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The Special Relationship : Reflections and Challenges

The Special Relationship : Reflections and Challenges

13 February 2013

Ambassador Louis B. Susman
The Pilgrims of Great Britain

(As prepared for delivery)

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:  Chairman, Master, members of the Executive Committee, my Lords, Ladies and distinguished guests.  Good evening.

Ron, I am extremely grateful to you for that very generous introduction.

On behalf of Marjorie and myself, I want to thank the Pilgrims of Great Britain for this evening and more importantly for your warm friendship and support during our time in the United Kingdom.

It is hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since I had the honor to stand before you and make my maiden speech as Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.

I remember vividly September 2009 and the anxiety of that speech.

The tradition, the history, and the legacy of some of my illustrious predecessors all weighed heavily on my mind.
 
To be fair, it got worse as I met members in the receiving line and looked out on the audience and realized that I didn’t really know anybody.

Well, four years on I’m back and I can say that the nervousness has gone, and this evening I feel right at home.

So much has happened since that first speech.  My Ambassadorship has been exciting, enlightening and, at times, exacting.

We had a change of UK government for the first time in 13 years; a Royal Wedding; and a successful State Visit by President Obama in London, which included two State dinners - the first at Buckingham Palace, the second at my official residence.

I can tell you, growing up as a young man in the Midwest I couldn’t have imagined having a private meeting over cocktails with the President of the United States and Her Majesty the Queen in my drawing room.

What a thrill!

We’ve also had an official visit by the Prime Minister to Washington, DC, and with it another State dinner – this time at the White House.

There has also been the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations; and, of course, the triumph of the London Olympics last summer.

While I was at the captivating Opening Ceremony with Michelle Obama, I remembered an email my friend John V. Roos, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, had sent me a few months earlier.

I think it was shortly after another grand occasion in London and it said something like: “How come you get all these great things and I get only tsunamis and radiation?”

At the end of that first speech back in 2009, I made a sincere pledge to you: The Pilgrims of Great Britain.

I said that my “principal priority would be to strengthen and nourish our special relationship”.

So I was pleased when President Obama told the world last year: “The relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is the strongest that it has ever been.”

The strongest that it has ever been.

When one thinks about it that is a rather remarkable statement.

It means the President considers that our alliance today is at the very least as solid as it was under Roosevelt and Churchill, or Reagan and Thatcher.

It suggests that even as the global order shifts and countries forge new partnerships, the relationship between the U.S. and the UK remains the highest priority for America.

As Ambassador for the past four years, I can say with confidence - from daily, first-hand experience - that I agree with the President’s assessment.

That while there are voices on both sides of the Atlantic who suggest the special relationship is diminished, even in some cases dead and buried, they are just plain wrong.

Our alliance is alive and well, it is thriving and it remains the bilateral relationship against which all others are measured.
 
So as I come to the end of my time as a temporary custodian of the special relationship, I would like to reflect tonight on three areas in particular.

First, on why this partnership remains indispensable to America.

Second, on the progress we’ve made on some of the biggest issues in the last four years.

And third, I want to speak to some of the major challenges ahead.

I start with a small confession.

Before the President appointed me as Ambassador to the Court of St. James’, I thought I knew all about the special relationship, being a confirmed anglophile for many years.

My business interests brought me to Britain on many occasions; Marjorie and I visited here often; and when I took a month’s sabbatical from work one year I was fortunate to spend time at Cambridge University.

I always knew that we share a common bond of history and culture, and that - most of the time - we speak the same language.

I knew that because we share values of liberty, democracy, universal rights, human dignity and the rule of law, we approach challenges from the same direction.

But in truth, I hadn’t fully understood or appreciated the United Kingdom’s value to America or exactly why the special relationship occupies such a distinct place in world affairs.

In short, I didn’t know why America’s first phone call in times of crisis or need is to the United Kingdom.

I certainly do now.

During my four years as Ambassador I have found this a remarkable country with extraordinary capacity, whose cooperation with America on virtually every major issue is second to none.

The United Kingdom and the United States share a world view.

I know of no differences between us when it comes to our foreign policy objectives.  Everything we do supports the other.

For example, the expertise and integrity of the UK’s intelligence, law enforcement, security, and border control professionals are vital for protecting the lives and interests of British and American citizens and businesses.

And no one appreciates the extraordinary initiative, determination and courage of the UK’s armed forces more than the United States - or the willingness of the UK to stand beside us by contributing significant troops, equipment and resources to every important mission.

The UK is an active leader on the world stage, helping to influence global attitudes and shape the policies of the international community.

And it’s that leadership which is incredibly highly valued by America – and by President Obama in particular.

This is why there is no other partnership in the world which America prizes as highly; or one which is as close, or as productive.

President Obama put it best.

He said simply: “Our people – and the people around the world – are more secure and more prosperous when the United States and the United Kingdom stand together.”

I am sure you’ll agree we have certainly made progress on those fronts.

Back in 2009, I spoke in particular of our most pressing priorities:  The two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and the associated threat of terrorism - and the most severe global economic crisis since 1929.

When President Obama took office, many of our traditional alliances had also frayed and people around the world were questioning America’s commitment to its values and our ability to maintain our global leadership.

Today, the war in Iraq has ended.

No longer are American and British troops fighting and dying there – and no longer does Iraq pose a significant threat to its regional neighbors.

New schools, health clinics, roads and water supplies have been built, while more oil is now being produced than at any time in the last 30 years.

Iraq is projected to be the fastest growing economy in the world this year.  And for the first time in decades, Iraqi people now have the opportunity to chart their own destiny.

Our war in Afghanistan is also drawing to an end.

We must remember that our mission was to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan so they could never again take safe haven in the country.

That has been achieved.

We’ve weakened the terrorists’ networks and dealt al-Qaeda a huge blow by killing Osama bin Laden.

And even after the ISAF coalition reduces its presence at the end of 2014, we will continue to ensure Afghanistan is never again a sanctuary or training ground for terrorists.

There are other accomplishments to be proud of in Afghanistan.

This year, more than eight million Afghan children will go to school – one third of them girls.

Today, at least six in 10 Afghans have access to basic healthcare and as a result infant mortality is falling and life expectancy rising.

The country’s GDP has tripled since 2001.  And recent polls have shown that the number of Afghans who sympathize with the insurgents is at an all-time low.    

These are remarkable achievements by any standard and they are important to keep in mind as we move into the final phase of our ultimate ambition: to hand control of a safe and secure Afghanistan to the Afghan people.

In terms of the global economy, we are no longer staring at the prospect of a worldwide depression.

Stability has largely returned to international stock exchanges and money markets.

In America in particular we are headed in the right direction, with growth of 2.2 percent last year.

Of course, our recovery is not yet complete.

But the housing industry is undergoing a robust revival.

Manufacturing is resurgent, as evidenced by the comeback of the auto industry and companies like GE bringing back operations from China and opening new plants in America.

Consumer confidence is rising.

And businesses are more optimistic and more profitable.

While in the United States we are anxious to see these trends continue, we also look forward to solid growth returning to the UK, to a permanent resolution of the eurozone crisis, and to establishing a fair, competitive and mutually beneficial economic relationship with China.

There is no doubt that in the last four years America has also reinvigorated our historic partnerships and built new alliances through careful, considered diplomacy.

In Libya, for example, we were able - with our allies, led by the UK and France - to put together a broad coalition to stop Qadhafi massacring his people.

This approach - which prioritizes partnership, consensus and collaboration – has led today to an America more respected in the world, while our global leadership is on firmer footing than many had predicted.

In 2008, for instance, only 19 percent of Europeans approved of the then President’s handling of international policies.

Just 36 percent viewed U.S. leadership in world affairs as desirable.

By 2012, those numbers had risen to 71 percent and 52 percent respectively.

In the UK alone, 80 percent of people have confidence in President Obama’s leadership and anti-American sentiment has declined considerably under his Presidency.

But despite all the progress, we cannot overlook the challenges that we still face.

The principal threat to our security remains terrorism.  It is one of the biggest issues I’ve had to deal with during my time as Ambassador.

While there have been no successful attacks in the UK or the U.S. in the last four years, there have been a multitude of plots - some known publicly, others not.

There have also been attacks on our citizens and our interests overseas - most recently, of course, in Algeria.
 
Having denied Al-Qaeda refuge in Afghanistan and Pakistan we must now be vigilant to their efforts to exploit instability in North Africa.

And while our resolve to do that is undeniable, our capacity to do it is being tested.

A key question for America and our allies in the next few years is what effect austerity will have on our security capabilities.

The economic reality means that we are going to have to do better with less.

Challenging economic times cannot be an excuse for disregarding our security responsibilities.

But America does have serious concerns about the current defense spending trends of our NATO allies.

NATO estimates for 2011 show only two other countries apart from the United States reached the agreed target of at least two percent of GDP:  Britain and Greece.

And overall, the United States accounts for 72 percent of all defense spending by NATO countries, which is both fiscally and politically unsustainable.

We must recognize that the burdens cannot fall on America’s shoulders alone.

There is also a question for America on how it uses its global authority and leadership in addressing the problems in the world.

We have to be smart about how we use our power.  There are limits to what defense, diplomacy and development can achieve on their own.

A case in point is the way we must navigate our complex relationship with China, which demands that we use all the levers of power that we have: military, diplomatic, and economic.

How we deal with one another – as an established power and an emerging power - will define not only our common future but the entire international order.

Then there’s Russia where, despite progress on missile defense, we have serious and continuing differences on many issues – most pressingly today on Syria.

With regard to Syria, there is still a long way to go before we see stability return and many dangers lurk behind the current turmoil.

One should not overlook Iran’s stake in keeping Assad in power.

He is their only ally in the region and the Syria-Iran alliance is the gateway through which Tehran has been able to influence and manipulate politics in the Middle East.

How Iran’s volatile regime reacts when Assad falls – and he will fall - is of significant concern to Washington and London, and indeed the region and the world.

Elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa the fallout from the Arab Spring is troubling.

Ongoing turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya points to the difficulties of reuniting post-revolution countries and building inclusive, democratic systems.

At the same time, promoting good governance in North Africa is essential for preventing extremist ideologies taking hold.

So as I begin to prepare for departure, there is  – just as when I arrived - much to test us in these tumultuous times.

But I believe we can draw inspiration from what we have achieved.

And I am more confident than ever that - together - the United States and the United Kingdom can continue to confront and overcome our most profound challenges.

Because I have seen as Ambassador how America and Britain work together - day in, day out – all around the world to defend our values and advance our shared interests.

As President Obama said: “We stand together and we work together and we bleed together and we build together, in good times and in bad.”

What a remarkable nation this is.

Over the last four years I have traveled across much of what Shakespeare called “this precious stone set in the silver sea”.

From the coast of Cornwall to the glens of Scotland; from the fens of East Anglia to the valleys of Wales and the mountains of Northern Ireland.

Along the way I’ve experienced Britain’s rich and varied landscapes, enjoyed the genius of its culture, felt the vibrancy of its democracy, and discovered the diversity of its population.

I have visited cities, towns and villages.  And everywhere I have been welcomed with open arms and open minds.

During my Ambassadorship I have also been immensely privileged to spend time with Her Majesty The Queen.

There is no doubt that she is an exceptional monarch - beloved and admired both in the UK and abroad, as we saw so vividly during last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

As President Obama said during his State Visit, Presidents and Prime Ministers – and dare I add, Ambassadors - come and go.

But through her 60-year reign, the Queen has been not only a living witness to the power of our alliance, but a chief source of its resilience.

Every single day she plays a key role in keeping the special relationship vital and vibrant.

As do organizations like this.

The Pilgrims of Great Britain is one of the best reminders we have that the special relationship is not the preserve of government.

The bond between our two nations extends right across our societies: to our churches, universities, businesses, research labs, charities, and even sports teams.

So as I say farewell, I want especially to thank you for your ceaseless dedication to preserving the personal, historical and cultural connections between our two countries.

And while I can’t make promises on their behalf, I shall certainly encourage my successor – whoever he or she is – to engage fully with you.

One thing I can be sure of, is that that person will be very, very fortunate.

Because for an American, there is no greater honor than being Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.