chapter  VI
17 Pages

The 'Special Relationship'

Since the beginning of this century, the dominant factor in the relationship between Britain and America has been a steely British determination to assume that there is between the two powers an underlying common interest, more important than the often sharp clashes of particular interests, or sharp differences of interpretation of particular situations. This is in itself so unusual an assumption between sovereign States as to warrant the phrase 'special relationship', though the particular concrete meanings attached to that term will be looked at in due course. The point to note for the moment is that the vital question initially is the assumptions behind policy. Whether any reality has matched these assumptions is another question, which will be taken up presently. The other immediate point is that it has been the British choice of assumptions that was, or is, decisive. In any alliance, one may argue, whether tacit or formalized, it is the weaker partner which makes the crucial choice. The dominant power in an extensive alliance system, like the United States, is somewhat in the position of a skipper in a sailing boat. His interest lies unambiguously in having the members of his crew put their respective weights behind the courses he has decided upon; but the crew members, for their part, have to make the decision between staying with the boat or constructing their own canoes to paddle - or, at any rate, rocking the boat. It is a continuous act of choice. In the British case the choice, I shall argue, was until 1971 favourable to the American connection above any other.