It is easy, and more than a little fun, to make light of longstanding British earnestness regarding the USUK special relationship. As such, it is unsurprising that the late Christopher Hitchens made such sport of it. He pointed out: “British and Anglo-American types in Washington have a near-superstitious prohibition on uttering the words ‘special relationship’ to describe relations between Britain and America, lest the specialness itself vanish like a phantom at cock-crow.” Of course, the problem for the British is that in power terms they need the tie to be “special” so much more than the Americans do.
It was the height of folly for Harold Macmillan to believe that the Brits could act as Athens to America’s Rome. Since the days of Alexander Hamilton, Americans have been ruthless in pursuing their own deep-seated self-interest. But to be acerbic is not to be right. Hitchens, in rightly knocking British naivety, missed much larger points. To dig deeper into the American public’s real views of the world, Public First, the public policy research agency, conducted a massive, 391-page poll on this vital topic. When asked to rank America’s allies (being allowed to pick five), the UK easily comes out on top, mentioned by 45 per cent of those polled, with Canada second at 38 per cent, and Israel third at 24 per cent. These results are replicated as to who is seen as the pre-eminent US ally, with the UK again first with 28 per cent, Canada second with 15 per cent, and Israel at 9 per cent. Clearly, these three countries are seen as the Sundance Kid to America’s Butch Cassidy; we may bicker, we may fight, but we will always come out shooting together.
The Public First poll also makes it clear who America’s new primary great power rival is: China. It was named in the poll by a leading 44 per cent (with Russia next, followed by North Korea). A striking 25- point differential of those polled blame the Chinese government for allowing the spread of coronavirus (49-24 percent), while by a decisive 57-8 per cent Americans polled hope that whoever is elected president on November 3 will be tougher with Beijing. This poll makes it plain that Americans have a clear idea of who their rivals are, as well as their allies.
Here is where a more sophisticated version of the special relationship unites these two geo-strategic narratives. For in the Anglosphere there is an already functioning pro-Western, anti-Chinese alliance existing right under most analysts’ noses. The United Kingdom and the major English-speaking dominions of the former British Empire — united by a shared tradition of English common law and the individual political and economic freedoms that flow from it — allied with the United States, have a closeness that other alliances, such as the EU, cannot begin to match. The Anglosphere alliance is simply the most important foreign policy reality that no one is talking about.
Beyond geostrategy, in terms of intelligence matters, the Anglosphere is already the superpower. The “Five Eyes” amounts to by far the most important intelligence-sharing consortium in the world. Compared with Germany and France, who have kept the Huawei option open for their own 5G networks, it is striking that all the Anglosphere countries have uniformly rejected it from having a long-term stake in their 5G systems.
The Anglosphere’s fortunes soon may become even brighter, because of typical Chinese strategic overreach. Already, the Quad in Asia has emerged as the strategic grouping standing up to Chinese adventurism. It is composed of core Anglosphere members — the US and Australia — with honorary Anglosphere member Japan also involved. India, undoubtedly part of the Anglosphere but with a different history and a tradition of non-alignment, is the last of the Quad’s members. Delhi has always shied away from Anglosphere participation — until now. India is increasingly seeing that its strategic destiny is bound up in an Anglosphere dedicated to limiting Chinese adventurism. Britain’s membership in the Quad and involvement with the US and its like-minded allies is what comes next. For the Anglosphere, far from being the punchline to a very old joke, may well be the future of international relations.
Nicholas H Glinsman