That Special Relationship

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What is the nature of the special relationship between Britain and the US?

“Britain’s special relationship with the US is so special only one side knows it exists” – Helmut Schmidt

October 2014

Michael Clarke of RUSI: …the British took responsibility for Helmand in 2006. It was a move dictated as much by our relations with the US as by our interest in south Asian security. click here.

The UK Government is known to have flown its own armed RPA missions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, piloted from the RAF’s Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) hub at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. But Sir David’s report raises particular concerns about ’embedded’ RAF personnel working alongside US colleagues and piloting US drones on other operations. Specialist UK military and intelligence experts are based at Creech in Nevada, the USAF’s command and control facility for RPAs. The United Nations recently argued that the closeness of the UK-US relationship made it “inevitable” that British intelligence contributes to US targeting in places like Pakistan and Yemen. click here.

July 2014 

 In a remarkably frank articulation of London’s subservience to Washington, William Hague said in response to the Isis advances: ‘We will support the United States in anything they decide to do.’

Owen Bennet-Jones, LRB

August 2013

“When Miliband made it clear in the call he would not support the government motion without more conditions, an exasperated Cameron accused him of “letting down America” and “siding with [Sergei] Lavrov”, the Russian foreign minister, and an ally of Assad.”

August 2013

Nick Hopkins & Julian Borger in the Guardian: “The (Edward Snowden) files seen by the Guardian are explicit about the importance of the UK’s relationship with the US, and the desire for GCHQ to be as tightly bound as possible to its US counterpart, the National Security Agency. They will doubtless be welcomed by anyone who believes that the need for a “special relationship” with Washington – which has underpinned UK foreign policy since the second world war – is pre-eminent…There are many advantages to sharing intelligence. But sovereignty and independence are important too. The NSA and GCHQ seem deeply enmeshed and interlinked, but the line between the agencies needs to be drawn more clearly.”

June 2013

“All intelligence agencies share a lot of intelligence now because the targets are global, but the Anglo-American relationship is special to the extent that, since the 1970s, with processes and projects, at various points GCHQ and NSA are effectively the same organization,” says Richard Aldrich, a professor of international security who has written a critically acclaimed unauthorized history of GCHQ.

May 2013

“A recent report on Anglo-American relations by Congress’ research arm acknowledged the perception that President Obama, ‘the first post-war US president with no sentimental attachments to Europe,’ has a “lukewarm attitude toward the British,’ and that ‘as US foreign policy priorities focus increasingly on the Middle East and Asia, some argue that Europe, including the UK, faces a growing struggle to remain relevant in US eyes.”

March 2013

“… In the leaked Iraq interview transcripts, the British brass complain that the overall US commander, General Rick Sanchez, never visited [Basra] and never called: he didn’t, they complained, even install a secure phone link with them. Britain’s chief of staff, Colonel JK Tanner, likened the Americans to ‘a group of Martians’, saying: ‘Despite our so-called ‘special relationship,’ I reckon we were treated no differently to the Portuguese.”

December 2012

“…[the Coalition Government] present to the Commons plans to transform hearings of some civil lawsuits against the government into, effectively, secret courts. The primary justification is that the US intelligence agencies would cease to share information with the UK if our courts continue to be able to disclose data obtained from US sources….The government’s own independent adviser on security matters has told the joint committee on human rights that one reason for the government’s pursuit of secret courts is to protect their position on the use of drones to assassinate alleged terrorists. The policy is controversial, not least because a number of those killed appear to be innocent bystanders. Are we going to deny them justice simply because of our craven relationship with the US?”
David Davis MP,

September 2012

“BAE Systems has warned it will walk away from its proposed €35bn tie-up with EADS if the deal waters down its special relationship with the Pentagon. “BAE will not do this deal if its Special Security Arrangement has to change to look more like that of EADS,” said one person close to BAE, in a sign of the complexities surrounding one of Europe’s largest and most sensitive industrial mergers in years. This SSA, specifies that BAE’s senior leadership in the US is made up of Americans, among other things, and has allowed the UK’s biggest defence company to work on many lucrative US national security projects. These include the $1,500bn F-35 joint strike fighter programme to develop the most advanced radar-evading jet fighter….” FT, 24th September 2012

September 2012

“Under the terms of the secret 1946 UKUSA Agreement between Britain and the US, which is also known as the ‘Five Eyes’ system, Britain’s network of listening stations is largely integrated and its intelligence pooled, with those of America and three other nations – Canada, New Zealand and Australia”.

The Times, 18th September 2012, p.11 report by Tom Coghlan, Defence Correspondent

September 2012

“Britain relies on US technology for a wide range of defence equipment, most notably for the Trident missile system at the heart of the nuclear deterrent”. FT, 18th September 2012, p.3

August 2012

Foreign Secretary William Hague: “…the world still relies a lot on American leadership. For the United Kingdom, it is the indispensable relationship”.

Evening Standard, Friday 31st August 2012

June 2012

From Alastair Campbell’s ‘The burden of Power: “On the eve of the Iraq war, when it looks as if Blair might lose the vote in Parliament, Bush promises to send a message to Iain Duncan-Smith’s Conservative opposition.The president will tell the Tories that if they try to unseat his good friend, then “we will get rid of them”.
FT, 23rd June 2012

April 2012

Mr Hague answering a question in the course of evidence to the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy: “It is a very critically important part, but there are many important parts. It is hard to compare apples and pears. Between the US and the UK, on each side of the Atlantic there are a million people who go to work every day for companies that are owned by the other country. How do you compare that to the intelligence relationship? The first is economically very important, but our military co-operation in Afghanistan is very important. When it comes to our nuclear deterrent, of course the United States is of immense importance to us….”

From Sir Percy Craddock’s biography, Know Your Enemy (John Murray, 2002):
Britain’s dependence on the US for sigint (intelligence derived from electronic monitoring conducted at intercept stations) has been well documented. Percy Craddock, chair of the key Whitehall committee, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) from 1985-92 has observed that even by 1953, “Britain ceased to be the senior intelligence partner in the alliance…the advent of phot-reconnaisance satellites emphasised this trend; the British received the product but did not launch their own”. This alliance includes US rights to operate intercept and missile defence sites on mainland Britain such as RAF Fylingdales, RAF Menwith Hill and Molesworth, described as the hub of American intelligence in Europe. In fact Menwith Hill is not even accessible to British MPs.

Successive chairs of JIC have been unambigious on the implications of Britain’s dependence on the US for communications-derived intelligence. Craddock notes that it makes “the US alliance the decisive factor in British foreign policy”. Writing recently in Prospect on the second Iraq war, another JIC chair Rodric Braithwaite (1992-93) stated that “the US could get on perfectly well without GCHQ’s input. GCHQ on the ohter hand, is heavily reliant on US input and would be of little value without it