Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Anglo American Relations Post Election

USA-Great Britain – two lost powers

By Prof Dr Melanie Sully,

English version of article that appeared in the Wiener Zeitung, November 5, 2020

The UK/US Axis rested on common values to defend the Western “Free World”. Churchill who coined the phrase “special relationship” enlisted the help of US President Roosevelt to defeat the Nazi tyranny. Close ties persisted as the Soviets swept through post-war Europe.  

This mission was linked to a sense of moral superiority forged in the knowledge that democracy was not perfect but better than any other system. Today with the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements, civil society, human rights and diversity, people want more. With the fall of the Soviet Empire the simple dichotomy of East versus West fell away. Now the quality of democracies is in the foreground.

And it is precisely here that both the US and the UK are failing. Respect for the rule of law, the Courts, election results, parliament and treatment of minorities are wanting.

But now not only the UK is in search of an international role, uncertain and divided, but the US too is no longer the role model it once was.  Both look with trepidation to an Asia increasingly self-confident posing a threat to the economies of the “West”. There are few innovative or imaginative responses from either Washington or London detectable. Much policy is preoccupied with damage limitation whether on Hong Kong or Chinese technology. An exciting vision of the future is lacking and unlikely to emerge any time soon from either the White House or Downing Street.

The British Empire was in decay for decades graphically illustrated in the ill-fated Suez crisis in the mid 1950s which brutally showed the limits of US support. Under the premiership of Harold MacMillan the relationship recovered somewhat only to come under strain with the election of a Labour government in 1964. Harold Wilson became prime minister debunking the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent as being neither nuclear nor a deterrent but subservient to the Americans. Tony Blair was humiliated with chants of being a poodle of the US and David Cameron failed to secure parliament’s support for Obama’s policy in Syria.

Nevertheless London remains sensitive when it comes to relationships with the USA. When the Kennedys dazzled in Paris, the UK bent over backwards to compete. Trump too was feted by Macron on bastille day in Paris in a demonstration of one-upmanship. One institution still is a magnet for the US, a meeting with the Queen. Neither Berlin nor Paris can possibly match the splendour of a royal banquet.