Lewis Brown, Web 2.0 Manager at the Centre for Policy Studies, takes a look at the key points of the 2011 Ruttenberg Lecture on UK-US ties.
Earlier this week, the Centre for Policy Studies was privileged to have prominent historian Sir Max Hastings deliver the 2011 Ruttenberg Lecture in honour of the noted American Industrialist and passionate Anglophile Derald H. Ruttenberg.
The lecture was hard-hitting in its outlook on the ‘Special Relationship’ and Sir Max pulled no punches in unsettling those who view the Anglo-American partnership through the prism of barbequed burgers and ping-pong photo shoots.
Even the most casual observer of trans-Atlantic ties has been able to identify an obvious shift in relations between the two old Allies; upon taking office President Obama courted those European voices that had been lost under President George W. Bush’s administration, namely France and Germany. Lip service to the relationship, however, remains strong – as demonstrated by the President’s wildly successful visit to these shores in May.
Many on this side of the Atlantic view the apparent commitment to the relationship by the President as a positive sign for future relations; President Obama may personally desire to pursue Franco-German dalliances, they presume, but the strong bond between our two nations will always necessitate that the kinship felt since the Second World War continues beyond him – be it to a Republican or moderate-Democrat successor more mindful of Henry Kissinger’s statement that “the British are the last people left in Europe who like to fight”.
Sir Max poured a dose of cold water on these optimists. He argued that Britain’s lack of commitment to maintaining a defence fit for purpose will undermine the future relationship and contribute to a continuing reduction in Britain’s capacity to appear on the radar screen of American political and military leader’s thoughts. He highlighted two key areas as putting the relationship at risk: the Strategic Defence Review conducted last year by the government, and European reticence towards NATO funding
In Libya, David Cameron has continued the post-Falklands decision of every Prime Minister to lead Britain as a major player on the international stage. Unlike his predecessors, the £38bn black-hole in defence he inherited from the previous Labour Government has meant he has chosen to conduct this power-projection without the benefit of a well-funded military able to act in isolation from its European allies.
The Defence Review will leave Britain’s Armed Forces incapable of making a contribution to an allied overseas operation appropriate for a country of this size, aspiration and wealth. As Lady Thatcher pointed out in her book Statecraft, in 2001 Henry Kissinger published “Does America Need A Foreign Policy?” arguing for the increased use of diplomacy and long-term goals in America’s international relationships. Months after publishing, September 11th 2001 saw the deadliest act of war committed on American soil. This, as well as the sudden-nature of the Arab Spring after years of non-existent/easily-crushed Middle Eastern opposition, demonstrates that - as Michel de Montaigne said - “All that is certain is that nothing is certain."
If we wish to maintain what President Obama and David Cameron referred to as the “essential relationship”, Sir Max argues, we must find the cash to do more, not less.
“If present plans go ahead substantially to cut the size of the army, this objective will be compromised, arguably fatally. If, today, it is a source of dismay to Washington that Britain is spending little more than a meagre 2% of its GDP on defence, in the years ahead it seems likely that a big political fight will be necessary to sustain even that figure.”
A 2% spend of GDP is the target for defence spending within NATO countries. Sir Max also seized upon the alarming drop in spending across the NATO European countries, leaving America and Canada to pick up the bill. At the end of the Cold War, Europe contributed one-third of the Alliance’s combined defence spend, today that has fallen to a paltry 21%. In contrast, the rising Asian powers have substantially increased their defence spending; by 59% in India and by a threefold increase in China.
Sir Max continued:
“It is not so much that most European countries have the wrong security policies; rather, they have none at all. They address the issue with the Panglossian hope that if they do not take up arms against anybody else, with luck no one will do so against them.”
The reduction of our own capacity to act unilaterally in favour of closer cooperation with European partners, such as the treaties signed with France last year, are ill-timed when considered with the continuing lack of political will to defence funding across Europe. As Robert Gates has remarked ‘If current trends in the decline of European defence capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders… may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost’.
If as a result of these factors Britain cannot live up to the power we have projected in the past and, as the Prime Minister put it, ‘continue to punch above our weight’ it is entirely possible America will no longer look to the ‘Special Relationship’ as an essential one. As Sir Max concluded:
“As in the past, our friendship will command as much respect in Washington as our standing as a nation in the world deserves: political, economic and military. It is the responsibility of [Britain], to ensure that we earn this through the twenty-first century”