Is the special relationship still special?
August 9th, 2012
10:45 AM ET

Is the special relationship still special?

By Fareed Zakaria

As Americans watch the London Olympics, commentators filling airtime have speculated on the decline of the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. Mitt Romney took a few swipes at Barack Obama for being responsible for this decline when he was in London two weeks ago. Actually, the bonds between the United States and United Kingdom remain very strong. Why?

Well, first – whether or not Romney actually said it – he simple fact is that Britain’s heritage is a crucial component of the United States. The country was founded by Englishmen seeking liberty along English lines. The institutions are so similar, the cultures are so similar, the values system is so similar that in a sense there’s an almost symbiotic relationship at the structural level.

This isn’t to say that things haven’t evolved and American society hasn’t been enriched by diverse groups from all over then world. But that’s not really what’s changed the special relationship.” That term came into being to describe the link between the two most powerful countries in the world. Remember during World war II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was running the world’s largest economy and a growing military superpower. But Winston Churchill presided over a country with an enormous empire, ruling about a quarter of the world’s surface. Britain still also had a huge navy as well as enormous economic power. The pound sterling was still the reserve currency of the world. That – Britain’s role – is what has really changed.

During the Cold war, the asymmetry of power meant that Britain became a junior power to Washington, but at a time when Europe was the central arena of global politics and Britain was key to the strategy of containing the Soviet Union. Now there’s no Cold war, power is shifting to Asia and Britain is a small, wealthy island off the coast of Europe with one global financial center and lots of nice old country estates.

I think that Americans will still find Britain the country they feel most at home in, and Briton’s will probably find America the country they feel most at home in. I have enormous affection for Britain. But the global structure of power has shifted and that means the old special relationship can’t be brought back, no matter how many busts of Churchill we place in the White House.

In the future, I think that the relationship between the two will remain very strong. You only have to look at the bonds between Israel and the United States – the fact that Israel is a very small country hasn’t lessened the ties that exist between the two. But it won’t be central to global affairs the way it was in the past.


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soundoff (216 Responses)
  1. Jeremy

    Most SANE and respectable Americans hold the U.K. in high regard, unfortunately the internet does not block uneducated idiots from posting things on it.

    But, I personally fear of any future without Britain by our side more than I do Israel. When it comes down to it, I think Britain would have our back more than Israel. Israel seems to only get us in trouble.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  2. Rick

    I'd have been shocked if he hadn't squeezed Israel in there somehow. lol

    August 10, 2012 at 7:54 am | Reply
  3. Matt

    "I think that Americans will still find Britain the country they feel most at home in, and Briton’s will probably find America the country they feel most at home in" Seriously? What planet is this guy from? I'd feel more at home in Canada or Australia. I'd feel more in paradise in Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland or Costa Rica. Why wouldn't Brits feel more at home in New Zealand or Canada? Those nations were commonwealth lickspittles, use the metric system and have the same kind of nanny state mentality. However, I do think "the ambiguously gay duo's" honeymoon is over. We're both gold-digging nations and since China and India are the cash cows these days, we're both better off finding a new lap to sit on.

    August 10, 2012 at 9:23 am | Reply
  4. cole

    The Beatles!!!!!!! yeah, baby!!!!!!!!!!

    August 10, 2012 at 10:39 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      The Rolling Stones, Richard Thompson, Small Faces, The Waterboys, Van Morrison, the Clash, The Who, the Zombies, the Buzzcoc*s, David Bowie – the list is endless.

      August 10, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  5. us_1776

    The US-UK relationship is very special and will remain so for all time.


    August 10, 2012 at 10:39 am | Reply
  6. NorCalMojo

    Brits just like to complain. It's how they express affection.

    August 10, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      Are you able to provide any examples?
      You really come off as an ignoramus.

      August 10, 2012 at 11:10 am | Reply
    • NorCalMojo

      I grew up being called "gormless" by my Yorkshire gran.

      August 10, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
      • Patrick

        One silly granny explains all Brits. OK????????????

        August 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  7. Tim

    The USA Needs to have a special relationship with India to offset a rising china. That being said the UK is valuable as their knowledge and relationship with India is far greater then ours.

    August 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  8. Rich

    I’m perplexed by this non-story story. Where is the news in this? Next, you’re write an article letting us know that peanut butter is made of PEANUTS!

    August 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  9. American CPA

    We do have a lot in common with Britain. Israel on the hand we don't. Try and visit Israel as a non-Jewish American and see how they treat you. Israel simply has massive control over our government due to rich Jewish American donors that put Israel's interests above America's. – Don't believe me. See what happens if candidate for office doesn't support Israel.

    August 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Israel respects all its visitors no matter the religion or nationality.
      Lies will get you nowhere.

      August 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  10. ponderer

    Of course, it is still special, even if we have no handouts available, at the moment.
    We only wish the UK would stop their 20th century policy of fomenting trouble all over the world, hoping somehow to engage us in their divide and conquer philosophy. There are better ways to support an economy than to promote war and hatred in distant lands, in the hope those nations will forever be dependent on the UK for policy and perhaps even monetary assistance....and this is crucial to understand, the Office of the Exchequer is bankrupt, bankrupt, bankrupt, just like the rest of EU !

    August 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  11. dreamer96

    US and UK...Two great countries, separated by a common language...Tony Blair put up with a lot of BS from GWBush and Dick Cheney..hoping to get some big contracts..but Mr. Milo Minderbinder changed his mind, even after many Brits had already died...That is Mr. Milo Minderbinder for you...

    August 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  12. Dave

    The Brits gave us MONTY PYTHON

    We are _DEEP_ in their debt if you ask me...

    On a more serious note, as an American I do feel a certain bond with the UK (and Ireland, but that's a whole other topic). When the terrorists bombed the subways a few years back, I remember my gut level reaction to a terrorist attack in London was much like how I would have responded if the attack happend in some US city on the other side of the country. I reacted, emotionally, much like my own countrymen were attacked.

    So personally, I think the 'special relationship' is alive and well. I _DO_ see the UK, and our relationship with it, in a fundamentally different way than most other nations, including most of our Allies.

    Or to paraphrase, if I am travelling abroad and some locals are harrassing UK tourists, and a fight were to break out... you bet your butt I am getting involved. Just as if they were Americans. So should such an unlikely event occur, we can discuss the status of our 'special relationship' in some foreign clinker with a few bruises and black eyes.

    For my part, I say things are pretty solid between the US and the UK

    August 10, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      Well said..we share a fundamental belief and philosophy, do the right thing and defend the defenceless wherever we can..this is a cultural thing not political.

      August 10, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  13. Jim

    Canada loves you all.......except france

    August 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Sure thing Abdul!

      August 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  14. Jim

    Go home Patrick your drunk, and take Dad with ya.

    August 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply

      So if you are drunk Jim, everybody is?

      August 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  15. sasa

    I can't believe that Fareed Zakaria would plagiarize. What a dumb decision on his part!

    August 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  16. Mary Quest

    Farid is mostly right. Brits are history with no chance to gain a victory, despite their out-of-date nukes...

    August 11, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      "no chance to gain a victory" What victory?

      August 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  17. Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007 ©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484

    I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti American, anti GB, anti semite, anti India, anti modern anything because I am a good moooooslem. I steal people's monikers because I am so ashamed of myself and post the most stupid comment. When people get angry with me, I claim insanity. I am the same guy.

    August 18, 2012 at 8:51 am | Reply
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