On The Special Relationship: An Analysis Of UK-US Relations

Published: 16/3/2017

On 7 March 2017, Enyo Law held an evening seminar for a select group of invitees from the worlds of business, banking, politics and law to hear speakers reflect on the past, present and future of the UK-US Special Relationship.

“Things fall apart; the Centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

In an era when western political certainties seem destabilised, the intelligence arrangements under-pinning the UK-US Special Relationship, one of the most enduring alliances the world has known, have become a critical aspect of understanding where the world is heading.

What do the results of the June 2016 Referendum in the UK and the US Presidential elections of November 2016 mean for the Special Relationship and what will be the impact on relations with other countries?

The two speakers were Professor Christopher Andrew and Professor Neil Kent. Professor Andrew is founder and convenor of the Cambridge University Intelligence Seminars and Emeritus Professor of Modern and Contemporary History. He was formerly President of Corpus Christi College, official historian of MI5 (2003-2010), Chairman of the UK Study Group on Intelligence, amongst other prominent positions.

Professor Andrew traced the historical roots of intelligence gathering in England from Elizabeth I’s reign, before moving to the current Queen’s relationship with the world of secret intelligence. He drew attention to the changing balance of power within the UK-US Special Relationship while emphasising that even where the scales tip, inevitably, towards US superiority, certain aspects of informational exchange, particularly around terrorism, remain on an equal-footing; the essential qualities of mutual trust and information sharing in the relationship remain constant.

Professor Neil Kent, who has strong connections with the US, is an Associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University where he specialises in matters relating to north-western Russia and the Nordic countries.

Professor Kent addressed the gathering on the economic, political and military aspects of the Special Relationship, beginning with the observation that the ‘Boston Tea Party,’ far from being a dispute about tax, may have arisen because the tea subsequently thrown into the sea had been shipped directly from India, rather than via London, thus cutting out the local Boston merchants from their shipping profit.

Professor Kent’s warning against overly simplified analyses of history made the point that sometimes the relationship between the two countries has been closer than received interpretations of history would lead one to believe. He drew attention, on the other hand, to the fact that the UK-US relationship has always had its complexities: From Vichy, to Suez, to Pakistan to Granada, there have been significant differences of opinion between the two powers.

Professor Kent considered the most positive aspect of contemporary UK-US cooperation to be in the sphere of “cyber”. The Washington-based Cyber Conflict Documentation Project, of which Professor Kent is an associate, has conducted extensive research in the field of cyber and the audience was given some insights into the complex worlds of hacking, counter-terrorism and leaks.


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