America and Britain: Was There Ever a Special Relationship?
By Guy Arnold
Hurst, 2014, 256 pp.
Global Rules: America, Britain and a Disordered World
By James E. Cronin
Yale University Press, 2014, 416 pp.
Arnold’s book is neither the first nor the most profound to debunk the idea of an Anglo-American “special relationship.” But this history of efforts by postwar British leaders to offset their country’s decline by cozying up to the United States is quite readable, policy relevant, and, beneath its bland surface, provocative. Arnold argues that the contemporary Anglo-American relationship is a bit of a sham: it demands British loyalty and subservience without securing any consistent American quid pro quo. The United Kingdom would be better served, he contends, by charting a more independent path: establishing closer links to European countries, engaging more with China, reaching a détente with Russia, withdrawing from NATO, reducing British involvement in military interventions around the world, removing U.S. bases from British territory, and increasing British support for global organizations such as the International Criminal Court.
In contrast to Arnold, Cronin sees the Anglo-American relationship as especially meaningful and valuable. He contends that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan established the most important global norm of the post–Cold War world: namely, that all states must converge on a form of democratic governance that fosters free trade abroad and pro-market policies at home. Cronin makes a number of important points, but his sympathy for the idea of a dominant Anglo-American neoliberal wave sometimes blinds him to the irony, ambiguity, and pluralism of contemporary global history: for a good example, one need look no further than China, where the Communist Party has become one of the world’s most successful practitioners of capitalism.