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The US and Britain: a strained ‘special’ relationship

This article is over 13 years, 3 months old
The Labour Party’s unquestioning backing of Britain’s alliance with the US ruling class has a long history, writes John Newsinger
Issue 2124
 (Pic:» Tim Sanders )
(Pic: » Tim Sanders)

It will come as no surprise to know that British troops helped the US to train the Georgian army. Or that Britain is providing assistance to the US-Ethiopian puppet regime in Somalia, a regime notorious for torture and massacre.

These are among the smaller favours that New Labour routinely does for US imperialism.

Much more important, of course, is Britain’s continued participation in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As Gordon Brown has made absolutely clear the British commitment to the doomed war in Afghanistan is open-ended.

With the war inevitably extending into Pakistan, the consequences are too terrible to even contemplate.

This fanatical and uncompromising support for the US is not new. New Labour might have abandoned everything else the Labour Party used to stand for, but its subservience to the US goes back to the end of the Second World War.

Clement Attlee’s government, elected in 1945, was committed to a programme of reforms – but ones that would be delivered by a revived British capitalism.

This led Labour to embrace British imperialism and to make the alliance with US imperialism the keystone of its foreign policy.

Labour recognised, reluctantly it has to be said, that the British state no longer had the military strength to protect British capital’s global interests.

So it increasingly looked to the US state for protection and embraced an alliance with it as the way forward.

The close economic links that were forged between US and British capital remain today.

When Mohammed Mossadeq nationalised British oil interests in Iran in 1951, the Labour government did not have the strength to invade. Instead it was left to the CIA to overthrow him in a coup and install the Shah as absolute monarch.

It is important to remember that it was a Labour government, not the Tories, that allowed the US to establish permanent military bases in Britain in 1949 and it was a Labour government that played a major role in the establishment of the Western military alliance, Nato.

There was, inevitably, a blood price to be paid for this alliance. In 1950, British troops were sent to fight in the US war in Korea.

The only reason for this military commitment, which cost the lives of 1,000 British soldiers and over three million Koreans, was to maintain the “special relationship” with the US.

During the Vietnam War, Harold Wilson’s Labour government came under intense pressure to send troops, even a token force, to support the US.

Wilson is often given undeserved credit for refusing. In fact, the Labour government gave the US war in Vietnam its full support in every respect except the despatch of troops.

The reason for the refusal to send troops is quite simple – the strength of the left in the Labour Party, the emergence of the extra-parliamentary left and the level of trade union militancy.

Defeat for the US in Vietnam did lead important sections of the British ruling class to re-evaluate whether the US would still be able to protect British capital’s interests. So, under Edward Heath’s government between 1970 and 1974, there was a turn towards Europe and a deliberate distancing from the US.

This strategy came to an end with the revival of US power in the 1980s as Margaret Thatcher set about restoring Britain to its place as a junior partner in the US Empire.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of the US as the world’s only superpower, those urging a European strategy in British politics were, at least temporarily, marginalised.

Under Blair, New Labour’s “US Right or Wrong” policy has had disastrous consequences. Britain finds itself a weaker partner in a US Empire that is in decline and has been resorting more and more to military force to prop up its position.

Britain’s role is to back the US in its miliary expeditions. But today the economic crisis has thrown all this up in the air.

Already there are sections of the ruling class asking whether US domination is over, whether the US can still protect British capital’s interests – and whether being tied to the US is making things worse.

US imperialism is making the world an increasingly dangerous place and the British government is wholly complicit in this.

The anti-war movement faces growing and urgent challenges, but at a time when our enemies are being seriously weakened. We have to say no to US wars and no to the US alliance.

John Newsinger is author of The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire. Available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to »

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