Britain drifts away from the EU, like a man quietly sidling towards the exit during an embarrassingly disastrous play, the US has begun to express concern. The Telegraph reports:
The Obama administration has expressed concern at what US officials see as Britain's slide towards the European exit door.The funniest aspect of this story is the thought that somewhere Barack Obama and senior State Department officials might actually be having a conversation about Nigel Farage, who I always thought of as one of those strictly not-for-export national figures, like Cliff Richard.
Washington firmly believes that the departure of its strongest partner in Europe would also reduce American influence on the continent, as Britain so often shares American views.
"It is important to state very clearly that a strong UK in a strong Europe is in America's national interest," said a senior US administration official. "We recognise national states but see the EU as a force multiplier."
Britain's free trade philosophy is regarded as vital in preventing the union from drifting towards protectionism, while since World War Two, successive British governments have been more assertive on a variety of foreign policy issues, and more in line with American thinking, than other major European nations.
"We understand that a Europe without the UK would be a weaker Europe," said a Whitehall source.
But even if a united Europe is good for Britain, is it necessarily in America’s interests? The United States has always had a fairly hands-off approach to the European project, its main focus being on security. I suspect this partly reflected a subconscious belief that a United States of Europe would ultimately fail; some of the most enthusiastic proponents of European unity were, after all, openly motivated by hostility towards America and Russia, and a really strong European superstate would have far greater bargaining power against the United States.
As we move towards a new bipolar world, America will increasingly need allies against Chinese domination. The Chinese can already rely on Russia, much of Latin America, Africa and the Islamic world, while the US’s strongest allies remain the democracies – Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Israel. One of the many reasons that the Israel/Palestine conflict attracts such disproportionate coverage in the media is that it has become a proxy conflict for the West versus the Rest, as this map shows.
And the relative wealth of Europe and the United States is shrinking.
So America needs European allies, but it’s not clear whether a united Europe would necessarily be more pro-American, automatically siding with the US against the rest. European countries have their own interests with regards the Middle East, Africa and China, which often don’t coincide with America’s, and on a range of world issues European public opinion is fairly hostile to America, decades of American military protection having inspired not gratitude, but resentment.
Britain is something of an anomaly in Europe, popular opinion being unusually hostile to the EU and warm to America (and far less pacifist). If policy makers in the US really don’t know that, then it suggests something worrying about the levels of awareness in Washington.
More to the point, the very technocratic nature of the European Union makes it inherently less pro-American than its individual states. It’s a general rule of foreign policy that countries that share similar forms of government are more likely to be friendly. That was partly why, after centuries of conflict, Britain and France moved closer together in the early 20th century. It was the bedrock of the Anglo-American alliance. It was partly the thinking behind the noble, but failed, non-conservative foreign policy of the 2000s. The European Union is nowhere near as undemocratic as China, Russia or the Middle East, but it is still essentially undemocratic, as was shown by its replacement of Greek and Italian governments, and the way it has undermined the Irish Parliament over the budget.
Why the Obama administration thinks a less democratic Europe is in America’s interest is anyone’s guess.
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