Whether the UK and America’s “special relationship” grows stronger or weaker lies entirely in British hands, argues John Bolton, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former US ambassador to the UN, in the Financial Times.
“Saying that the UK’s ‘single most important bilateral relationship’ is with America, but is not comparable with UK membership of the European Union, is a clever but ultimately meaningless dodge”, writes Mr Bolton. “Drop the word ‘bilateral’. What is Britain’s most important ‘relationship’? Does Mr Brown regard the EU as a “state under construction”, as some EU supporters proclaim, or not?”
Can Britain have two best friends? Or will Gordon Brown put the EU ahead of the “special relationship” with America? John Bolton answers FT.com readers’ questions
Is the US a friend of the UK, or a friendly Master? Can the UK object to US demands without damaging its status in US eyes? Why is up to Britain to define this relationship. Isn’t friendship a two-way street?
Florian Kitt, Brussels
John Bolton: In many years of dealing with British political figures, diplomats, business people and even the media, I have never heard a Brit shy about disagreeing with the United States. Never.
The difference from many other EU countries is that Britain’s interests and values have not in recent years been parochially European, but global, like America’s. If the EU becomes the centrepiece of Britain’s world, the Little Englanders will have won.
Countries are not individuals. They are states. They have interests, not friends. Those interests are represented by alliances. If it in the interests of the UK to have the US as our main ally, and the US reciprocates, as it does, what exactly does Mr Bolton mean by the UK having to chose between Europe and the US ? Is the real problem Mr Bolton’s fear that Europe will draw equally with the US by adopting the same route to super economic powerdom that the US chose all those years ago; a single currency?
Kevin Cahill, Exeter, UK
John Bolton: I have no fear whatever of the EU’s economic power. As long as the EU pursues a mercantilist, statist economic policy, and particularly given Europe’s aging population and declining birth rate, the long-range future for Europe is not bright. Since Britain has shaken off the statist approach that so long hampered its economy, why would it want to reverse course now?
The future of the EU is not set. Not all member states would like to see an ever-closer union, and whether the EU should be regarded as a state under construction is far from certain. In your article you call the EU the European porridge and you advocate a strong US-UK relationship at the expense of a UK-EU relationship. Still, by arguing that the EU should have only one seat in the UN Security Council, you are in fact actively pushing the EU in the direction of becoming an ever more integrated political union. Why do you push the EU in this direction?
Erik Tngerstad, Stockholm, Sweden
John Bolton: I was trying to give Britain - and all other EU members as well - a wake-up call that they can’t have it both ways: acting like a Union when that suits them and acting like nations states when that suits them. EU members need to decide what the EU is to be, and they should understand that their decision will have consequences.
If the EU can’t decide what it wants to be, or even define what it currently is, doesn’t that tell you something?
Best friendships and “special relationships” are surely reciprocal. Which is more important - the Israel/US or UK/US relationship? If the UK has to choose between the US and EU, shouldn’t the US choose between Israel and UK, or Nafta and the OAU as against the UK? Or is Mr Bolton saying that while a patron can have many clients, a client like the UK can only have one patron?
Ian Williams, New York, US
John Bolton: The European Union issue for Britain is whether it wishes to be subsumed into a larger entity, and to see its freedom of action internationally thereby reduced. Many EU members have consciously faced this question, and concluded that they want precisely that, because they see their aggregate influence increased by pooling themselves together. Whether this calculus actually works empirically is a larger question than we have space for here, and I think it is far from resolved in the way EU advocates like to think.
Britain specifically, however, does not seem to be debating the issue, and one of my aims in the op-ed was to confront Britons with the potential consequences of just gliding along as they now seem to be. Thus it is the very status of Britain that is at stake, which is an issue not addressed when Prime Minister Brown describes the relationship with the US as the ”single most important bilateral relationship.”
Though the EU may disagree with the US on Iraq or on the occasional trade dispute, it has more things in common with the US than things that separate it from the US. Hence, is there such a thing as a choice between the US and the EU? And is it necessarily in America’s best interest that the UK makes this choice? The UK has a moderating influence and is a good conduit to get US views across to continental Europe. Would the US be better served by a purely Franco-German led EU?
Frederic D, London
John Bolton: I think the United States can deal directly with any country that is actually prepared to deal with us. For Britain to confine its role to being a ”moderating influence” is ultimately to leave it with only a position of process, not of substance. Inevitably, therefore, that means a reduced role for Britain, which I find hard to believe that the UK would actually want.
Which does Mr Bolton consider to have done most to promote democracy, free markets, human rights and the rule of law - the EU’s policy of enlargement and voluntary assimilation or the Anglo-American strategy of military intervention?
Rory Harden, London
John Bolton: What produced change in Eastern and Central Europe - into which the EU has now enlarged - was the Nato policy of standing firm against the Soviet Union. This third victory in the Twentieth Century of successful Anglo-American cooperation (the first two being in the two World Wars), with many other allies as well, demonstrates what works. The EU is the beneficiary of the Anglo-American/Nato strategy, prospering under that umbrella.
Britain punches above its weight diplomatically because of its relationship with the US. Submerging into Brussels, not only destroys Britain, but also any one-on-one relationship with the US. As an ex Brit, I am amazed that the Brits think that they can influence the continental Europeans, to stop committing demographic, economic and security suicide. Given the underhanded attempts to ram the so called constitution through again, don’t you think that a fundamental re-appraisal of the European experiment is in order?
John Anthony, Canada
John Bolton: If I were a citizen of an EU member country, I would be asking my political leaders why they were so willing to cede authority for critical areas of domestic and foreign policy to institutions in Brussels that have so little democratic accountability. For Britain in particular, with its unique constitutional system and place in the world, there is far more to lose than to gain by surrendering decision-making authority to EU courts and bureaucracies.
Do you agree with Henry Kissinger that a strong and united Europe in the form of a European supranational state (a politically empowered EU) is good for US policy or is it a threat given the growing distance Europeans and Americans in terms of political and social values? Will there come a time when the US will have to align with Russia or China to counter the EU and its geopolitical influence (both in terms of its military and economically)?
Kurt Jefferson, US
John Bolton: I doubt the EU as such will ever be a threat to the US given its lowest-common-denominator decision-making propensities, and its collective unwillingness to make adequate investments in military capabilities. What the EU risks being far more often is a black hole of missed opportunities around the world.
Can Mr Bolton explain how he believes continuing the “special relationship” is in Britain’s interests? And can Mr Bolton point out any tangible examples of where Britain has gained any benefit from its alliance with the US, since George W. Bush’s presidency began?
Andrew Haynes, London, UK
John Bolton: Britain and the United States stood together to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The whole world is the safer for our joint leadership.
How willing will Gordon Brown be to invest himself in a relationship with President Bush given that the president’s second term is due to end shortly? Also, despite his visit to the UN headquarters, Mr Brown was forthright in asserting that the organisation needs to do a lot more and is far away from where it should be in terms of international intervention. Is this a sign that he will push robustly for an overhaul of the UN?
Shobhana Rana, New York
John Bolton: A lot can happen in eighteen months.
Why do you think a relationship has to be mutually exclusive? Could the UK not act in a trilateral or multilateral relationship, in effect as a mediator, between Europe and the US?
Stephen Martin, UK
John Bolton: If you want Britain to be a mediator between the EU and the US, that is certainly your choice to make, and the overwhelming choice of FCO diplomats. I would prefer to have allies, rather than being surrounded by mediators.
As a British citizen who is grateful for the many years of protection that we have all received from America, and given that Europe has always given Britain problems while the US has given us solutions, how would you advise me to work to remind my compatriots of your common sense message to keep us all safe?
Matthew Knowles, South Ockendon, UK
John Bolton: The most pertinent question for Britain is whether its liberty and security are most enhanced by negotiating and accepting positions within the European Union context, or whether freedom of action best suits the UK. Small EU members enjoy the larger ”clout” that they believe an EU position affords them, sometimes almost without regard to what the substance of the position itself is. Why would Britain want that outcome?
Let me turn the question, Mr Bolton: Can America have two best friends? Is the UK, in turn, America’s best friend, or is that Israel? Which of these two is America’s real best friend? Is it consistent, fair and reasonable for a country to have multiple best friends? And are the rules different for America?
Karl Weibye, Edinburgh, UK
John Bolton: As writers of op-eds will tell you, we don’t write the headlines for our articles. The FT wrote ”Britain cannot have two best friends,” so you should address your question to the newspaper.
Considering Sarkozy’s election in France is expected to usher in a new age of French-American relations, and there is a fear of Gordon Brown distancing the UK from the US, what type of implications does this have for the US in terms of its relations with other EU members? Is it a possibility that the US could form stronger ties with France than the UK in the near future?
Carl Fitz, Texas, US
John Bolton: My experience in diplomatic dealings with France over many years is that France unfailingly pursues what Paris sees as its core national interests. While such an approach has often put France at odds with the United States, it is at least straightforward and intellectually honest. I respect it.
By contrast, too often in recent years, and frequently in the United Nations, the UK position, as defined by the FCO, has been ideological rather than national, pursuing what the international High Minded set calls ”global governance.”
Given the choice, vive la France!