Monday, November 29

Special relationship? Afghanistan has revealed how irrelevant the UK has become | Peter ricketts

TThe 9/11 terrorist attacks catapulted the US and UK into a more intense period of security partnership than any other event since World War II. Tony Blair was the first world leader in visit Ground Zero In New York. He and George Bush shared the same fiery conviction that the scale of the atrocity created a new reality.

Both saw the “war on terror” as an ideological struggle for the values ​​that would shape the new century. This conviction led Blair to volunteer Britain as the first leading nation for NATO’s mission in Afghanistan in late 2001.

After 20 years of tough military action, in which the UK provided the largest number of troops after the US and took the second highest number of combat deaths, London played no role in American decisions that led to the chaotic end of NATO. operation. Boris Johnson was reduced to pleading with Joe Biden via the media for a few more days to complete the withdrawal. The fact that it was rejected outright exposed to public opinion the extent to which British influence in Washington had diminished since the “shoulder to shoulderDays of 2001.

Much of this is due to a changing America. For decades, the United States led international crisis management operations. It seemed to be the natural order of things. We Europeans fought for three years in the 1990s to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, but it was only when President Bill Clinton deployed the diplomatic and military force of the United States that Serbian President Slobodan Milošević accepted the Dayton peace agreement. in 1995. The same pattern was repeated. in Kosovo in 1998-1999.

But then the United States led its allies to the quagmire of Iraq and the eternal war in Afghanistan, which made American opinion decisively opposed to the deployment of American forces to solve the problems of the world. The implications became dramatically clear to me when, as David Cameron’s national security adviser in 2011, I joined him on Barack Obama’s call telling us that the a back seat in the NATO air campaign in Libya. This was not America’s fight, Obama explained, so he expected Britain and France to lead. I knew then that this marked a sea change in America’s security priorities.

Since then, the United States has withdrawn from international leadership. Obama chose not to participate in containing the civil war in Syria. Donald Trump effectively sealed the fate of the Afghan government by negotiating behind its back a cynical withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in 2020. Biden could have revised that agreement to increase the chances of an orderly handover. Instead, he stood his ground and, as a result, will go down in history presiding over the worst American military humiliation since Vietnam in 1975.

The UK has had no less influence than other US allies in these disastrous decisions. But the signal that the United States did not consult its allies has more serious implications for the United Kingdom because the fulcrum of British foreign policy for decades has been the claim for a privileged relationship with Washington.

This was always an association that mattered more to London than to Washington. And American unilateralism is nothing new. As Geoffrey Howe’s private secretary in 1983, I saw Margaret Thatcher’s dismay when the Foreign Secretary told her that President Ronald Reagan had sent Marines to the beaches of the Caribbean island of Grenada to quell an uprising, without consulting her, although it was a Commonwealth Country with the Queen as head of state.

That fierce storm soon passed, dwarfed by the scale of shared interests between the United States and the United Kingdom. Although Americans have always been unsentimental about the relationship, they have valued Britain for what it contributed, notably capable military forces and the willingness to use them, along with diplomatic knowledge and global intelligence capabilities.

These assets will remain important as both countries face a broader range of threats from hostile powers. But the uncomfortable truth for lawmakers in London is that Britain has become less useful as an ally of the United States, in an era when European security has given way to confrontation with China as the top national security priority of states. United. The fact that Britain is no longer at the EU table further reduces London’s relevance to US foreign policy.

This is the heart of the problem facing the Johnson administration. A central thesis of the Brexit argument was that shedding the shackles of the EU would leave Britain free to seize its link with Washington and reap trade benefits. All this has now turned out to be a mirage. Biden’s internationalism had been exaggerated.

No one expected it to be this brutal. America’s allies are realizing the fact that for all his “America is back” rhetoric, Biden is driven primarily by the domestic imperative to rule his polarized nation. He will work with allies, but with a steadfast determination to serve America’s national interests.

Britain’s self-proclaimed role as Washington’s closest security partner was never comfortable. But, along with an influential role in Europe, it gave British foreign policy purpose and shape. Now, “global Britain” has shown itself to be a drifting ship without a compass, a slogan rather than a strategy.

The new Atlantic Charter signed by Johnson and Biden in June has encouraging words about the two nations’ shared commitments to maintaining collective security and international stability. But the reality is that influence in Biden’s Washington will have to be won with actions, not words.

A good place to start would be for senior British ministers to embark on the arduous task of forging consensus on a stricter carbon reduction target for adoption at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, now. just nine weeks away. To have a successful outcome there would show that Britain was back as an active international player in problem solving.

In the wake of the Afghanistan debacle, it is time to shed the illusions of British exceptionalism and, after five years in which Britain was effectively off the air in terms of foreign policy, focus on making a difference on a few key priorities.

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