Current Relations between the USA and the UK

Seminar Paper 2002 16 Pages

Didactics - English - Applied Geography


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Current Relations between the USA and the UK
2.1. The Partnership
2.1.1. Tony Blair’s Personal Role
2.1.2. The UK’s Role
2.2. The ‘Iraq Question’
2.3. The Steel Tariffs

3. Disadvantages and Advantages for the USA and the UK

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The relations between two important countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have always been interesting to watch for people strongly interested in foreign politics and international interaction. But since September 11th 2001 this has changed completely; with the assaults of the al-Qaeda terrorists on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, it has been proven that terrorist attacks can happen any where in the world. Hence everybody should be interested in what the leaders of the international alliance against terrorism are doing or planning to do. The leader of the alliance are of course the USA, simply because the attacks happened in their country and it is undoubted that they are still the only world power. But Great Britain is also heavily involved in the “war against terrorism”[1], not only because of the death of many Britons in the WTC or because NATO invoked Article 5 (“an attack on one member state is an attack on all”[2]), but because of a strong multitude of cultural and historical bonds with the United States.

Great Britain and the USA are often said to have a ‘special relationship’, so to analyze this relationship in its current form, I am going to first describe Tony Blair’s personal role in the partnership with the USA and thus with George W. Bush. This includes why he and G. W. Bush are working together so well although their characters and social backgrounds are very different, and an overview of the different ways Tony Blair’s role in the alliance against terror is seen in the world. Afterwards I am going to illustrate Great Britain’s role as a bridge between the United States and continental Europe. Obviously this will not be possible without describing Great Britain’s general role in the EU and again mentioning Premier Minister Tony Blair, but in this section his actions represent Great Britain as a nation and himself.

Nearly every European country and many countries all over the world are supporting the war on terror, partly because of NATO Article 5, but primarily because they think it is the only way to stop terrorism. But most of the European leaders do not share Bush’s view of the ‘axis of evil’ consisting of Iran, Iraq and North Korea, expressed in his state-of-the-union address in January 2002. In the next section I will show that this causes problems for Great Britain and Tony Blair because there will probably be no world alliance for military action against Iraq. This will force Britain to decide whether they are still ‘shoulder by shoulder’ with the United States and will join the USA in whatever action they take, or if they risk their ‘special relationship’ with the United States by offending them.

Another load that weights heavily on the relations between the USA and Great Britain are the steel tariffs which Bush announced to protect the American steel industry. These tariffs could cause severe economic difficulties for Great Britain (as well as for some other countries of the EU). As Blair’s current situation on the ‘home front’ is not very comfortable, with dead-beat railway tracks, unreliable trains and unsatisfactory health service, this additional problem created by the USA will emphasize the discussion of how much solidarity really is necessary. Afterwards I am going to point out the negative effects for the USA and the United Kingdom and, of course, also the advantages for both countries resulting out of their current interactions. The conclusion will pinpoint the dangers of the present and give an outlook on the future prospects of the ‘special relationship’ between these two countries.

2. Current Relations between the USA and the UK

2.1. The Partnership

2.1.1. Tony Blair’s Personal Role

Tony Blair may be not the leading man of the global alliance against terrorism, but he surely plays an important role in this coalition. Even if he is not an equitable partner to Bush, he is much more than just the shadow of Bush or the ‘little brother’[3]. For many people it is quite surprising how well Bush and Blair work together although their personalities are very different: On one side Tony Blair, a liberal politician with an intellectual background who has a very good reputation everywhere in the world and on the other side George W. Bush, a conservative politician without much knowledge of foreign politics and diplomacy, who often appears to be a ‘normal guy’ from Texas. But as both are pragmatists these differences do not seem to matter.[4] Bush and Blair complement one another very well; while Bush is more involved in the military conduct of the ‘war on terror’, Blair ensures that the global alliance stays together.

Especially at the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ Blair was the only head of state with any chance of exerting an appeasing influence on the administration in Washington because of the British-American friendship. Thus he became the ‘ambassador’ of Europe’s leaders and their idea of cool-headed acting, but the United States also benefit from Tony Blair because, with his diplomatic skills, he has managed to integrate countries from the Middle East and Asia into the anti-terror-alliance, which would have been an even harder job for Bush, Vice-President Cheney or Secretary of State Colin Powell.

His success in promoting the alliance all over the world has brought Tony Blair an additional reputation but as was noted in an editorial from ‘The Economist’, although “Mr. Blair did the right things since September 11th. Did he draw the wrong conclusions from them? Global dramas lure British prime ministers towards two traps. One is to over-estimate Britain’s part [and thus their own] in world affairs. The other is to exaggerate the place of world affairs in their own job.”[5] It is obvious that many Britons see the danger of Tony Blair losing sight of the ‘home front’ while flying around the world, constantly dealing with foreign affairs.

The two most important domestic topics in Britain are the collapsing social system and a railway system, which is as unreliable as it was never before since privatization. How urgent these problems are is pointed out as “new figures from the Department of Health show that the insufficient health system has not improved much since Blair is premier minister”[6] and as there has been another train accident only some weeks ago, when a train bounced off its track. Fundamental reforms are necessary to save the National Health Service (NHS), which has been underfunded for years and is dominated by bureaucracy. The future of the railway system does not look any brighter as Railtrack, the owner of the railway system since privatization in 1996, went bankrupt recently[7] and the government does not seem to have a real concept for reorganizing the railway system, especially since the minister for transportation, Stephen Byers, retired unexpectedly at the end of May 2002. The problems at home may not promise international prestige or respect for Tony Blair, but for the British people they are more important than any ‘war on terror’ or how to deal with Saddam Hussein. To prevent stepping into the second trap, “he must not let foreign policy divert him from the job for which he acknowledges he was elected, which is to modernise Britain's decrepit public services. This is not primarily a question of how he organises his time […], but in public-service reform the hard choices have to be made - and enforced - by the man at the top.”[8] In these days this seems to be the real challenge for Tony Blair.

Despite all the right decisions made by Blair (and Bush), one evident mistake was made right after September 11th: By talking about a ‘war’ and ‘war on terrorism’ they glorified Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. This carried the fight against terror onto a new, higher dimension and promoted the expectations, especially in the US, of a mission easy to win and quickly ending.[9]


[1] Bagehot, “Getting above his station”, The Economist, 6 October 2001, p.56

[2] Editorial, “Chilly in the west, warmer in the east”, The Economist, 25 May 2002, p.39

[3] Kroder, T. and Esterhazy, Y., “Der kleinere Bruder”, Financial Times Deutschland, 12 October 2001

[4] McGuire, S., “The Marriage Counselor”, Newsweek International, 3 June 2002

[5] Editorial, “The dashing Mr. Blair; Pivotal Britain”, The Economist, 12 January 2002, p.11 ff

[6] Kroder, T., “Mehrheit der Briten lehnt Blairs Irakpolitik ab”, FT Deutschland, 20 March 2002

[7] Heithecker, M., “Großbritannien steht vor einer Wende in der Haushaltspolitik”, Die Welt, 16 April 2002

[8] Editorial, “The dashing Mr. Blair; Pivotal Britain”, The Economist, 12 January 2002, p.11 ff

[9] Sontheimer, M., “Auswege aus der strategischen Sackgasse”, Spiegel Online, 6 November 2001


ISBN (eBook)
File size
459 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Bayreuth – English
1,7 (A-)
Current Relations Applied Geography American Social Landscape



Title: Current Relations between the USA and the UK