The End of the Special Relationship?

By David Reynolds

Today, the cohesion of the West matters as much as ever in the face of a newly assertive Russia and China.

Under fourth-term President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its continued interference in the domestic politics of Western democracies threaten the stability of the postwar order.

Mr. Putin has recently dismissed liberalism as “obsolete.”

In Beijing, President-for-life Xi Jinping has embarked on a grandiose strategy to take control of the South China Sea and to expand China’s global reach under the “one belt, one road” initiative.

In 2019, the U.S. remains the world’s leading military and economic power, but its hegemony is under threat from these challengers.

Arguably it needs allies as much today as it did during the Cold War. (And yes, those allies definitely need to do more to sustain the alliance.)

Yet President Trump has been erratic in his attitude to NATO, hostile toward the European Union and positively jubilant about Brexit—none of which is conducive to the solidarity of the West.

The Darroch affair might seem like a storm in a British teacup.

But it also matters to the U.S. Mr. Trump has made no secret of wanting a Brexiteer as British ambassador.

And Boris Johnson, the man likely to become Britain’s prime minister next week, pointedly refused to support Mr. Darroch in a recent TV debate.

Mr. Johnson’s critics have suggested that he is anxious to appease the president in the hope of a favorable post-Brexit trade deal.

Mr. Johnson says that he will “leave” Europe by Oct. 31, “do or die.”

Yet historically, the postwar special relationship has been most effective when Britain has had strong links with Europe as well as the U.S.

If Brexit weakens the special relationship, the entire West will be weakened as well.

Mr. Reynolds is professor of international history at the University of Cambridge.

His most recent book, with Vladimir Pechatnov, is “The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Correspondence With Churchill and Roosevelt” (Yale University Press).

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