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why the united kingdom stands with america

  1. Why the United Kingdom stands with America
    By Conrad Black
    Mar. 1, 2003


    The national interest of the United Kingdom requires a good and close relationship with Europe and with the United States. In general, Prime Minister Tony Blair has done a commendable job of facing down the lobotomous old Left in his own party, being close but not obsequious to Washington, and recreating Pitt the Younger as he has coordinated Iraq policy with the European countries tired of being brow-beaten by the French and Germans.

    Tony Blair has undoubtedly taken certain liberties in encouraging the European view that he has played a restraining role on the gun-slinging American president.

    The prime minister's domestic opponents generally find the US president even more distasteful than Mr. Blair, and so are happy to believe the old canard that British prime ministers give constant tutorials to American leaders about how to behave like grown-up statesmen. In fact, the only occasion in history when any decisive British influence may have been exercised was Margaret Thatcher's famous advice to former President Bush not to "wobble" over Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. If she had not been disembarked by her party, she might have prevailed upon President Bush Sr. to finish the Gulf War, dispense with Saddam, and spare the world the present crisis. Harold MacMillan's comparison of the U.K. and the US with the Greek and Roman Empires was self-serving nonsense.

    The prime minister has adhered to a position that is not popular in his party and which he has not been as successful as would have been thought in selling to the country. He has been reviled outrageously as a poodle of the United States. The nadir of journalistic insolence on this subject, in my observations, occurred last week when the egregious BBC news anchor Jeremy Paxman asked him if he and President Bush "prayed together." It was the climax of a line of questioning designed to incite the inference that the two men are religious quacks. Jeremy Paxman might have noticed that the religious quacks are on the other side of the war against terror.

    The prime minister has put principle before expediency at great inconvenience to himself. Iain Duncan Smith has resisted the urgings of some of his partisans to try to exploit the divisions in the government. He has put country ahead of party. Both men have distinguished themselves starkly from the shabby performance of the German and French leaders.

    THERE WAS a time when Americans were concerned that they be liked in the world, and were seriously offended when they saw foreigners burning their flag. Sixty years as the world's leading power have inured them to the obloquy a nation in that position receives. But they are prepared when provoked, to instill fear. They are doing it now, and even Saddam, for all his swagger and defiance, is betraying fear.

    It is not conceivable that any country would not wish alliance with the United States if alliance were available on acceptable terms. The United States is not an onerous ally. It has been reasonably content to consider the bloc of states whose security it guarantees in NATO as a pool of potential volunteers rather than conscripts to its causes. It doesn't seriously infringe the sovereignty even of Canada, which is more completely integrated into the American economy than is the state of California, as 85% of Canada's external trade and 43% of its GDP are trade with the USA. It is precisely because the United States has been so undemanding that some varieties of anti-Americanism have become so vigorous. The legitimate application of strength generally has a sedative effect, and that is what we are about to observe.

    The clear American preference is to work with reliable allies, but not to be strangled by Lilliputians masquerading as allies. The United States gave the world the League of Nations and the United Nations. It is an enlightened and civilized democracy that generally tries to behave responsibly, with as much success in this regard as any other important country. It certainly has no lessons to learn on state morality from the Germans and the French.

    Many may deride its popular culture or resent the retention of the death penalty in many of the American states. I personally do not approve of the death penalty, but these matters are settled by popular choice in the United States. With the same system here, capital punishment would be restored. In any case, this is not a foreign policy issue.

    More powerful than its mass culture is America's concept of individualism and freedom. Under the Constitution, all unallocated powers reside with the people, who famously endowed themselves with that Constitution; its rights were not devolved to them by any other authority. This, even more than their economic, military, and cultural force, is the source of American power. When the students and dissidents of Eastern Europe were dismantling the Soviet empire, their public readings were of Jefferson and Lincoln, and the occupants of Tiananmen Square built a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Our satirists and intellectuals and leftist journalists may prattle as they will, but there has never been anything like the rise of America in two lifetimes from a few vulnerable colonies with a population smaller than Greater Birmingham's, to, as Mr Churchill said in his parliamentary eulogy of President Roosevelt, "a height (of) strength, might, and glory never attained by any nation in history." In the years since then, the preeminence of the United States in the world has vastly increased.

    Most Americans do not travel abroad and foreign trade, apart from oil imports, are only about 15% of GDP. It is an Americocentric country. Yet America has learned the dangers of neglecting foreign policy and knows it cannot enunciate the the rules of world order without a reasonable degree of collaboration.

    THE US will pay more attention to the United Kingdom than to any other power. This status has been earned by British leaders of both parties, with rare exceptions, from Winston Churchill to Tony Blair.

    After the United States there is a group of about eight quite important countries in the world and Britain is one of them. We have the fourth economy in the world and have earned and enjoy considerable respect throughout the world.

    When Iraq has been resolved, there will remain many urgent challenges in international affairs. As has been mentioned, the principal countries will need to elaborate the so-called Bush Doctrine and gain acceptance for a version of preemptive military action that distinguishes genuine proactive self-defense from disguised aggression.
    We will have to launch a determined and generous aid program to underdeveloped countries capable of channelling such aid into genuine progress for the needful. I have never been the greatest supporter of the Third World, because of its chronic misgovernment, but we must show more interest in some of those countries that are eligible for help and self-help. And we must make it harder for the West to be caricatured as indifferent to or even exploitive of those countries.

    We should devise some form of trusteeship for failed states that stabilize them and prevent them becoming infestations of terrorists, like abandoned houses occupied by neighborhood thugs. And some such plan as was mentioned earlier for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will have to be sponsored by the Americans, Europeans, and the reasonable Arabs. The United Nations has to be modernized if it is to be useful, and NATO cannot go on as it is; it must be reformed as a genuine alliance with a revised mission. Ideally, the EU's federalist pretensions would be reexamined also. In all these initiatives, except the strictly European ones, and in many others, little can be accomplished without the United States. But it cannot be accomplished by America alone. There is a huge opportunity for this country in all of these areas.

    The alternative to the American alliance as we have known it is an "ever closer union" with Europe, to which the 1992 Maastricht Treaty committed us. Our relations with Europe are vital and must be intimate. But going to a common security and foreign policy would lead to a constant struggle with the German practice of using foreign policy as a substitute for psychotherapy, and with the Ruritanian posturing of the French. It would also anesthetize our economy. Surely, our national destiny is more exalted than that.

    It is more than 40 years since the American secretary of state Dean Acheson said that "Britain has lost an empire but not found a role." Being the junior but influential partner of the United States in modernizing world institutions and alleviating the conditions that breed political extremism, as we will be America's chief associate in crushing the terrorists, is an important role.
    Never has a country that had ceased to be the most influential in the world managed such a slight and dignified diminution of status to a still important position as Britain would then have achieved.

    To give maximum service to the causes of freedom and economic growth, we must maintain and build on our unique alliance with the United States. It is the world's most successful country, the one with which Britain is most compatible and vice versa. I put it to you that it is preferable to continue to be envied because of our success and attachment to principle than to fall any further into the company of those governments for which cowardice is wisdom, ingratitude is Olympian serenity, and the spitefulness of the weak is moral indignation.

    The writer is chairman of Hollinger International Inc. This article is adapted from an address made by Lord Black before the House of Lords last week.


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