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Europe and the USA – an evolving relationship?


By William Mills


The USA teaches its pupils that the modern world began in 1783 making little reference to earlier colonial times. Even though thirteen English colonies gained self government after their War of Independence, the French and Spanish still held vast land tracts in America which the new US government was determined to acquire.

Louisiana purchase

In 1804 the French sold the US 800,000 square miles of territory stretching from New Orleans to North Dakota in what was called the ‘Louisiana Purchase’.  In 1812 President Madison declared war on Britain, his aim being the conquest of Canada.

US-Cuban war

By 1898 the USA had come along way in terms of size, and its new industrial muscle had enabled it to build warships, symbol of empire. The remaining Spanish possessions along the western coast had been systematically whittled  down. The USA declared war and captured both Cuba and the Philippines. So ended the Spanish empire in the Americas.

First World War 1914-18

In 1914 the US government adopted a policy of neutrality and offered to sell weapons to both sides. A German cargo submarine made it through the British naval blockade and was duly supplied.

The western allies however bought so much that by 1916 France was nearing bankruptcy and were so heavily in debt that the US worried their own economy might collapse if Britain defaulted.

Treaty Of Versailles 1919

The following year the USA entered the War on the side of its largest customer and victory ensured their eventual payment.

Washington Naval Treaty

In November 1921 America proposed the Washington Naval Treaty. Britain up until then was the world’s greatest naval power. Defeated Germany had to surrender its battle fleet to the British at Scapa Flow three years earlier, and in 1922 the British agreed to reduce its own fleet by 23 capital ships in order to match the Americans at 525,000 tons each, and more importantly close the dockyards vital to the renewal and maintenance of a world wide navy.

World War Two 1939-45

Nineteen years later and Europe was in another war which gave the US its chance to further  reduce the British naval presence by the 1940 exchange of key naval bases in the Caribbean for fifty mothballed  US destroyers.

Lease Lend

After the war ended in 1945 ex premier Churchill admitted in the House of Commons that when US president Roosevelt had announced in 1943 the allies’ surrender terms to be imposed on Germany he had not been party to the discussions.

The Americans made clear that they were not fighting WWII just to expand the British Empire. It felt  Britain and France had divided up the former Axis’ territories at the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, whereas the US had been unsuccessful in negotiating access to the European markets for trade which with their colonies encompassed most of the developing world.

As the First World War drew to a close there was a suspicion that the British were delaying US troop arrivals in Europe to lessen their influence at the peace negotiations.

Indeed in 1944 a large part of the invasion fleet sailed from North American ports directly to Normandy.

Peace came in August 1945 and with it the abrupt cancellation of US supplies to Britain under the ‘lease lend’ agreement, which stipulated Britain must either return its wartime fleet or pay cash for it. This made retaining control of far eastern colonies more difficult.

Atomic bomb

All wartime co-operation with Britain over the atomic bomb also ended making it an all American weapon.

Cuban missile crisis

In October 1962 the Cuban missile crisis defined the relationship. The then Soviet missiles couldn’t yet reach the cities of the American homeland. The Americans were ready to fight a nuclear war in the belief it would save their cities even at the expense of leaving Europe a radioactive smouldering ruin.

Polaris submarines

The UK Government ordered its first Polaris missile submarines in May 1963 to ensure Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent remained creditable.

It was reassuring that in 2012 the Camerons were well received by the Obamas during their state visit.

Sections of the British press poured over every action and photograph looking for proof of that ‘special relationship’.  However former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said;

‘Nation states don’t do favours for one and another; rather they have interests in common.’

Good neighbour

Perhaps it would be wise to accept that the US is a separate entity and regard it as a good neighbour.

It’s a US election year. The candidates have to ‘row the boat out’ for the Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Irish, Scottish, Israeli, and Native American voters, to mention but a few of the nationalities which make up their huge and diverse country.

Maybe the Obamas simply wanted to get out the best silver and have a bash.

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