The Winter issue of Parameters, the Army War College Journal, is out. The one item that grabbed my attention is British Bulldog or Bush’s Poodle? Anglo-American Relations and the Iraq War, by James K. Wither, a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army. The article is a good synopsis. Wither lays out the current forces driving the ongoing high degree of military cooperation between Britain and the United States. In addition to the personal leadership of Tony Blair, other critical factors include “the long-standing special Anglo-American relationship, an institutionalized habit of security cooperation between the two countries, an ambitious perception of Britain’s role in the modern world, and an apparently genuine conviction that Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a threat to national security.” Wither is correct in noting the relatively minor importance of any “special relationship” based on tradition or sentiment. Rather, it has been the assessment of Britain’s leadership for many decades that a close security partnership between Britain and the USA, with Britain in the role of “junior partner” is in Britain’s best interest. The British have been willing to pay the financial cost of sustaining themselves in this role. “The strategic defense reviews of 1998 and 2002 reinforced this standpoint, emphasizing continued close cooperation with the United States as Britain’s principal ally. Uniquely in Europe, Britain is committed to the development of military ‘network-enabled capabilities’ to remain technologically interoperable with US forces.” Other European powers have been unwilling to make this commitment. Wither also notes the long-standing sharing of signals intelligence between the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. This very close intelligence partnership benefits all parties and is a significant underlying component of the US-UK security relationship.
Wither concludes with a discussion of Britain’s desired role as a “pivotal” power between the US and Europe:
As the efforts to rebuild Iraq have graphically illustrated, the United States cannot carry the security burden alone. At the very least, it needs its European allies to contribute troops for peace support operations and resources for nation-building. However, if European states want to be in a position to influence the global strategic agenda, rather than having it dictated to them by the United States, they will ultimately need to be able and willing to contribute a “hard” security capability. If the European Union and the United States were to become true strategic partners, Britain would have a crucial role in facilitating revitalized military cooperation. The United Kingdom possesses the only armed forces with the prospect of remaining interoperable with the United States for the foreseeable future, while any serious attempt to build a European power-projection capability would be reliant on British commitment and expertise. In these circumstances, the UK might yet be able to remain both a leading player in Europe and a special partner of the United States and thus realize Prime Minister Blair’s vision of Britain as a pivotal power.
This is interesting in light of Blair’s recent dalliance with a proposed non-NATO European defense capability. Nonetheless, the main message here is that Britain remains a player because it has spent the money and political capital necessary to create and operate meaningful ability to project military power. The Europeans, with limited exceptions, have not been willing to do so.
A “coalition of the willing” must also be a “coalition of the capable”, and other than us, no one is more capable than the British.