Britain and America: Being Useful

How should we in Britain view and handle the foreign policy of the United States, when the main institutions through which we work – the United Nations, NATO and the European Union – are all up in the air? They were blown there by the explosion of disagreements over the Iraq war. None of us can be sure yet in what shape they will fall to the ground, or how many bits may be broken. It is therefore an interesting if uncertain time to be thinking about the relationship.

The World Today Updated 21 October 2020 Published 1 August 2003 6 minute READ

Douglas Hurd

President of Chatham House and former British Foreign Secretary

There is a tendency to be captivated by the general waves of good feeling, what I might call the ‘Pilgrims’ approach’. Many have sat through and indeed delivered the speeches necessary for that sort of occasion. It is possible, particularly on the British side, to be somewhat seduced or intoxicated by the benevolence of that speech-making. I am not saying that it is hypocritical, but it is not a sure guide to what happens when you are actually enveloped in making or receiving policy.

A better guide for a British minister or chief of staff is to say to yourself every night that the ‘special relationship’ depends on the usefulness of Britain to the United States. That is the key. Everything else is pleasant surrounding noises.

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