The Corner

Between Europe and America

The Economist just posted a fascinating interview with David Cameron, the Tory leader. In it, Cameron, the frontrunner to win the keys to Downing Street this spring, gives his take on the Anglo-American relationship:

The Economist: The old alliance with America – what do you make of the notion that it’s over?

David Cameron: I just don’t buy that. I think that, you know, one can get into sort of definitional problems. Is there a special relationship? Yes. Is it real, tangible – does it mean something? Yes. I think sometimes people, you know, you have to remember though we are the junior partner in that relationship and I think part of getting the relationship right is understanding how best to play the role of the junior partner. And I think there are times when leaders have done it very well and times when leaders haven’t done it so well. But does it still mean something? Yes, it does.

And I think you can see it in Afghanistan very clearly. I think, you know, on any number of issues you see Britain and America working very closely together, closer than with other allies, so I think it does still exist. I mean we don’t overstate it and don’t ever think that it’s a sort of equal partnership because it isn’t.

Unsatisfied with Cameron’s broad answer, the Economist editors pressed again:

The Economist: Just to back up a little bit to the special relationship, did you experience any kind of disappointment or discomfort over the position that the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton took over the Falklands recently where they wanted us to negotiate with Argentina over the –

David Cameron: I thought it was disappointing, yes, but sometimes allies will not always agree. But I would want to make the point very strongly to them that if you believe in self-determination as a key part of the UN charter, then there’s the strongest possible case that the Falkland Islands should maintain under the sovereignty of Britain, because that is what the people who live there want. That’s what we went to war over.

In 1982, I was only three and a half – well, actually, I was 15, but I always thought it was just absolutely clear that there was just no justification for what Argentina was saying or doing and no justification to support it, because the population of the Falkland Islands want to be British. So I think it was disappointing, frankly, but I’ve always said the special relationship should be a frank and a candid one and I think you should frankly and candidly say we’re disappointed.

The Economist: There was a lot of fuss when Obama became President about how he has this grudge against the British because of our –

David Cameron: I don’t agree. I don’t believe it.

The Economist: You don’t believe it?

David Cameron: I think he bore a grudge because British Airways lost his luggage when he first went to Afghanistan.

The Economist: But it seemed to be with no justification that he removed the bust of Churchill from the Oval Office. That all seemed to me to be a bit overdone, but one does look at this, as you say, key part of our national interest and we are the second-biggest contributor to the forces in Afghanistan, as we were in Iraq and one does wonder if over this black and white issue, as you see it, they take a different view, actually what is this relationship worth?

David Cameron: Well, go back to the Falklands War and you can remember how much it was worth, because the Americans gave us a huge amount of help in terms of military and logistics and all the rest of it. So at the key moments I would always say that the relationship has proven to us. It did during the great Atlantic alliance; it has over NATO; it did over the Cold War; it did over the Falklands. Have there been ups and downs? Yes. Grenada, Charles Powell tells me the story that Reagan was holding the phone out here because Thatcher was shouting so much. The relationship will have its ups and downs. Clearly, America has a very strong interest in maintaining very friendly and strong relations with all the countries in South America and so there’s a clash, there’s a grinding of wheels there, but we just need to be clear to our best and oldest friend how strongly we feel about this.

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