The deadly dangers of the ‘special relationship’

The ties which bind the 'special relationship' between the UK and the US are a toxic mix of militarism and free trade. By Andrew Smith

July 12, 2018 · 6 min read

The first half of Theresa May’s week was one of the hardest of her premiership, but it hasn’t got much better. Even ahead of his NATO visit it was obvious what Donald Trump wanted. Before leaving the US he turned to Twitter to demandNATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!

Needless to say, military spending has been high on the agenda. Trump has proposed an eye-watering £686 billion military budget for the US, and is demanding that non-US NATO members increase their spending too.

He’s complemented this with proposed reforms to make it easier for US companies to sell arms around the world. It’s an industry that Washington already dominates, with the US already accounting for one third of all arms sales in the world.

With the summit turning into the diplomatic car-crash that many have been expecting, May doesn’t have anywhere to hide. As soon as it’s over she will be returning to the UK with ‘The Donald’ in tow for the start of his controversial UK visit.

The visit promises to be met with mass protests and opposition, but it will also serve as a showpiece for Trump on the world stage. Reports suggest he will meet with May in Chequers and be greeted by The Queen at Windsor Castle before heading to his mother’s home country of Scotland.

His message of untamed militarism and increased spending has found champions in the UK. The most outspoken is the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, who has called for a £20 billion increase to the military budget. He’s been backed by much of the military establishment, with reports that he’s even tried to co-opt the Royal Family into his efforts.

All of this lobbying ignores the fact that the UK already has one of the biggest military budgets in the world: hugely outspending most European countries and NATO members. Successive governments have been happy to put these weapons to use, with disastrous results. It’s a point that people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond know all too well. They have paid a terrible price for it.

That hasn’t stopped US defence secretary James Mattis from warning that the UK’s influence is at risk of erosion.” It’s the same thinking that has led to terrible wars around the world, and the promotion of the idea that the only way to have an influence is via the barrel of a gun.

Despite being elected on a promise of curbing US participation in foreign wars and interventions, Trump has escalated them. Within months of taking office he had dropped ‘the mother of all bombson Afghanistan and increased the US military presence.

Likewise, US airstrikes in Yemen have increased sixfold under Trump, and the impact has been deadly. 30 civilians were killed in a particularly bloody raid last year. It is a similar story in Iraq and Syria, where US airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians since Trump came to office.

At present, Trump is ratcheting up political tensions with Iran. His stance reminds many observers of the dangerous rhetoric and manoeuvres that preceded the catastrophic invasion of Iraq. His recent appointment of former Bush adviser John Bolton has done nothing to alleviate concerns that he will follow the same catastrophic path as his predecessors.

Like many of her successors, Theresa May has worked hand in hand with the US president (literally in her case). At no point has she publicly questioned or challenged his foreign policy or the terrible impact it has had. On the contrary, she has said that the “key focusof her meetings with him will be the military relationship between the two countries.

With Brexit around the corner, the UK is at a crossroads: there is a choice to be made about what kind of country it wants to be on the world stage. Will it be one that stands for human rights and democracy around the world, or will it be one that continues to offer uncritical political and military support to an unpredictable and dangerous President that has shown total contempt for both?

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.



photo of people marching with placards

Nurses say: Patients’ rights have no borders

As a US-friendly no-deal Brexit inches closer, Bonnie Castillo of National Nurses United explains why US nurses have joined the fight against NHS privatisation. Recommended reading ahead of The World Transformed health sessions

Keep an eye on these key battlegrounds in the US midterms

The U.S. midterm elections take place on November 6. We asked four grassroots activists, all currently canvassing to get out the vote, to tell us which candidates they are backing and what their elections might mean for US politics.

By withdrawing from the Iran Deal, Trump is gambling with the future of the planet

Jettisoning the deal risks nuclear escalation at a delicate time in Middle East relations, writes Kate Hudson from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament


North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China

US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are

Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

One-state in Palestine: equality, democracy and justice

Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?