LONDON—Last Wednesday marked the second annual U.K.-U.S. Friendship Day. Although this momentous occasion was met with near-universal indifference on both sides of the Atlantic, Rishi Sunak took the opportunity to celebrate by making his first official visit to the U.S. as Prime Minister.
The discussions didn’t reap the variety of fruit Sunak had been hoping for; the Tories’ long-promised free trade deal remains in deep freeze. Indeed, very little of substance was announced beyond the “Atlantic Declaration for a Twenty-First Century U.S.-U.K. Economic Partnership.”
This declaration makes clear that the focus of U.S.-U.K. collaboration today is to jointly manage “new challenges to international stability,” in particular “from authoritarian states such as Russia and the People’s Republic of China.”
Introducing the declaration, Sunak repeated the same tropes that President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were circulating five years ago.
Countries like China and Russia are willing to manipulate and exploit our openness, steal our intellectual property, use technology for authoritarian ends, or withdraw crucial resources.
Attempting to sound dramatic—but succeeding only in sounding faintly ridiculous—he concluded:
They will not succeed.
The declaration represents a shared commitment to doubling down on the new Cold War, continuing with the encirclement and containment of China, and proceeding with the proxy war against Russia. In summary, it seeks to demonstrate a unity of purpose in the ongoing U.S.-led struggle to prevent the emergence of a multipolar world.
On the one hand, Britain and the U.S. proclaim the virtues of an “open and rules-based international order;” on the other, they talk proudly of having “taken significant steps to implement AUKUS, including announcing our plans to support Australia acquiring conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.”
As a recent brief from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament—“AUKUS: Why we say no”—made clear, the Australia-U.K.-U.S. pact “enables the transference of weapons-grade enriched uranium to power war-fighting submarines undertaking provocative actions in potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific region.”
As such, the nuclear sub deal is a clear breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Britain, the U.S., and Australia are all signatories. It stands as a salutary reminder that the “rules-based international order” means aligning with U.S. imperialism or paying the price.
Similarly, international law is clear that the United Nations Security Council is the only body authorized to impose sanctions in response to a threat to international peace and security. Unilateral sanctions have no basis in international law and are therefore unenforceable—except by means of violence, threats, and extortion.
Nevertheless, the U.S.-U.K. Declaration proposes “strengthening our world-leading partnership across sanctions strategy, design, targeting, implementation, and enforcement.” While curiously maintaining a visceral opposition to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, the U.S. and Britain are world leaders in illegal, unilateral sanctions.
Meanwhile the document talks of the two countries being “committed to making the 2020s the decisive decade for climate action.” Yet Britain and the U.S. are actively impeding progress on climate action.
The unprecedented sanctions regime against Russia has meant a dramatic rise in North American fracked shale gas exports to Europe. Aside from the serious environmental concerns around fracking itself, transporting shale gas across the Atlantic requires it to be liquified, stored at -70°C, and transported by ship. From an environmental point of view, it certainly doesn’t compare favorably with using existing pipelines running across eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, both Britain and the U.S. impose sanctions against China’s solar power industry, and the U.S. has stated it aims to put a stop to Chinese innovation on green energy. As Noam Chomsky rightly pointed out in a recent interview with the Global Times:
We know China is way ahead of the rest of the world in renewable energy. So, do we want to stop its innovation that creates the kinds of advanced technology which might save the world? It’s beyond shocking…. That’s the opposite of what has to be done if we want to survive.
Sunak’s trip to Washington was, in essence, a loyalty pledge to the U.S. and to the concept of a renewed Washington Consensus. In spite of some recent indications by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly that Britain was considering a relatively saner approach to China, it’s abundantly clear that the only real priority in British foreign policy at the moment is to keep the special relationship in “real good shape,” as Biden put it last week.
Sunak certainly seems eager to prove he’s not a naughty boy like Emmanuel Macron, with his dangerous talk of European strategic autonomy. In a moment of cringey servility, Sunak told CNN that “the values that we’re fighting for are universal. They’re values that America has always stood up for, which is democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.”
Readers might hope that Britain’s opposition Labour Party would offer a reasonable alternative to this nonsense. They stand to be disappointed. Congratulating the U.S. for “de-risking its economy from China,” Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy complained that the Conservatives have not been sufficiently forthright in standing up to China.
In Britain, as in the U.S., the Cold War mentality is bipartisan. A commentator in the Financial Times recently remarked that “Joe Biden’s language is far gentler than Trump’s, but his enforcement is more rigorous. Biden’s policy is Trumpism with a human face.”
In the current conjuncture, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, Sunak, and Keir Starmer are all Trumpists when it comes to pursuing this incredibly reckless new Cold War.
Carlos Martinez is an author and researcher based in London, Britain. He is co-editor of Friends of Socialist China.