The Bush-Brown Camp David Summit: Will There Be a Shift in the Special Relationship?

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President Bush will host new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at Camp David on July 29-30. The meeting will take place against the backdrop of simmering tensions between London and Washington over controversial remarks made by high-ranking officials in the Brown administration. Growing public animosity in the U.K. toward U.S. foreign policy has also contributed to speculation that the new prime minister will seek a closer relationship with Europe at the expense of the transatlantic alliance.

Although Brown may adjust some of its priorities as well as the dynamics that drive it, he is unlikely to change the essence of the Anglo-American alliance. While walking a delicate political path, Gordon Brown must act decisively to preserve an alliance that is crucial for defending freedom throughout the world.


”What to Expect from the Camp David Summit.”

Recent remarks made by International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander[1] and new Foreign Office Minister Mark Malloch Brown were widely interpreted as an attempt to create distance between the new Brown government and the Bush Administration. Malloch Brown’s outspoken comments, in particular, given in an interview with the London Daily Telegraph,[2] caused considerable unease in the United States, and would have led to a major diplomatic incident had they not been swiftly disavowed by the Brown administration.

In addition, Brown’s recent meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in advance of his trip to Washington, have been interpreted in Europe as a sign that the new prime minister will adopt a closer relationship with Europe, at the expense of the transatlantic alliance. There is already talk in European capitals of a new axis developing between Berlin, Paris, and London, with Brown shifting away from Washington.

This weekend’s meeting may well be the most awkwardset of talks between Great Britain and the United States since the infamous February 2001 “toothpaste summit,” when Tony Blair met with President Bush for the first time at Camp David in the pre-9/11 era. Brown, a rather dour and uncharismatic figure, has little in common with his more outgoing U.S. counterpart, and is unlikely to repeat the extraordinarily close partnership struck by his predecessor with the American president.

There is growing public animosity in the U.K. toward the Anglo-American alliance and widespread disillusionment with American global leadership, points reinforced in a new poll published by The Sunday Times,[3] which showed that 60 percent of Britons believe that Brown “should seek to put some distance between him and George Bush.” The new prime minister will inevitably seek to reduce the number of high-profile public displays of unity that were a regular occurrence when Blair was leader and replace them with more frank, behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Style and personality aside, however, it is likely the Special Relationship will continue in the immediate term under Gordon Brown, a point he made clear in his first Downing Street press conference, where he described it as “our strongest bilateral relationship.”[4] Brown emphatically declared that “the relationship between a British prime minister and an American president will be as strong, should be strong, and will be strengthened in the months and years to come.” His Foreign Secretary David Miliband also acted quickly to quash any suggestion that the remarks by Malloch Brown reflected the view of the prime minister.[5]

There is no sign yet of an early withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, and in Afghanistan, London remains firmly committed to increasing Britain’s military commitment. On Iran, Brown has significantly not ruled out the use of force to halt Tehran’s nuclear program. There will certainly be continuing close Anglo-American cooperation in the war on terror as well as over a range of issues, from the genocide in Sudan to confronting Russia’s increasingly aggressive attitude toward Europe.

A British Shift Toward Paris and Berlin? As prime minister, Gordon Brown will probably disappoint those in Europe who wish to see Britain play a more central role in the European Union in close alliance with the continent’s two other major powers. Britain’s foreign policy focus will likely remain firmly anchored in the transatlantic alliance, and the relationship with Washington will remain paramount for the foreseeable future.

A Berlin-London-Paris axis might sound like an attractive proposition in the Chancellery or