Finest Hour 129, Winter 2005-06
Inside The Journals – Whence the AASR?*
*THE ANGLO-AMERICAN SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP, coined by Churchill and regularly dredged up by politicians of all stripes and both sides of the Atlantic, is questioned anew…
1. Europeans do not do war…
“How Strong Are Shared Values in the Transatlantic Relationship?,” by Alex Danchev, Professor of International Relations, University of Nottingham. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2005, vol. 7. A full transcript of this article and a response by CC academic adviser Warren Kimball are available by email; please contact the editor.
We are the ally of the United States not because they are powerful, but because we share their values,” said Tony Blair in 2003. But how much will the desire to live up to a transatlantic past alleviate the inevitable tensions now that Europe has lost importance for many Americans, and Europe has lost faith in America?
We live in an era when the idea of an alliance of values seems either quaint or oppressive, and even contradictory when one remembers that, recently, 43 percent of Americans felt that torturing suspected terrorists could sometimes be justified, when there is no similar feeling amongst Europeans. Moreover, there are broad differences between Europe and the US over capital punishment, income inequality between rich and poor, the tax burden and religious observance.
Although the two sides of the Atlantic may recognise the same core concepts (such as the rule of law, freedom of speech, equal rights and religious toleration), their interpretations of them are strikingly different.
Europeans do not do God. No European would express himself as did President Bush during the election: “Freedom is the Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in this world.” Europeans do not do self-belief, and are bemused by America’s “can do” attitude. Europeans do not do China: that huge country, indeed, the wider world generally, barely features on Europe’s radar. Europeans do not do verbalization: the open, unselfconscious, affirmativeness of American speech is something totally alien to the European way of expressing themselves. And Europeans do not do war, as the German and French Foreign Ministers said exactly in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War.
The alliance of values is therefore overblown and oversold. Europeans and Americans, in Kagan’s words, “agree on little and understand one another less and less…they do not share the same broad view of how the world should be governed, about the role of international institutions and international law, about the proper balance between the use of force and the use of diplomacy in international affairs.”
The Atlantic alliance was created for the Cold War: each was then indispensable to the other. Europeans and Americans are, however, no longer blood brothers; they are merely friends. The old common threat has gone, and for many Americans, Europe is no longer in the eye of the storm, and may never be again. For many Europeans, America is no longer the beacon of hope, and is neither loved nor trusted.
The transatlantic relationship still has formidable assets, perhaps the greatest amongst them the stories it tells to sustain itself. The truth lies somewhere between the monumentalised past and the mythical fiction. Once upon a time, we held these truths to be self-evident. But not any more.
—Abstract by Robert Courts
2. Britons do not do Vichy…
When nations are fighting for life, when the Palace in which the Jester dwells not uncomfortably is itself assailed, and everyone from Prince to groom is fighting on the battlements, the Jester’s jokes echo only through deserted halls, and his witticisms and commendations, distributed evenly between friend and foe, jar the ears of hurrying messengers, of mourning women and wounded men. The titter ill accords with the tocsin, or the motley with the bandages.
—Churchill on Bernard Shaw, Great Contemporaries, 1937
Professor Danchev is a very nice man and a scholar whose cause is deconstructing the Anglo-American Special Relationship (AASR). He has previously offered his thoughtful book On Specialness: Essays in Anglo-American Relations (FH 105:38) and a retort-provoking edition of Alanbrooke’s Diaries (FH 112: 34). The theme of his article described opposite is similar: the Special Relationship is a dangerous shibboleth and distraction; Britain must abandon her slavish adherence to America and blend with Europe, where she is culturally and philosophically at home. Against this philosophy, Churchill’s 1930 words about Britain and Europe (see next page) seem antique.
Who is right? Pardon the cynicism, but what has Britain had out of France lately, besides the 2012 Olympics? Perhaps in retaliation for that, Jacques Chirac remarked that the UK’s main gastronomic contribution to European agriculture was Mad Cow Disease. (He never dined in a good pub?) But, of course, we must make allowances for our Jacques.
Professor Danchev says that “statespersons” should reject the AASR because, among a list of things they do not do, “Europeans do not do war.” No, and they’d better not, considering what they did with it in the previous century, which Churchill described as “more common men killing each other with greater facilities than any other five centuries put together in the history of the world.”
America’s enterprise and affirmativeness may be superficially demonstrated by comparing the continental G-8 economies with America’s (and, for that matter, Britain’s, Australia’s and Canada’s). Granted, American attitudes toward individual enterprise are stronger, and there are congruent contrasts in approaches to health care. But it is really quite impossible to lump each side of the Atlantic into opposite baskets. In the Baltic one meets Poles driving BMWs, who got where they are with a work ethic comparable to America’s. Many motivated, successful individuals live in Britain and Estonia and Italy, and if you look hard you might even find one or two of them in France or Germany or Belgium.
If “Europeans do not do God,” they must be too sophisticated to believe in a higher power than themselves. Isn’t it odd, then, that established religion exists in Europe but not America? Or that the first thing the Russians did when they cast off Bolshevism was to recommission their surviving Orthodox priests, to bless among other things the bones of the Romanovs, dug up and reinterred at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral?
And Europe has religious laws that would shock Americans. Britain’s Labour government offered a bill to ban speech or writing “likely to stir up…religious hatred,” not only against major religions but any established sect including atheists and humanists. If it passes, you could to go gaol for saying something unkind about Druids. (That was before July 7th.) In Italy, author Oriana Fallaci was indicted for vilifying not Roman Catholicism but Islam, saying the Islamic invasion of Europe proceeds not only in a physical but also in a mental and cultural sense: “Servility to the invaders has poisoned democracy with obvious consequence for the freedom of thought, and for the concept itself of liberty.”
These are remarkable abridgements of something Churchill held dear, along with Jefferson and, one hopes, a few others still.
Professor Warren Kimball—Churchill Centre academic adviser, author of important works on the wartime relationship, and no knee-jerk Winstonphile—wrote an eloquent riposte to Danchev in the same British journal. Even eliminating Churchill’s “soaring rhetoric” on the Anglo-American Special Relationship, Kimball wrote, doesn’t fundamentally alter the case for its existence.
Danchev’s skepticism, Kimball says, is driven by current politics. While not supporting the decision to fight in Iraq, Kimball asks: “Why put the blame on the Special Relationship? If the current political stance of the British government is unappetizing, elect a different leadership!” Large numbers in the last UK election did just that, voting for the Liberal Democrats. Like the Anglo-American Iraq enterprise, Kimball notes, the AASR has always been “practical and realistic.” Are not the roots of the current situation in Iraq and the entire Middle East a perfect example?” (They are, if you ignore how much oil the half trillion we’re spending on Iraq would have bought.)
Kimball finds Danchev’s list of things Europeans do not do clever. (A colleague crafted two especially for Britain: “Britons do not do Euros…Britons do not do Vichy.”) But Danchev’s assumption of a homogeneous Europe undermines his argument, Kimball explains:
The distances—geographic, cultural and historical—between east and west, between Turkey and Ireland, between Slovakia and Great Britain, between Malta and Norway, are too wide and deep to allow such generalisations. The “Europeans don’t do” inventory has far, far too many exceptions and exemptions to stand without wobbling.
Consider now the parallels between Britain and America, from former American Ambassador to London Raymond Seitz in the first Churchill Lecture (1998):
…today the genuine “special relationship” really exists outside the official body of government intercourse and well beyond the headlines and photo ops. You see this in all manner of public policy, from welfare reform to school reform, from zero-tolerance policing to pension management. You see it in every scholarly pursuit from archaeology to zoology, in every field of science and research, and in every social movement from environmentalism to feminism…in financial regulation and corporate governance and trade union interchange…along the cultural spectrum from the novel to the symphony and from the movies to rock ’n’ roll….in the big statistics of trade and investment, and in the tiny statistics of transatlantic tourism or transatlantic flights or transatlantic phone calls…You see it in the work of The Churchill Centre and its allies.
Perhaps Professor Danchev has chosen an impossible task, much as the writers of the stillborn, 448-article European Constitution: to find nationhood in the disparate nations of Europe to which individually the world owes so much: science, literature, culture, democracy. The voters who rejected efforts to lump them all into a single constitutional stew might have had their own ideas as to what Europeans do and do not do.
More than Britain’s future, the challenge posed by this kind of thinking is to Western civilization itself. The Anglo-American Special Relationship is nothing more than a distillation of the only rational model for liberal democracy. Many in Europe, where the model was born, have no stomach to defend it anymore. It seems almost a death wish, recalling Toynbee’s maxim: “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder.”
And perhaps that’s the root of America’s differences with her old allies in Europe. Google “Anglosphere” and you will find a grass-roots movement to ally the English-Speaking democracies, and non-English speakers with similar goals, as disparate as India and many nations east of the old Iron Curtain: a far wider community than even Churchill envisioned.
“Anglospherists adhere to the fundamental customs and values that form the core of English-speaking cultures, such as individualism, rule of law, honoring covenants, and the elevation of freedom to the first rank of political virtues.” At present anyway, the part Europe Professor Danchev describes does not. It will be interesting to watch how the nations in the middle tilt.
—Richard M. Langworth