Observations on the special relationship in security and defense matters

Posted in Other | 19-Jan-06 | Author: Leo Michel

Leo Michel, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University.

The substance of the U.S.-UK special relationship in security and defense matters was hardly mentioned during the 2005 parliamentary election campaign. British commentators agree, however, that broad public discomfort with Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to cooperate closely with President George W. Bush on Iraq was a key factor in Labour’s significant losses in the House of Commons. While it remains unclear how the voter’s message and the reduction of Labour’s majority in Westminster will affect specific outcomes on defense issues confronting the new Blair government (and its new Secretary of State for Defence, Dr. John Reid), it is reasonable to assume that Her Majesty’s Government’s (HMG) margin of maneuver on three fronts—the level of cooperation with U.S. forces in ongoing or possible future military operations; implementation of recent initiatives to restructure UK non-nuclear forces and capabilities (e.g., former Secretary of State for Defence Geoffrey Hoon’s July 2004 Ministry of Defence report, Delivering Security in a Changing World); and looming future issues pertaining to the UK nuclear deterrent and role in missile defense—will be reduced. Ironically, these developments coincide with a marked increase in explicit and implied U.S. interest in broader and deeper security and defense cooperation with allies and partners, especially those—headed by the UK—with proven capabilities and a demonstrated political will to use them.

I intend, therefore, to focus on four areas:

  • Impact of ongoing U.S. reviews affecting our defense strategy, military capabilities, and global and domestic basing posture;

  • Future of nuclear cooperation;

  • Missile defense; and,

  • UK’s “bridging” role between the United States and EU.

In addition, where possible, I will weave in some modest recommendations on what might be explored to maintain and strengthen the special relationship that has largely benefited both our nations.

Defense Strategy.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is engaged in a number of high-level assessments and planning efforts that will reshape American strategy and capabilities for years, if not decades, to come.

These include the:

  • National Defense Strategy and National Military Strategy (developed in parallel and released in early 2005);

  • 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (now underway and due to Congress in February 2006);

  • Global Posture Review (now in the negotiation and implementation stage); and,

  • Base Realignment and Closure recommendations approved by the Congress and President in November 2005.

Taken individually, none of these efforts represents a radical departure from core concepts developed during the first year or two of the Bush administration. Together, however, they probably represent a watershed in its efforts to “transform” American defense and its relationship with allies. Having analyzed “lessons learned” during the post-Cold War period and the aftermath of September 11, 2001 (9/11)—and, in particular, its heavy engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan—the defense establishment and, in time, the White House and Congress will need to make a series of tough decisions on U.S. strategic priorities and resource allocations; the size, structure, equipment, and basing posture of U.S. military forces; and, of course, American relations with allies and partners.

You can find the complete article in the book U.S.-UK Relations at the start of the 21st century starting page 147.