- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

CAMBRIDGE, England — The longstanding "special relationship" between the United States and Great Britain is undergoing significant evolution as Britain increases its ties with Continental Europe. And the present walkup to conflict in the Middle East may well prove a watershed event in those changing relationships.
On the surface, Britain remains the most stalwart and steadfast supporter of the U.S., and Prime Minister Tony Blair has articulated the case for pre-emptive action against disarmament stonewaller and proven aggressor Saddam Hussein.
But public demonstrations, the near revolt of Mr. Blair's Labor Party backbenchers in Parliament, and the quiet but firm skepticism of academicians and old government hands signal that British support cannot be taken for granted indefinitely. A misadventure or widened Middle East conflict could spell trouble for Mr. Blair and his "New" Labor Party cohorts and for the "special relationship" with America.
America's confrontational style, its challenges to the U.N. and threats to unilaterally go for a pre-emptive strike, ultimately may risk driving Britain more closely toward its gun-shy French and German partners in the European Union and away from the traditional foreign affairs alignment with the U.S.
These are a few of the impressions gleaned at the late-October Donner Atlantic Studies Conference held by the University of Cambridge's Center of International Studies.
Professor John Dumbrell of Keele University, co-winner of the Donner Book Prize as author of "The Special Relationship," noted that Anglo-American connection has been in some crisis "since the end of the Cold War [since] the common threat disappeared."
He said observers have much emphasized the changing ethnic character of America its "de-Anglicization" via massive non-European immigration as moving the United States culturally further apart from Britain and Europe. (In this connection, it could be said England and Europe themselves are becoming relatively transformed by immigration, albeit less so than the U.S.)
Mr. Dumbrell said European integration has shaped Britain's political agenda. The European gulf with the U.S. has been widened by the disparity in military power. Moreover, as evidenced in the current Mideast-antiterror conflict, the U.S. "has been oriented more to threat elimination, while Europe has been more oriented to threat mitigation; the U.S. to [addressing] threatening possibilities and Europe to threatening intentions." Mr. Dumbrell also said Prime Minister Blair sees himself providing a bridge between the U.S. and Europe and influencing U.S. policymakers.
British public opinion, he said, often divides along class lines. Those with higher education tend to be more critical of America, while "the working class is more supportive." He foresaw "major divisions in Parliament in the event of war."
Mr. Dumbrell also said a major concern (though not necessarily a policy determinant) here is the extremely high anti-American opinion of Britain's substantial Muslim population. Difficulties would arise from acting militarily against Iraq without a second U.N. authorization, he suggested. "London can't follow Washington always," he warned. Since Britain has joined Europe, that has become a "prior commitment," he continued, adding that "the die was cast by [Britains] joining the European Union."
Professor Richard Aldrich, professor of politics at the University of Nottingham and the other Donner Prize co-winner for his acclaimed book on intelligence activities, "The Hidden Hand," said America is the hub of global intelligence and tends to produce "disproportionately the cutting-edge technology." However, many foreign and even "exotic" intelligence services such as those of Syria and Russia can still provide vital information based on human sources.
One problem arising from technology is that the intelligence community is "inundated" with information. But human intelligence sources on the ground, rather than electronic surveillance are often vital. In this regard, the U.S. may need to rely more on allies. Human intelligence is a "matter of luck and contacts," Professor Aldrich added.
On the whole, however, "the U.S. distributes far more intelligence than it receives, but there is a healthy reciprocity." In Afghanistan, for instance, where language skills are needed, the "British are able to contribute significantly."
There, the objectives of the CIA and Britain's MI6 somewhat diverge, he explained, in that the former's top priority is "finding and operating against al Qaeda, while MI6 regards as "equally important finding support for the [new] regime."
Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, discussed the recent push by some in the U.S. to "strike first" and even broaden the conflict. However, he contrasted U.S. reactions to North Korea's announcement it has nuclear weapons and Iraq's apparent intention to get them. "The Bush doctrine [of pre-emption] is not intended to be a global policy," he explained. But he noted there are those who want the United States to embark on an ambitious campaign to reshape society after society in the Middle East, which could compound and greatly enlarge the struggle there.
Professor John Peterson of the University of Glasgow, Scotland, said, "There are no good options on Iraq." But he suggested Saddam Hussein is "probably not as major a supporter of terrorism as Saudi Arabia." Mr. Peterson said: "The majority of Europeans are willing to support an attack on Iraq with support of the United Nations and allies [but that] British public opinion sees Iraq as separate from the war on terror, which has wider support."
Mr. Peterson added that surveys indicated public attitudes in the U.S. are rather similar to those of Europeans, with support for war rising if the U.S. is joined by allies and has the U.N.'s blessing. "International concerns are higher [now] than since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962," he said. "Islamic fundamentalism is a threat, but most [Europeans] do not see an inevitable clash of civilizations."
What seemed to emerge from the conference was a sense of a very conditional climate of support from our allies, even in Britain, for the approach of war with Iraq. This may, of course, be galvanized into firmer support if there are early victories and turnabouts by Iraqis. The prospect for European support of a wider campaign to nation-build throughout the Middle East seems quite problematic for now. Increasingly, British intellectuals and academics say they feel "more comfortable with the political culture of the Continent" than that of their traditionally less dirigiste American cousins. We shall see.

Benjamin P. Tyree is deputy editor of the Commentary pages of The Washington Times. He attended the Donner Atlantic Studies Conference held by Cambridge University's Center of International Studies in England Oct. 25-26.

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