The RUSI Journal | 2019

A Not-So-Special Relationship: The US, the UK and German Unification, 1945–1990



© RUSI Journal June 2019 the evolution of British–American relations in the broader context of international history, Ratti rightly claims that, by focusing on Germany, he is filling a gap in our knowledge of the Cold War. He traces and analyses this history in three steps: from the early Cold War to West German rearmament in the 1950s; Anglo-American interactions during the years of détente; and the events preceding the election of Mikhail Gorbachev to the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party in March 1985. As the author demonstrates, throughout the early post-war decades relations between London and Washington were frequently strained. Given the superior position that the US had gained in Western Europe, Washington had the stronger position in this relationship. Ratti cites several examples to show the tensions. During the Allied occupation of Germany, Britain had no choice but to agree – against its wishes – to the Anglo-American Bizone – the combination of the US and UK zones – to help feed the populations of the Ruhr region. Another point of friction was Britain’s dismantlement policy of the Ruhr coal and steel trusts, a policy which contrasted with the US’s desire to rebuild West German industry in the Cold War struggle against Joseph Stalin. Ratti then recounts the debates on West German rearmament. As he puts it, during the 1954 Berlin Allied conference ‘the AngloAmerican leaders [got] on quite well, but Whitehall ... resented Britain’s standing as the junior partner in the special relationship’ (p. 64). Things were even worse during the 1956 Suez Crisis when US President Dwight D Eisenhower told Prime Minister Anthony Eden quite bluntly to get out of Egypt immediately or he would – rather than send the US fleet to the eastern Mediterranean – sink the pound. By the 1960s, with Britain still extolling the special relationship, former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, speaking at West Point in December 1962, treated London downright condescendingly when he remarked: ‘Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a [new] role’. London’s attempt ‘to play a separate power role ... apart from Europe, a role based on a “special relationship” with the United States ... has no political structure, or unity, or strength’ (p. 85). Ratti’s analysis of the evolution of these relationships reflects the existing understanding of the UK–German and UK–US relationships. In the 1970s, as the British economy was hit by an even deeper economic crisis than that of the US or West Germany, US President Gerald Ford may be said to have had a special relationship with German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt rather than with Prime Ministers Edward Heath or James Callaghan. With the rise of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, there were hopes that the special relationship might be rekindled. But it was soon put to another severe test in 1989–90 when the Berlin Wall came down and Washington began to promote German reunification, to which Thatcher was vigorously opposed. In the end, President George H W Bush, convinced that a united Germany was the only way forward provided the country stayed in NATO under US supreme command, simply sidelined Thatcher. Even if relations between Bush and Chancellor Helmut Kohl were at times difficult, for the US president it ultimately was more important to reach the strategic goals that he had developed than to follow Thatcher’s Germanophobia. While she came out of the negotiations empty-handed, the more pragmatic French President François Mitterand abandoned his initial oppositional stance and secured, in return, the even deeper integration of Germany into Europe, making certain that Germany was firmly tied into the institutional structure of what became the EU with its common currency. Ratti examines these dramatic developments in 1989–90 in considerable detail, neatly complementing Mary Sarotte’s studies. This explains why Ratti entitled his excellent study A Not-So-SpecialRelationship – indeed there was not much left of Anglo-American policy coordination when German reunification reshaped the whole of Europe. In light of this conclusion, it is useful to put this book into a time frame that includes the first half of the 20th century. There can be little doubt that a special relationship existed between Britain and the US during both World Wars. After the First World War, the US emerged from the ordeal as a firstclass industrial power, and yet Washington and Wall Street did little to continue the link with their British wartime ally. Viewing the latter country as a declining power, they instead turned to Germany, the former enemy. This pattern was repeated in the aftermath of the Second World War. While Ratti sees Anglo-American relations as becoming less and less special after 1945, particularly with respect to the German Question, West Germany became Washington’s main European base in terms of US political, industrial and commercial interests. Overall, this is thus a story of historical ironies and misperceptions on the part of Britain’s leadership. n

Volume 164
Pages 103 - 104
DOI 10.1080/03071847.2019.1666518
Language English
Journal The RUSI Journal

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