“America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier.” That’s what allied and axis fighters called Britain during World War II.
The United Kingdom remains as vital to American security today as it was then. No matter what happens with Brexit, the U.S.-British “special relationship” must remain as special as ever.
America is a global power—not because we are the world’s policeman, sheriff, school-crossing guard or any other metaphor. We are a world power because we have vital interests around the world, and with those interests come responsibilities.
Protecting those interests requires either being there or being able to get there when we need to. That’s why Washington pays particular attention to Europe, the Middle East and Asia—regions that can knit the world together or tear it apart.
The stability of Europe is especially important to the United States. We are part of a transatlantic community— a group of nations that is safer, more prosperous and freer when together than we are on our own.
That is where our British friends come in. As a long-standing ally occupying a critical geo-strategic location, the United Kingdom has been and will remain America’s anchor into Western Europe. For U.S. European policy, nothing is more important than preserving the special relationship.
Whether Britain stays in or leaves the European Union (EU) is of far less importance than ensuring that the U.S. and Britain remain unshakable strategic allies.
Certainly you could make the case that the U.S., Britain and even the EU would be better off with Britain as an independent European power. For example, Britain would be a better catalyst for transatlantic economic growth if the state were unbounded by strangling European regulations.
China, Russia, Iran—they’re all bad guys and they’re all coming after both the U.S. and UK.
Britain would no doubt thrive and prosper in a Brexit era. The U.S. is poised to do a trade deal with the UK. A little competition born of that agreement might also force the EU to break out of its economic lethargy, stimulating growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
In addition, there is no question but that an independent British security voice in Europe would be welcome as well. European foreign policy is limited to the lowest common dominator—what every one of the other two dozen individual nations are willing to accept. Out of the EU, an independent Britain would be tougher on both Russia and Iran. That would be good for the U.S., good for Britain and, ironically, good for Europe.
It would be unfortunate for the UK if Britain remains in the EU for an extended withdrawal period or if Brexit collapses entirely. But that should not dim the U.S. commitment to the special relationship. Sadly, Britain will lose opportunities to innovate on the economic and security front. On the other hand, the United Kingdom remains a crucial member of NATO, one of the handful of alliance members already hitting its agreed-upon commitment of spending two percent of GDP on defense.
Whether in or out of the EU, Britain and the U.S. will have to grapple with the China issue. That would be harder with Britain inside in the EU where rules could constrain how the British respond to Huawei and other Chinese government-controlled companies that want to operate in the UK.
The U.S. has warned our allies of the dangers inherent in letting Huawei help build their 5G telecom infrastructure. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S. are part of 5 Eyes network that allows them to share their most sensitive intelligence. Letting Huawei into the next generation network would seriously compromise intelligence cooperation.
British experts claim they can mitigate those security concerns, while the U.S. has pretty firmly said—no they can’t. Brexit or no, this is one issue the two countries will have to resolve if they are going to continue being the closest of allies.
The U.S. and Britain have every reason to make every effort to continue to work together as closely as possible. China, Russia, Iran—they’re all bad guys and they’re all coming after both countries. We must work together.