The United Kingdom: Issues for the United States


Publication Date: July 2007

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Government


Coverage: Great Britain


Many U.S. officials and Members of Congress view the United Kingdom as Washington's staunchest and most reliable ally. This perception stems from a combination of factors: a shared sense of history and culture; the extensive bilateral cooperation on a wide range of foreign policy, defense, and intelligence issues that has developed over the course of many decades; and more recently, from the UK's strong support in countering terrorism and confronting Iraq. The United States and Britain also share a mutually beneficial trade and economic relationship, and are each other's biggest foreign direct investors.

Nevertheless, some policymakers and analysts on both sides of the Atlantic question how "special" the "special relationship" is between Washington and London. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has sought to build a good rapport with the Bush Administration to both maximize British influence on the global stage, and to strengthen the UK as the indispensable "bridge" between the United States and Europe. As a result, some claim that London has more political capital in and influence on Washington than any other foreign government. But many British critics charge that Blair has gotten little in return for his unwavering support of controversial U.S. policies, most notably in Iraq. Some have called for a reevaluation of the U.S.-UK partnership, and predict that Blair -- who won a third term in office in May 2005 but with a much reduced parliamentary majority -- may chart a more independent course from the United States for the remainder of his tenure.

Meanwhile, despite Britain's traditional ambivalence toward the European Union (EU), the UK, in its desire to play a key role in a bigger and more integrated EU, may inevitably be drawn closer to Europe in the longer term, especially if current tensions in the broader U.S.-European relationship persist. Analysts note that some UK foreign policy impulses are closer to those of its EU partners than to the United States. For example, like other EU member states, Britain places great emphasis on multilateral institutions as a means for managing international crises and legitimizing the use of force, and views resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as key to reshaping the Middle East and decreasing the terrorist threat. Others argue that the conduct of British foreign policy has never been nor will it ever be as simplistic as a black-and-white choice between the United States and Europe. Preserving the UK's position as a strong U.S. ally and leading EU partner provides UK foreign policy with maximum flexibility to promote its diverse interests in Europe and beyond. Consequently, the UK will continue to seek close ties with both the United States and the EU for the foreseeable future.

This report assesses the current state of U.S.-UK relations. It examines the pressures confronting London as it attempts to balance its interests between the United States and the EU, and the prospects for the future of the U.S.-UK partnership. It also describes UK views on political, security, and economic issues of particular importance to the United States, and their implications for U.S. policy. This report will be updated as needed. For information on broader transatlantic relations, see CRS Report RL32577, The United States and Europe: Possible Options for U.S. Policy, by Kristin Archick.