The Bridge? Britain Between Europe and America
November 7, 2005
Alex Danchev, Professor and Director of Research, School of Politics and International Relations, Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, the University of Nottingham, spoke at a November 7, 2005 seminar hosted by the West European Studies program and the Division of International Security Studies on the subject of Britain's place between the United States and Europe. He acknowledged that the UK and the US have for most of the past century enjoyed a special relationship. It is best exemplified in the apocryphal tale of an unfazed Winston Churchill, who toweling off from his bath, announced to a mortified FDR, who had just (proverbially) walked in on his White House guest, that, "The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the president of the United States."
Danchev argued that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, a student of history, recognizes this special relationship as an "historical inheritance," and has followed in the path of his predecessors in nurturing it. Part of the appeal of closeness to the US is that with proximity comes influence. Danchev explained the British see themselves, to borrow from Harold Macmillan, as the "Greeks counseling the Romans": a past empire seeking relevancy next to a present one. U.S officials have traditionally welcomed British support and advice because Washington views them as credible, especially in contrast to other European allies, such as France and Germany. Recognizing and, to Danchev, reveling in European-US tensions, Britain, well-placed geographically and politically between the US and continental Europe, envisages itself as a bridge across which messages between the two shores are relayed and interpreted.
But the bridge has weakened, and the damage is found not only at both international feet, but even along its span domestically. Instead of equal partners, he argued that Blair had become an "errand boy" and a "proselytizer" and "apologist of western policy on the war on terror." And the current US-UK or Bush-Blair relationship has weakened the prime minister, which has made him further dependent upon it. To Danchev, he suffers currently from three gaps:
- A reality gap. He denies his loss of influence with the US and the UK's importance as an ally.
- An authenticity gap. He has lost his public's trust due to questionable prewar intelligence. This bodes ill for him, as his political persona was crafted from a message of honesty. Instead, conventional wisdom sings there is "something phony about Tony."
- An amity gap. Due in large part to differing positions on Iraq, he has fallen out with EU allies, especially Chirac and Schroeder.
In the final category, analysts would agree that Blair's hopes for leadership in Europe "have been comprehensively dashed." Danchev labeled him an "anachronism" and a second Thatcher who had "missed the Euro bus." During the discussion, Danchev argued that with an impassioned EU campaign, such as a true bid to join the Euro, "euro-scepticism" in the UK, never as deep-rooted as people believe, could be shaken. But Blair's "Britain in Europe" campaign has become all but a punch line. Further complicating his EU efforts, Blair does not understand that the EU-UK and US-UK relationships should not be played as a zero-sum game. Instead, they must be understood in terms of concomitance: in fact, played right, an increase of influence with the US would be followed by an increase of influence in the EU.