5 Jan 2015

Time to end the special UK 'military relationship' with America?

For the first time in nearly a decade and a half we are not formally at war. We have departed Afghanistan and Iraq although in both we have lefts a rump military presence perhaps to train, perhaps to influence, perhaps to spy.

Exactly how many “security”, or even “military” people we have left behind is an imprecise matter. As a defence source told me, “it depends when and how you count.”

The morass we have left behind in Iraq now sports Islamic State militants on the battlefield. The chaos is contiguous with the chaos in Syria.

An honest assessment of how the UK emerged from these two wars is evaluated in five excellent books reviewed in the London Review of Books.

The writer James Meek concludes, from reading all five that Britain suffered “worse than a defeat.”

As the UK parliamentary vote on attacking Syria illustrated, there is unlikely to be a democratic mandate for Britain to go to wars like Iraq and Afghanistan again.

We may finally have entered an age in which Britain only goes to war to defend its own, and just possibly Europe’s and even Nato’s immediate interests.

It is hard indeed to argue that the UK’s disastrous engagements in Basra and Helmand achieved much more than alienating the people who lived there.

Read more: time to un-redact the mother of parliaments

One hardly dares think of the pain and grief that families on all sides are suffering for the losses of loved ones that each has suffered.

In both the wars we have escaped from, we were in tight alliance with the United States.

In the immediate aftermath of the traumatic events of 9/11- which were seen as an attack on the whole western world, it was inevitable that western governments would stand shoulder to shoulder to identify and perhaps neutralise the threat.

It’s hard to find many instances in which America has gone to war since the Korean war and emerged with the world concluding that the US had either won, or alternatively had at least waged a “just war.”

Vietnam was disaster, as was Cambodia. History, its seems, may already be starting to judge Iraq and Afghanistan as no better.

Read more: when it came to Ronald Reagan, the Iron Lady was a pussycat

Is it then so wise to follow the United States so willingly into war? How heroic Prime Minister Harold Wilson now emerges for his refusal to join America’s Vietnam and Cambodian adventures.

And yet Wilson’s courage and wisdom in that instance has never been matched since.

So will Britain now review its strategic relationship with America? Don’t get me wrong. I have lived in America, love many aspects of it, but fear some features that render the US a very different entity to our European allies.

Europe too has a few issues in her own back yard- the Italians in Libya, the French in Algeria, the Germans everywhere.

Perhaps as politicians wrangle about defence needs and costs for Britain, maybe the moment has come right now, this very new year, to take stock of what our true defensive needs really are.

What should we do with our nuclear deterrent? What will we do with our two massive new aircraft carriers in a navy without enough ships to defend them? Above all, when Washington says “come”, need we ever again cry “yes please?”

Oh, and perhaps in order to take proper stock, how about having the courage to publish the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, right now?

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29 reader comments

  1. John Goss says:

    Excellent analysis. The western alliance has been a disaster. We should get closer to Europe. Let it not be forgotten also that the US has installed by coup a neo-fascist regime in Ukraine which started Ukraine’s first civil war since the end of the Soviet civil war and in which nearly 5,000 people have been killed, mostly civilians. A torchlit Nazi parade took place in Kiev on New Year’s Day in support of the Nazi, Stepan Bandera, which has been criticised by Czech president, Milos Zeman.

    1. Steven James Stewart says:

      Do you have any proof or that whatsoever? Don’t you think the all knowing Jon Snow who slams America every chance he can get, would report such a crazy accusation like that? I see now from his followers he is becoming the Alex Jones on Britain..

      1. Dimitris says:

        Its well documented and you should really do some reading like Seymour Hersh.

        You might actually wake up! But I doubt it.

  2. Angry Weegie says:

    It is hard to see the answer to the question posed in the title as anything other than yes.

    We have to decide what’s really important to our country.

    Is it hanging on to the US’s coattails, prancing about the world trying to pretend we’re one of the big boys with big weapons, committing our overstretched armed forces to another war that has nothing to do with us (or the US) and which we can’t afford, the only results of which were the radicalisation of thousands and deaths of tens of thousands?

    Or is it recognising that we are a medium-sized European country without an empire which needs to keep in with our neighbours, develop our economy (and not just financial services), feed our people, reduce inequality……… In short, do everything we possibly can to improve the lives of the many?

    People would chose the latter of the two courses, but since 1979 we have elected Governments who have chosen the former, particularly since events of 1982 showed how a nice little war, far away from the UK can improve the Government’s popularity and cover up their failings, though only if you can claim to have “won”.

  3. Roy Scoones says:

    Absolutely agree. We should use our forces for defence and not attack. Let the neo-cons in America justify their aggression without our help.

  4. Philip says:

    “We may finally have entered an age in which Britain only goes to war to defend its own, and just possibly Europe’s and even Nato’s immediate interests” Amen to that.
    But the cause of reducing our involvement in unnecessary wars isn’t helped by unproven assertion by pro-Russians (or at least anti-US conspiracy theorists) that “the US has installed by coup a neo-fascist regime in Ukraine”, for which there no evidence except that in people’s minds. The fact that there was a parade in support of Bandera, is no different from marches by many other right wing groups in Europe – and involving a similarly small proportion of the population. Besides like many countries under the Soviet yoke, when the Germans arrived, nationalists took an opportunity for freedom, which was very quickly compromised. Calling people like Bandera a Nazi is an oversimplification.

    1. Nibs says:

      Philip you say no proof of a western coup in Ukraine.

      Are you unaware of the Nuland phonecall installing “Yats” as PM ?

      McCain on the streets (and others).

      Hefty “Endowment for Democracy” (really Orwellian name) budget plus USAID plus Soros all maneuvering behind the scenes.

      This is all classic US/CIA meddling in non-aligned countries with fragile institutions in order to bring régime change, chaos and then, of course, business opportunties.

      You may have meiised the appointment of Biden’s son to the Ukrainian petro industry.
      Several Americans hastily naturalized to become government ministers.

      Soros mooted for the Ukr national bank !!

      Please….open your eyes. Jon Snow is actually restraining himself here, though parise the Lord that we have him in the otherwise sewn-up UK media landscape.

    2. John Goss says:

      Ciarán Masterson, I read the link you posted and it is typical of BBC propaganda. This is what the coup (that is a government installed by force) is doing to the people of Donbass. Although the images are disturbing this needs to be brought to our attention in the west, to show just what we are supporting. Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli was himself imprisoned under Pinochet’s dictatorial Chilean regime but as he says he saw nothing approaching the fascism of Poroshenko’s forces.


      1. Ciarán Masterson says:

        Mr Goss. I’ve just noticed your reply. Apologies for the delay.

        Impartiality is enshrined in the BBC’s charter and it spends more time verifying news reports than other online news sources.

        How do you know that the pictures on your link were not photo-shopped?

  5. Sheila Coombes says:

    Thank you Jon Snow – you have hit the nail on the head, spoken the truth and been brave enough to speak out against the pro-US narrative which runs throughout the corporate media.

    The elephant in the room has been for many years that although the US touts its victim status – “They hate us for our freedoms”, continually looks for enemies throughout the world to justify their intrusion in far flung paces while keenly taking advantage of local resources. The US’ 600 military bases worldwide (some people estimate over 900), mean that it is an empire by another means – a military empire where host countries bear the monetary responsibility for US bases and make themselves the target of the US’ many enemies.

    Channel 4, very kindly included me in a discussion of the vote on the proposed bombing of ISIS in Iraq from Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire Jackie Long was expert in including everyone’s point of view and one of mine was that we need an independent foreign policy in this country, not just one that falls directly into lockstep with the US’. So thank you Jon Snow, you have voiced this very strongly and with full back up of reasonable though processes and factual information. Please, please continue in this vein

  6. NickDavisGB says:

    This is one of the problems Australia and New Zealand have. Under the ANZUS Treaty they are obliged to go to war when the Americans do – regardless of the legality.
    New Zealand is successfully extracting itself from this Faustian Pact but Tony Abbott refuses to do so.
    Fortunately we are not required to do so, giving our Parliament the right to decide our aggression.

  7. Jim says:

    I think this article is a little short sighted and a little too UK centric. Just remember 1917 or the dark days of 1940 when Britian stood alone. Europe would look much different if the U.S. had not stepped in. Since then our isolationist attitude has waned and the US and UK have been staunch allies.

    Previous comments seem to forget this assistance and allegiance the U.S. provided.

    1. Garth Robinson says:

      It’s worth remembering though,the Yanks sat on their hands until England was on its knees before they raised a finger to help.Just to see which way the wind was blowing.

  8. Steven James Stewart says:

    Typical of Jon Snow’s unfair & unbalanced propaganda, I wish Jon Snow would have the guts to admit that he is ultra left wing, feeding left wing drones with a loaded question. Britain needs to own up to its own mistakes the US didn’t twist Britain’s arm to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. America nd Britain was wrong to go to Iraq (2nd time) there is no doubt. Britain is not a lapdog of the US. Britain’s own rich elite wanted the war in Iraq they wanted to do it and have the one of the major oil contracts to prove it, the US received none. Get over yourself Jon Snow your followers are no different then the stupid misguided viewers of the FoxNews right.

    1. David says:

      Of course he’s ultra left wing. C4 would have it no other way in their battle to stifle democracy….. UKIP.

  9. glen says:

    Well said John.. Its all common sense but unfortunately when did American poodles show any sign of having common sense. We did not even have the courage to vote for the Palestinians to be allowed their own state. This country abstained “with regret” and the Palestinians lost out by just 1 vote. Of course America leaned on Australia and both countries voted against the 2 state solution at the United Nations even though anybody with an ounce of common sense would realise it is the only solution.

    1. the lion says:

      The Irony that Australia voted against the two state solution is that, it is in fact the official policy of both major parties! Then again it is also the Policy of the United States as well! Sadly they both ignore it!

  10. Ciarán Masterson says:

    Mr Goss, you should read the following BBC article. Then you’ll realise that far-right activists constitute a small minority of the people who protested against Yanukovych.


    Yanukovych and Putin are corrupt. Did you not hear about the mansion and private zoo that Yanukovych maintained at the expense of Ukrainian taxpayers?

  11. Andrew Nichols says:

    Nato’s immediate interests

    Given that NATO is nothing more than the US foreign Legion this too is something the UK needs to exit.

  12. Stephen Oliver says:

    Wait and see what happens to the government of Hungary that is demonstrating some independence of Washington. I would suggest that a “colour revolution” cheered on by the usual suspects has started there even though the government was democratically elected. As Bush so clearly put it, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”, but he was not expounding his own personal view, he was expounding one of the basic tenets of the Washington establishment and the current government in Washington and all future ones for the foreseeable future will adopt the same view, so if the London establishment treads a different path expect a colour revolution in London. And there are enough Atlanticist useful idiots around to pull it off.. But that’s overlooking the fact that all major political parties in the UK are so riddled with Atlanticists that there will never be a break with Washington. Even Farage, when he talks about restoring British sovereignty, excludes the ties with Washington.

  13. Ben says:

    Britain is, like the US, a militaristic country. It’s solutions invariably end up in waging war. Since Churchill, politicians wage war for political objectives and not national interests. Until politicians and their corporate sponsors are reigned in it really doesn’t matter whether we are allied are not.

  14. corneilious says:

    “We may finally have entered an age in which Britain only goes to war to defend its own, and just possibly Europe’s and even Nato’s immediate interests.”


    How dare you publish those words, and that logic and purport to be pro-peace.

    An utter failure.

    NATO has no interests that are meaningful or related to the real needs of real people’s lives – NATO Is a bullying power structure, and a cash cow for the Arms industry…

    Britain’s interests should it’s people, it’s children,it’s elders and not the interests of the elite businessmen, the inheritors of the mantle of the Industrialists and Colonialists who still abuse other State peoples in their pursuit of cheap labour and materials..
    I am appalled at you Jon Snow.

  15. Atm says:

    As an American it upsets me when Britain goes shoulder to shoulder with the US without questioning or providing any wisdom. Ultimately it feels a bit like a betrayal. After all US presidents often have next to no experience in world afairs and seem to be eager to get in over their heads. A friend does not encurage a friend to do something foolish, the west only has so many resources.

  16. ross says:

    A fascinating article by John Pilger, experienced war reported for over 40 years…….


  17. Jim says:

    Perhaps you (Jon) would like to interview John Pilger regarding the Ukraine coup ? Or maybe interview Ray McGovern – ex CIA analyst with 27 years experience behind him – regarding the same issue ? Or perhaps Robert Parry, an investigative journalist who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories, would like to give his take on the Ukraine ? Would you prefer speaking to Dr. Paul Craig Roberts – former US Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy – about this ? Then there’s George Friedman, founder and CEO of Stratfor or F. William Engdahl, award-winning geopolitical analyst, strategic risk consultant, author, professor and lecturer … I’m sure they’d all be happy to chat about the situation in Ukraine and how it came about.
    The point is, it’s not just people like Alex Jones that are talking about a US/NATO backed coup in the Ukraine; I don’t even know that that is what Alex Jones is saying.
    And YES, we should end the special UK ‘military relationship’ with the US.

  18. geronimo says:

    Mr. Snow has made a very nice living out of America’s wars over the years. Now approaching retirement, he ‘s having second thoughts about their wisdom. A bit late, mate.

    If you want to know what’s going on in the world, don’t listen to people like him. Read a book. To start with, you could do worse than read anything by Mark Curtis.


  19. Mike Hawthorne says:

    Yes, we should get out of the tight military alliance. But, that is easier said than done. We are virtually a US colony. Their Air Force occupies swathes of land surrounding our capital city. Wall Street owns the City of London. Most of our media dance to a mainstream transatlantic tune. Their junk food outlets sit on every street. It would take a massive, determined effort to regain our independence and finally get their hooks out of us, and, I fear, we just haven´t got what it takes. Even after Tony Blair´s criminal collusion with Bush, we are still collaborating against our own better judgement.

  20. Robert Taggart says:

    Time to end the ‘special relationship’ – PERIOD !
    ‘Cowboy Country’ will always put its own interests first – no matter what its supposed allies think.
    Blighty should do the same – ‘Mid Atlantic’ style !

  21. Paul Ashton says:

    Great Analysis Jon,

    All wars are bankers wars, circa 2000 USA had an economic surplus, they have now accumulated 18+ trillion of Dedt.

    How much of this has gone to the shareholders of KBR, Halliburton Academy et-al.

    The political revolving door between government and business in the USA will keep this profit stream flowing for some time yet!

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