Are US officials panicking over the slow demise of the “special relationship”, and the UK’s growing links with China?

Have you noticed something strange going on in British politics? No, I don’t mean the election, I am referring to angry words from US officials to Britain’s general public. British foreign policy is not up for debate, in the election as always. But the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power has been ticking us off in public.

What is happening?

The USA has seen relations with Britain as with a client state for many decades. We have for too long behaved with obedience to American instructions. We joined the Americans in their invasions of Afghanistan and then in Iraq, without the slightest hint that we were somehow protecting our British Isles. These invasions may have been in US interests, in their attempt to dominate the world; we simply followed instructions, as any good client would do.

The fact that there has been substantial kick back from these invasions is often denied, but is pretty obvious. More and more angry young peoples from these places not just blame us, but have begun to take action in various forms; killing, domestically, and leaving their place of education or work and going out to fight.

We have for decades, in public, called our USA-British relations, a “special relationship”, which was supposed to have guided everybody. Only a fool can see that there is nothing special, when one side of the relation spends 10 times as much on their military, compared to the other. The British have always been expected to invest their taxpayers’ money, for instance in nuclear submarines, to please their American masters. These investments have been hidden under nationalistic rhetoric to persuade a non-thinking public.

Just in the last week or so, we have had a high-ranking American General telling us to spend more money on NATO. Top British generals then appear on TV, to back up the message. The British military elite depend for their position and livelihood on this unequal, ‘special’ relationship. Can you imagine a British general telling their American counterpart to spend more money on arms? Ours is a dependent military relationship with the USA, where they feel free to instruct us on our vital budgetary affairs.

What is going on?

How and why did Britain ever get into this supine relationship with the USA? Let me quickly take you back 100 years or more. Before 1914, Britain was the world’s leading power. We had the strongest armed forces in the world, and the largest colonial empire. By 1945, the empire was an empty joke, and although we had won two world wars, in both, the American military assistance had been the essential component that had swung the wars in our favor. By 1945, the British exchequer was broke, and the American instructed us to create independent states with all our colonies. Within 10 years we had achieved this goal. The Americans took control of world affairs from 1944 with the creation of the US dollar as the world’s trading currency.

At this point Britain had a number of choices, and it was decided – by whom I have never discovered – to attach our British international forces to the American international juggernaut. We would fight American wars with them, as ‘good allies’, with no thought of actual British defence needs. For the last 70 years we have pretended to ourselves, and the rest of the world, that we retain Great Power status. The special relationship was the ideology that was used by every government since 1945 to hide the real state of affairs.

So long as the British economy was growing it was possible to hide this dependency from the British public at large. But now, all this looks as if it is altering. How much it will alter is difficult to say, but change is underway. Britain has signed up to be a founder member of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the Americans are sufficiently angry to go public with their criticism. Britain has stepped out of line.

The AIIB has big ambitions to create the financial conditions to build roads and railways joining up vast territorial distances. Trade depends on appropriate linkages between nations. Some of these are too vast to be undertaken by commercial banks. The need for these new structures is apparent for all Asian nations. And Britain has joined up.

The USA sees China as its competitor for world power number one, and will do every thing in its power to limit that growing power. This new bank is part of a complex of new international banking structures that the Chinese are initiating. These new Chinese-led banks are competing, head to head, with the American-led World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These two global banks have led the way, for decades, to keep smaller nations in line. They have acted as alternatives to the old colonial regimes, to keep small nations economies in line with the USA’s.

Is Britain at long last behaving in its own interests? It is difficult to say at this stage. But ever since Britain’s disastrous invasion of Libya, which by the way only benefited arms companies, Britain seems to be altering its old belligerent face to the world. Its spend on NATO is too low, according to the US military. Our Parliament decided consciously not to invade Libya from the air, and despite the aggressive verbal rhetoric of politicians, Britain has taken a back seat in negotiations with Russia over Ukraine.

These latest are only possible indications. We are clearly courting China to invest in Britain. China, it is thought will benefit the City of London. The City of London is the centre of the UK financial elite. But Britain has for years, played a belligerent role in world affairs, which in most, not all cases had little or nothing to do with safeguarding the peace in our Island.

Time will tell.


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Roger van Zwanenberg

Dr Roger van Zwanenberg is the former managing director of Pluto Books.

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