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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

23 November 2005

Alliance maintenance

The Financial Times reports on a row that has yet to be resolved between America and Britain over weapons technology transfers: “The UK looks set to lose its five-year battle to win a waiver on strict US arms export controls after being told by Bush administration officials that political opposition on Capitol Hill to the transfer of sensitive technologies had become insurmountable” (1).

The opposition to the waiver is led by Henry Hyde (R-IL), Chairman of the US House international relations committee; “[Mr. Hyde] is said to be concerned by Britain’s lack of specific laws preventing transfer of military technology to third countries. Given the UK’s open defence market, Mr Hyde has warned that technologies transferred to Britain may find their way to capitals less friendly to American interests” (1).

This is an interesting piece of news, if only because of its wider significance. The past few years have witnessed an intense political debate about the role that alliances should play in America’s foreign policy. In broad terms, allies tend to court America largely in order to gain favor with the world’s greatest power. This is especially true in foreign policy projects such as Iraq where (save perhaps the UK) few countries believed that their immediate national interests were at stake.

But the fragility of the courtship is obvious as close attachment to the superpower carries a political cost domestically: Jose Maria Aznar paid for it in Spain; and other governments have tried to minimize their commitments to Iraq (South Korea being the latest example) and downplay their alliance to America.

The importance of this last piece of news should be seen in this light: when the costs of being too close to America are high, then the rewards need to be high as well to compensate for the increased political risk that foreign leaders bear. When close allies such as Britain cannot reap the benefits of close attachment, then foreign leaders are bound to rethink the optimum level of courtship they should accord America.

I cannot help but think of one article written by a former professor of mine about the US decision to downside its military base in Keflavik, Iceland. Although its rhetorical hyperbole is obvious, there is a point here that is not made often enough: “The world continuously watches what we do. Our military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that it does not pay to be an enemy of the United States. Our actions in Iceland show that it may not pay to be a friend of the United States, either.”

References
(1) Peter Spiegel, “UK denied waiver on US arms technology,” Financial Times, 23 Nov 05
(*) I was sent this article directly by the author and have not found a reference for it, though I believe this is the full citation: Michael T. Corgan, “Bandaríkjamenn og varnarsamningurinn,” [The United States and the defense agreement], Morgunbladid (an Icelandic daily), June 2003, pp. 32–33.

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