U.S. officials and Members of Congress view the United Kingdom (UK) as the
United States’ closest and most reliable ally. This perception stems from
a combination of factors, including a sense of shared history, values, and
culture, as well as extensive and long-established bilateral cooperation
on a wide range of foreign policy and security issues. In the minds of many Americans,
the UK’s strong role in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade reinforced
an impression of closeness and solidarity.
The 2010 UK election resulted in the country’s first coalition government since
the Second World War. The Conservative Party won the most votes in the
election, and Conservative leader David Cameron became the UK’s prime
minister. The Conservatives partnered with the Liberal Democrats, who came
in third place, with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg named deputy prime
minister. The Labour Party, now under the leadership of Ed Miliband, moved into opposition
after leading the UK government since 1997.
Economic and fiscal issues have been the central domestic challenge facing the
coalition thus far. Seeking to reduce the country’s budget deficit and
national debt, the coalition adopted a five-year austerity program early
in its tenure. With the UK entering a double-dip recession in 2012, the government
has been maintaining its austerity strategy under considerable pressure and
criticism. Austerity has also heightened social tensions and contributed
to rising political friction between the coalition partners. Although the
coalition arrangement went smoothly during its first year, the Conservatives
and Liberal Democrats have subsequently disagreed about a series of domestic issues,
including a number of proposed changes to the country’s political system.
Europe has been another source of tension. The UK has long been one of the most
skeptical and ambivalent members of the 27-country European Union (EU).
While the Conservative Party remains a stronghold of “euro-skeptics,” the
Liberal Democrats are the UK’s most pro-EU political party. The Eurozone
crisis has deepened British antipathy toward the EU, fueling calls to reclaim
national sovereignty over issues where decision-making has been pooled and
integrated in Brussels. Some analysts believe that a British departure
from the EU is a growing possibility; Prime Minister Cameron may seek to
renegotiate some of the terms of membership and put the UK’s relationship
with the EU to a national referendum in 2015. Adding another note of uncertainty
to the British political landscape, Scotland plans to hold a referendum in 2014
on whether to separate from the UK and become an independent country.
In recent years, some observers have suggested that the U.S.-UK relationship is
losing relevance due to changing U.S. foreign policy priorities and
shifting global dynamics. An imbalance of power in favor of the United
States has occasionally led some British observers to call for a reassessment
of their country’s approach to the relationship. Despite such anxieties, most
analysts believe that the two countries will remain close allies that
choose to cooperate on many important global issues such as
counterterrorism, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear
activities, and global economic challenges.
Given its role as a close U.S. ally and partner, developments in the UK and its
relations with the United States are of continuing interest to the U.S.
Congress. This report provides an overview and assessment of some of the
main dimensions of these topics. For a broader analysis of transatlantic
relations, see CRS Report RS22163, The United States and Europe: Current
Issues, by Derek E. Mix.
Date of Report: December 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 17 Order Number: RL33105 Price: $29.95
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