A ‘Special’ Relationship?

When President Obama meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, they should focus on the two wars that involve both the U.S. and British militaries (Afghanistan and Libya). But these discussions will take place in the context of diminishing British military capability.

At a time when the United States should be shedding some of the burdens of policing the globe, and encouraging other countries to step forward to defend themselves, the British are moving in the opposite direction. They are cutting their military, and tacitly becoming more dependent upon U.S. power. The end result will be a United Kingdom that is less able to assist us in the future.

The United States today spends far more on its military than does the United Kingdom, and the gap is likely to grow. This is sure to have an impact on the U.S.-UK relationship.

The number of British troops, ships and planes that are available for missions has dropped and will continue to if Cameron pushes through significant cuts in British military spending. He has proposed actual cuts, not the slowing in the rate of growth that Obama and Defense Secretary Gates have presided over so far.

The special relationship has been cemented by the numerous occasions in which British and American leaders have cooperated to address common security challenges. The most important of these involve U.S. and British troops fighting side by side.

But shrinking British defense spending could strain the relationship.  The goodwill that has prevailed between the two countries could be in jeopardy, and Americans may find it harder to look upon the Brits as the “good” ally, the one that sticks by us through thick and thin. And if the American public grows disenchanted with British contributions to U.S.-led military missions, the British public may then hold less generally positive opinions of the United States.

A version of this post originally appeared in The National Interest Online.