The first steps of a new national government are closely monitored for any underlying symbolism.
Traditionally, the British prime minister’s first foreign visit is to Washington, but Gordon Brown chose dinner with Angela Merkel instead. No date has yet been set for a meeting with President Bush. This is being “widely interpreted as setting the future tone of his government’s foreign policy and as a shift away from the United States,” writes Kate Connolly in The Guardian , adding that the German government welcomed the “positive gesture”.
Ever since Tony Blair announced his plans to retire, the professional crystal ball gazers have predicted a more distant UK-US relationship. Now, there are some indications for these predictions.
On Thursday, Douglas Alexander, secretary of state for international development, gave a first taste of what to expect. His speech at the Council of Foreign Relations created quite a stir in Washington. His statements seemed to be about more than just fighting global poverty and were interpreted as coded criticism of US policies. Alexander, who is considered one of Mr. Brown’s closest allies and ‘Mini-Me’ argued:
We must form new alliances, based on common values; ones not just to protect us from the world but ones which reach out to the world. A new alliance of opportunity. And politics as well as policy will be the key to making progress.
We need to demonstrate by our word and our actions that we are: internationalist not isolationist; multilateralist not unilateralist; active not passive; and driven by core values consistently applied, not special interests.
Isolationism simply does not work in an interdependent world. There is no security or prosperity at home unless we deal with the global challenges of security, globalization, climate change, disease and poverty. We must recognise these challenges and champion an internationalist approach—seeking shared solutions to the problems we face.
Multilateralist, not unilateralist, means a rules-based international system. Just as we need the rule of law at home to have civilization so we need rules abroad to ensure global civilization.
The references to “unilateralism” and “rules-based international system” are read by many observers in the mainstream media and blogosphere as jabs against the Bush administration. The short mentioning of “new alliances” has apparently made many people nervous and is seen as denigrating the special relationship between the US and the UK, which for many is of dubious influence after the Blair era.
Spokespeople for Brown played down the statements by Douglas Alexander as well as the symbolism of Mr. Brown’s visit to Berlin.
Is the media over-interpreting the tea leaves, or are Brown and Alexander really taking London in a new direction?
Is the Channel getting narrower and the Atlantic wider? Or will French President Nicolas Sarkozy really fill the “vacuum” that Blair left in Washington, as Stefan Kornelius predicts in Die Süddeutsche Zeitung?
What do you, the members of the Atlantic Community, think of all this? How do you see the UK-US special relationship developing under Brown?
Written by Joerg Wolf