, instead of relationship. Steven Clemons, Senior fellow at the New America Foundation, says that current administration will not admit the special relationship unless Britain does not make sufficiently impressive contribution. On the other hand, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Ambassador to the United States Sir Nigel Sheinwald stress Britain’s strength in managing the global economy, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran (“Will Barack Obama end Britain's special relationship with America?”; Daily Telegraph; 29 February, 2009).

News Week is more skeptical to the special relationship. The only superpower can found a special relationship with any country, including Germany, France, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, and so forth. It argues that Britain should stop talking of punch above its weight through acting with the United States on the global stage. Instead, the writer insists that Britain be confident of its soft power, like top universities, role model of parliamentary democracy, and financial infrastructure in the City, and act more on its own (“An Island, Lost At Sea”; News Week; February 14, 2009).

Professor John Dumbrell at Durham University in England comments that US-UK special relations do exist in defense and intelligence, but there are some problems of imbalances. Dumbrell points out that the focus of US-UK security cooperation has changed from military intervention under Tony Blair to soft power promotion under Gordon Brown, as seen in the speech at the Kennedy Library in Boston in April 2008. Though Britain is the largest contributor to the United States in the War on Terror, opinions on the British side are not necessarily reflected in Washington policymaking. The case of British prisoners in Guantánamo is a typical example. This imbalance is due to America’s global hegemonism and fragmented policy processes ―― such as sectionalism between the White House and the Congress, between the federal and state government, and among the department (“The US–UK Special Relationship: Taking the 21st-Century Temperature”; British Journal of Politics and International Relations; Vol. 11, Issue 1, 2009).

It is true that President Obama is so pragmatic that he does not value the Anglo-Saxon brotherhood. News Week is right to mention that he is the first black president. Actually, Obama is cold blooded enough to reject to appoint some liberal loyalists to his cabinet positions. From this point of view, the Anglo-American relations will change into more business-like one.

Prior to Prime Minister Brown’s visit to the White House and Capitol Hill, Britain and America had some ministerial talks. Foreign Secretary David Miliband met Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on February 3, and both nations attended NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Krakow of Poland on February 19 and 20. After the US-UK Summit, Secretary Clinton flew to Brussels to attend the NATO-Russia Coucil on March 5. Vital security issues are discussed in the above mentioned meetings. At the bilateral foreign ministers talk, Britain and America confirmed further commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan (“Press Conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton”; UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Newsroom; 3 February 2009). At NATO meetings, key issues were Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Georgia. Among these issues, Britain is the most supportive of American operations in Afghanistan (“Hutton calls on NATO partners to do more in Afghanistan”; UK Ministry of Defence―Defence News; 19 February 2009 and “NATO Foreign Ministers”; UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Newsroom; 5 March 2009).

When Prime Minister Brown visited Washington, leaders of both countries focused more on the economy as G20 London Summit will be held on April 2. At the joint press conference with President Obama and the speech to the joint congress, the Prime Minister talked extensively on the economy, including financial crisis, protectionism, and the global economy. Also, the Prime Minister stressed common political values between Britain and the United States at the Congress (“Speech to US Congress”; UK Prime Minister’s Office News; 4 March 2009 [and the video] and “Press conference with President Obama”; UK Prime Minister’s Office News; 3 March 2009 [and the video]).

Though Gordon Brown is the second leader to visit the White House after Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, agendas at the meeting were more global and transatlantic. Britain will play a crucial role in G20 Summit in London and NATO Summit in Strasburg/Kehl. Taro Aso may have talked on economic crisis and Afghanistan, but issues were more bilateral. Apparently, it is the problem solving capability that determines the agenda and special relationship with the United States.

Britain will remain the primary ally to the United States, despite some imbalances. The problem is, the Obama administration is willing to develop partnership with Russia and China over democratic allies. On the first trip to Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to found a ministerial level hotline with China to manage global security issues. She even thanked China for buying US bonds. This raises a serious concern that China will see America as weak. At the NATO-Russia Council this month, Secretary Clinton was more enthusiastic to talk with Russia than traditional allies in Europe.

There are a lot of lessons to be leaned from the Anglo-American relations. They are important for other primary US allies such as France, Germany, and Japan. News Week is right to say that allies must upgrade its own capability to deal with global problems. This is the key to make partnership with the United States more helpful to their national interests.