Sometimes things are so much simpler than they seem. I had one such moment in Warsaw, not long after Poland’s accession to Nato. To a man, the Polish elite were particularly insistent on making every American aware of how much they valued being in the alliance, but they obviously wanted something more. A number of my American colleagues began to chafe at their overly broad hinting.
Finally, a friend of mine lost his patience. “Listen,” he said, “you are already in Nato, you don’t have to convince us of your worthiness anymore.” Our Polish hosts smiled knowingly, looked around to see that no one else could hear them and whispered confidentially, “but we want to join the inner circle, the ‘real club’, where you and the British make all the real decisions.”
Incredulous, we told the Poles, in the worldliest manner we could manage, that this was utter nonsense, that there was no charmed Anglo-Saxon inner circle that called the shots. Yet the Poles simply looked at us with friendly scepticism, asking over and over what they had to do to get admitted to this real club.
As I look back on this story I have come to the surprising conclusion that the conspiracy-minded Poles were right; there is an Anglo-American inner circle, a club of clubs, with its existence so omnipresent that the rest of us can scarcely see it. But it is real, and it largely still runs the world.
This Anglosphere – the network alliance of English-speaking peoples, many of them colonies or dominions of Britain at one time or another – is defined by cultural traits which largely explain commonalities in terms of law, macroeconomics, and foreign policy. It is toward this grouping that Britain must re-orientate its foreign and trade policy.
The simple reason for this intimacy, hidden in plain sight as the Poles so unerringly spotted, is that the Anglosphere countries simply trust each other – due to their shared linguistic, historical, and cultural heritage – more than they do other major allies, such as the Japanese, the Germans, and the French. The Poles were right; not all allies are equal.
In any multipolar system, Great Powers will have few permanent allies or permanent enemies. Ironically, as such, the few permanent allies a power such as Britain possesses assume an even greater significance.
The Anglosphere concept neatly divides the world for Britain into a smaller inner core of permanent friends, and a larger sub-group of western states that can be less reliably counted upon. Since the Venezuelan border crisis of 1895, America and Britain (along with the other former British colonies and dominions) have always, invariably, sided together over most major matters of state and have gotten in the bureaucratic habit of working together in the closest way possible. The same cannot be said of other major continental allies. The French are still dreaming of great power status, and the Germans are wedded to an isolationist, pacifist future.
Our common Anglo-Saxon culture places a greater weight on individual liberty than our continental allies. This fact largely explains our more laissez-faire economic system, with its greater dynamism and greater inequalities. It has also broadly determined (and yes, there are anomalies such as the Suez crisis of 1956) the strikingly common Anglosphere stance in both World Wars and also the Cold War.
At the broadest strategic level, the Anglosphere has marched in lock-step for over a century, a profoundly important fact of modern international relations. While the Anglosphere is a central reality in today’s world (and one which is seriously understudied), Anglo-American relations have never been a picnic.
The great novelist John Le Carre, no fan, has been right to ironically call far away but seemingly all-powerful US officials “The Cousins” in his many books. For if we are distantly, but intimately, related, we are often cousins who have spent far too much time trapped in each other’s company at some interminable Christmas. But like the classic western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, while the US and the British often snipe at, bicker, and resent one another, we always come out shooting at the Bolivian army together. And that will surely remain true, even if Donald Trump takes the White House in November.
The Poles, all those years ago, were right to note the seminal fact that, based on this shared Anglosphere culture, there is in fact an inner circle which runs the world.
The cousins will stay together, perhaps a little unhappily, come what may. This Anglosphere is Britain’s past, present, and future.