For decades the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom was described as perfect, special and unbreakable. This unique relationship is best known trough the remarkably close political, military, diplomatic and cultural relations. However, when it comes to this unique relationship, many things are left out and ignored. Therefore, let’s see how “unbreakable” really is this relationship.
The US declaration of independence
The US declaration of independence from the Great Britain resulted for the British to lose land, and marked the beginning of the future independence’s which resulted for Britain to lose more overseas territories. British military efforts to defeat the Americans, French and Spanish during American Revolution failed. British America was one of the most precious British territories, by losing them the Great Britain was undermined and humiliated on the international scene. British King George III promised never to recognize the independence of Americans and to punish them in every possible way. However independence was recognized in 1783.
American Revolutionary War was just the beginning of the upcoming British-US conflicts. British went to new wars because of the US, and were very angry at the new American Nation. Though, two countries signed the “Jay’s Treaty” or “Treaty of London” (Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation) in 1795. This Treaty brought prosperity to both side, but was limited for ten years. Decade after the Treaty was signed, in 1806 the US rejected to renew the “Jay’s Treaty” trough the new Treaty – the “Monroe-Pinkney Treaty”. The US rejection escalated tensions between two, which ended as the “War of 1812”.
Disputes and Wars
The “Monroe-Pinkney Treaty” was not the only cause leading to the “War of 1812”, these two had many more conflicts before the war, such as: the “Berlin Decree of 1806” issued by Napoleon I of France, which forbade France, her allies and neutral ships to trade with Britain. This “Decree” also initiated Napoleon’s famous “Continental System”. Then, there were the “Orders in Council of 1806 and 1807”, British Secret Council authorized the Royal Navy to blockade the seaports of France and her allies. Then the “Chesapeake-Leopard Affair” in 1807, British fourth-rate warship Leopard attacked and boarded the American frigate Chesapeake. Then the “Milan Decree” issued by Napoleon I to enforce “Berlin Decree”, an economic warfare against Britain, all European countries was prohibited to trade with Britain.
In respond to above Decrees and Affaires, the US government issued the “Embargo Act of 1807” to punish Britain for its violations of American rights on the high sea. This “Act” brought more damage to the US than to British. Later, this “Act” was replaced with the “Non-Intercourse Act of 1809”, which aim was to damage the economies of Britain and France. The “Act of 1809” was also ineffective, and only damaged the US economy more. Then “Macon’s Bill Number 2” came to place, followed by lost “Macon’s Bill Number 1”. Main aim of this law was to force British and French to stop seizing American ships, and to recognize American vessels as neutral in the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1809 came the “Treaty of Fort Wayne”, which led to the “Tecumseh’s War” in 1810, war between the United States and an American Indian confederacy led by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Indians were supported by the British in this conflict. Then the “Little Belt Affair” in 1811, a naval battle involving the American frigate “USS President” and the British sixth-rate HMS Little Belt. Same year, John Henry wrote the “Henry Letters”; letters which deceived both the President of the United States and the US Congress, and increased already shaken British-US relations.
War between British and Americans was imminent. Henry Clay, the US statesman, leader of the “War Hawk”, advocated declaration of war against the Great Britain. British, on the other side continued pursuing the “Rule of 1756” (a policy saying that Britain would not trade with neutral nations who were also trading with the enemy. It also ruled that Britain would not open trade with any nation during wartime). As a result, in June, 1812, the US President James Madison declared war on the Great Britain; the first declaration of war by the US against another country. The war was initiated with a reason: to protect American trading rights and freedom of the seas for neutral countries, and to stop British support to Indians. During the war, British forces occupied Washington DC and set fire to many public buildings, including the White House.
In December 1814, two nations signed the “Treaty of Ghent” ending the war. However, news of the peace treaty came to the US few weeks later, during which American forces with General Andrew Jackson in command, defeated an invading British Army in the “Battle of the New Orleans”. The “Treaty of Ghent” largely restored relations between the two countries to “status quo ante bellum” (as things were before the war).
Period of many disputes and treaties between these two was taking place, for example: “Monroe Doctrine of 1823”, the “Republic of Indian Stream”, “Panic of 1837”, the “Rebellions of 1837”, “Caroline Affair”, “Manifest Destiny of 1840”, “Aroostook War”, the “Republic of Madawaska”, the “Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842”, among others.
Then, American Civil War (1861-1865) in which British was officially neutral. Confederate strategy for securing independence was largely based on British and French intervention, which never happened. Britain, France and Spain showed enormous interest in this war, especially in Confederacy, but never intervene. In November 1861, Britain and the US almost enter in the third war because of the diplomatic incident – the “Trent Affaire”; when “USS San Jacinto” intercepted the British mail ship and apprehended two Confederate diplomats. However, the incident between two states was resolved in a diplomatic fashion.
Again in 1871, British and Americans were signing the treaty, this time it was the “Treaty of Washington”. The treaty was designed to settle various differences between the two governments, and ones regarding the “Alabama Claims”. The “Alabama Claims” were a series of claims for damages by the US government against the government of the Great Britain for the alleged secret assistance given to the Confederate cause during the American Civil War. The “CSS Alabama” made significant damage to the Union Navy and merchant marine during the American Civil War. At Geneva, in 1872, the US was awarded $15,500,000 according to the terms of the treaty, and the British apologized for the destruction caused by the British-built Confederate ships, while admitting no guilt.
In 1895, United States intervened in border dispute between Britain and Venezuela over British Guiana (now Guyana). The US President Grover Cleveland pressured Britain into agreeing to arbitration, not war. In 1898, tribunal in Paris decides the matter, and issued its award in 1899, awarding the bulk of the disputed territory to British Guiana. Later, British stud by Americans in Alaska-Canada border dispute, as British judge sided with the Americans against the Canadians.
World War I and II
For some time British-American relations had been cool and often suspicious. Various maneuvers from the United States convinced British leaders that the US could not be relied on.
The United States originally pursued a policy of neutrality during the WWI. This resulted in increased tensions with Berlin and London. Both the United Kingdom and Germany engaged in propaganda campaigns designed to win over the United States. The British were able to guarantee a price for American cotton producers. The US was most affected by the loss of trade with Germany and Central Europe.
When a German U-boat sank the British liner Lusitania in 1915, with 128 Americans aboard, the US President Woodrow Wilson vowed, “America is too proud to fight”. Americans demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships. Germany immediately complied with the US demands.
Then Britain’s secret Royal Navy cryptanalytic group (Room 40), intercepted and decoded “Zimmermann Telegram”, a coded telegram dispatched by the Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, Arthur Zimmermann, on January 16, 1917, to the German Ambassador in Washington, Johann von Bernstorff, at the height of World War I. It was a proposal to Mexico to join the war as Germany’s ally against the United States, Mexico rejected proposal.
British revealed the Zimmermann Telegram to the United States, the revelation of its contents in the American press on March 1 caused public outrage that contributed to the United State’s declaration of war against Germany. Wilson called for war on Germany and its allies, which the US Congress declared on 6 April 1917. As a reminder: WW I started in 1914, almost three years before the first US troops arrived in France (1st Division) in June 26, 1917.
Naval rivalry between British Empire, US and Japan and Great Depression marked the era between WWI and WWII.
Period of the so called “special relationship” between Britain and the United States was about to start.
World War II started on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland. One week after Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed on August 24. On September 1, Germany invaded Poland from the north, south and west. On September 3, Great Britain declared war on Germany. On September 4, Japan announced its neutrality in the European situation. The United States made a similar declaration the next day. On September 17, the Soviet Red Army in cooperation with Germany invaded eastern Poland.
The American public was strongly sympathetic to the United Kingdom and France fighting the WWII; however, there was also popular demand for neutrality. Two years after the beginning of the WWII, on December 7, 1941, Japanese attacked the US naval base Perl Harbor, which resulted in the US becoming involved in the WWII. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Winston Churchill’s first thought in anticipation of the US help was, “We have won the war”. The US declared war on the Empire of Japan on December 8. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy declared war on the United States on December 11.
It was expected for the US to enter WWII in 1943; however, German declaration of war opened the door for the US to enter the conflict before.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously described the new bilateral relations between two states as the “special relationship”. While Churchill was passionate to promote Anglo-American relationship, the President Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Gooderham Acheson said: “Of course a unique relation existed between Britain and America, our common language and history insured that. But unique did not mean affectionate. We had fought England as an enemy as often as we had fought by her side as an ally”. Britain starting off as somewhat the senior partner in this relationship, had quickly found itself the junior.
Cold War and Post Cold War
The British and Americans had many disagreements throughout the history, but more was to come. In June 1948, British were fighting in a guerrilla war – the Malayan Emergency, the US did not want to intervene. In the Korean War forces from both countries were involved, but were fighting under the UN command. In 1959, the United States opposed the UK in Suez Canal – Suez Crisis (a military attack on Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel on October 29, 1956).
In 1959 Americans went to Vietnam War, British did not want to participate. In 1982, the US supplied the UK in Falklands War; however, British argue that the Americans were practically on the other side during the Falklands War, and that their closest ally was France. Later, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United Nations General Assembly highly criticized the US, Jamaican and the RSS (Regional Security System) invasion of Grenada on October 25, 1983.
In 1991, with the authorization from the UN, a coalition force from 34 countries launched the military strikes against Iraq. The US and the UK had overwhelming majority of the military forces in the Gulf War. Another crisis in the US-UK relationship blew up over Bosnia, the US State Department officials described Bosnia in 1995 as “the worst crisis with British and French since Suez Crisis”. In 1999, the US and the UK were part of the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
War on Terror
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the UK showed enormous sympathy for the United States. British Prime Minister Tony Blair became President George W. Bush’s strongest ally. The UK military forces participated in 2001 war in Afghanistan and 2003 invasion of Iraq.
However, by the time things were changing, both in the UK and the US. An opinion poll during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict found that 63% of Britons felt that the United Kingdom was tied too closely to the United States. Majorities in the UK believe the war in Iraq is unjustified, and in the UK were very critical of the government’s support of US policies in Iraq. As a result, the UK currently has 4,100 troops in Iraq, comparing to 45,000 in 2003. Concerning the Afghanistan, a November 2008 poll found that 68% of Britons want their troops withdrawn within the next 12 months.
It has been argued that the UK got nothing from involvement in Iraq, that the “special relationship” is just a myth and that the relationship between two is very one-sided. It has been also argued that the UK is investing more in the US than the US in the UK (British direct investment in the United States totaled $283.3 billion in 2002, the US $255.4 billion). The UK International Development Secretary has recently proposed a change in the current relationship between two states. He emphasized on the need for new alliances, based on common values.
The most recent crisis in “special relationship” between two occurred when British PM Gordon Brown visited President Barack Obama in March 2009, as well as the US disagreements with the UK over Hezbollah. British were very disappointed with Presidents Obama’s treatment and with a 25 DVD box set gift to the Prime Minister Brown when visited White House. On the other side, Americans were angry on the British over the UK Foreign Office decision to talk to political wing of the Hezbollah, which the US considers terrorist organization.
Looking at these historical facts we can see that there is nothing special in the relationship between these two nations, only ongoing disputes. Knowing this, it is possible that one of these two states is led by the phrase “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”. The question is: which one?
Nevertheless, whatever happens between these two countries in the future, the UK will always have a Commonwealth realm and the US will always have Morocco as a friend.