The Bush/Blair Pre-G-8 Meeting: Tensions in the Anglo-U.S. Alliance?

Report Europe

The Bush/Blair Pre-G-8 Meeting: Tensions in the Anglo-U.S. Alliance?

June 6, 2005 6 min read
Nile Gardiner
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow
Nile Gardiner is Director of The Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

This week's White House meeting between President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be the sixth U.S. summit between the two world leaders since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The post-9/11 era has seen the re-invigoration of the Anglo-U.S. special relationship and the growing co-ordination of American and British military and political might on the world stage. The Bush/Blair alliance has been one of the most successful and enduring political partnerships of modern times. But is it now, as critics of American foreign policy hope, at risk? Will disagreements over Blair's 'soft issues' agenda damage the special relationship?


This pre-G-8 summit may prove a watershed. Mr. Blair will be acutely aware that this meeting may be one of his last as Prime Minister on American soil. The May elections saw his majority in Parliament cut by nearly a hundred seats. It is increasingly likely that a greatly weakened Blair will be replaced as Prime Minister by his Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, perhaps as early as next year.


Thus, it will be not only Tony Blair's vision of British foreign policy on display this week in Washington, but also that of his likely successor Gordon Brown. As Britain prepares to host the G-8 summit at Gleneagles in July and takes over the Chairmanship of the European Union, British policy will bear the heavy stamp of Blair's heir apparent, who is pushing an aggressive British agenda on debt relief for Africa, substantial increases in foreign aid, and global action on climate change. Gordon Brown is emerging as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage and will cast a huge shadow over Tony Blair's foreign policy for the remainder of his time in Downing Street.


Blair is under pressure from vocal sections of his own ruling Labour Party to give a greater say in foreign affairs to Mr. Brown and to adopt a more assertive, fiercely independent stance from the White House. As Blair's own grip on power begins to slip, he will wish to be identified less and less with the American president, who remains a deeply unpopular figure with left-wing Labour backbenchers.


This week's meeting may well be a taste of things to come for the White House as it prepares for a Brown premiership: an assertive British claim to world leadership on 'soft issues' such as poverty reduction, which could strain the special relationship between London and Washington. There is potential also for tensions over British support for the lifting of the EU Arms Embargo on China, as well as the future course of action with regard to the Iranian nuclear crisis.


Gordon Brown's Marshall Plan: A Bridge Too Far

Gordon Brown has called for "a modern Marshall Plan for the developing world-a new deal between the richest countries and the poorest countries."[1] The centerpiece of his proposal is a doubling of development aid from Western nations, combined with a complete write-off of multilateral and bilateral debt owed by the world's poorest countries. Brown has proposed the creation of an International Finance Facility, to be funded by borrowing from capital markets. The European Union has already signed on to the call by Brown and the United Nations for developed countries to contribute 0.7 percent of their GDP to foreign aid.


Brown's goal of eradicating poverty in Africa is admirable, but it is unfortunately undermined by counter-productive and naïve policies. British and EU policy on foreign aid is likely to perpetuate a culture of dependency in the continent, which will impede rather than accelerate the positive changes needed to haul Africa into the 21st Century. In addition, there is no guarantee that Western aid will be used properly by Third World countries. All too often, foreign aid has enriched political elites in Africa and Asia, while failing to benefit ordinary people.


Gordon Brown's vision for Africa has hardly received a ringing endorsement from the British public, who will have to fit the bill for his grandiose scheme. A large majority of Britons, according to a new opinion poll, believe that foreign aid is likely to be wasted by African governments. According to the latest YouGov survey, 83 percent of British voters do not have confidence that "money will be spent wisely rather than being wasted or finding its way into the pockets of criminals and corrupt governments." Just under 80 percent of those surveyed believe that corrupt and incompetent African governments "have contributed most to Africa's problems."[2]


The solution to Africa's myriad woes lies not in spending more government money, all too often misused on the ground, but in advancing good governance, economic and political freedom, and open trade. The Millennium Challenge Account, which ties U.S. aid to all the above, should be the role model for future international development assistance. President Bush should firmly resist calls for the United States to commit to spending a set percentage of GDP on development assistance. The U.S. is already the world's biggest international donor, providing $19 billion in official development assistance in 2004, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).[3]


The White House should also insist that debt forgiveness be offered only to fully democratic governments that guarantee political and economic liberty for their citizens and be linked directly to reductions in foreign assistance.


Preserving the Special Relationship

Britain is America's most important and trusted ally and should remain so for decades to come. However, President Bush should not be afraid to say 'no' to Tony Blair when he comes to Washington this week. Blair has been a powerful and vital ally to the United States over the past four years, and his steadfastness on the war on terror and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power demonstrated both principle and strategic vision. On many issues, though, the British Prime Minister has shown a lack of judgment: his support for the European Constitution, his backing for the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol, his drive to attain an elusive second UN Security Council resolution before going to war against Iraq, and his alliance with France and Germany on lifting the EU Arms Embargo on China. Blair's call for huge increases in foreign aid for Africa is similarly misguided.


There will be many in Europe and the Middle East eagerly watching for signs of a fault line in the Anglo-American alliance. The divide between Britain and America over issues such as development assistance should not, however, weaken the resolve of the world's two most powerful nations to work together on critical areas of common interest. The special relationship may, this week, take a behind-the-scenes battering, but it is strong enough to withstand even major disagreements.


The White House summit will be an important opportunity to showcase U.S.-British leadership in Iraq, where over 8,000 British troops remain. A joint statement of resolve on the part of London and Washington will send an important message to the terrorists who sow death and destruction in the Sunni heartlands that Allied forces will remain in the country until the insurgency is defeated. Additionally, as the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran looms large on the horizon, Anglo-American strength and unity on the world stage is critically important. It will be a key goal of the political leadership in Tehran to promote division between the two countries who pose the greatest barrier to their ambitions.


The Anglo-U.S. partnership remains the engine of the global war on terror, and it is in the vital interest of both the United States and Great Britain that disagreements between the two do not deflect from the common cause of defeating terror and tyranny across the world, from Afghanistan to Africa.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy of the Shelby and Kathryn Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

[1] Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, speech to the National Gallery of Scotland, January 6, 2005, at


[2] See Rachel Sylvester and Andrew Sparrow, "Vast Majority Think African Aid is Wasted", The Daily Telegraph, June 4, 2005, at


[3] OECD, Net Official Development Assistance in 2004, at /static/reportimages/CDE410E0CCD2A011AD364834D8358D8D.pdf.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow