Here's A Depressing Thought (British Politics Edition)

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 6, 2010


The exit polls coming out of Britain indicate that while the Conservatives will have the largest number of seats in Parliament, they will not have an outright majority. As such, the identity of the next Prime Minister remains very much in doubt. But no matter who becomes the next Prime Minister, the effort to repair strained Anglo-American ties may run into an immovable obstacle.

Immovable until 2012, anyway:

“The UK elections will have a significant impact on the special relationship,” says Nile Gardiner, an expert in US-Europe issues at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “If Cameron becomes prime minister, repairing the frayed state of the Anglo-American relationship will be a top priority.”

But will the Obama administration be interested?

Much has been said about the “bad blood” between Messers. Obama and Brown, about the rebuffed requests from Downing Street for one-on-one sit-downs between the two leaders at multilateral gatherings. In March the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, dominated by Brown’s labor Party, was so incensed that it voted to end the use of “special relationship” to describe the US-UK ties.

But Obama hasn’t been especially close to any European leaders, experts note, so they question whether even an effort by a pro-US Cameron to warm things up would make a difference.

Mr. Gardiner thinks so. “It’s true that Obama has been especially bad at treating key allies, and the results with Britain are no exception,” he says. But he adds that issues like NATO support in Afghanistan could make for a different White House response to a pro-American British prime minister.

About the only reassuring thing that I could write in response to this is that realist theory posits that the longstanding interests of nation-states are more important in shaping alliances than are the identities of national leaders, and the makeup of national governments. I believe that to be the case, but no one is going to say that the identities of national leaders, and the makeup of national governments makes no difference whatsoever. Realists concede that those latter two factors still play a role in influencing international relations.

So, as we watch the UK election results, and wait to see who will be the next Prime Minister, let’s reflect on the fact that reviving the Anglo-American friendship and alliance will be more difficult than it has to be, thanks to an American Administration that promised to make the rest of the world like us, but has done little to nothing to advance that cause by engendering closer ties between the American President, and leaders in Europe.

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