I have never made any secret that I am a staunch Atlanticist. I believe that the values, heritage and culture we share makes the United States a natural partner for Britain and, militarily, our ally of choice.
It is a relationship that endures despite changes in the political colour of governments on both sides of the ocean in a recognition that the national interest always remains paramount. The bonds between JFK and Macmillan, Thatcher and Reagan and Blair and Bush are testament to that geopolitical reality. Of course, it is important to remind both sides that while the UK may be the junior partner in this alliance we are, nonetheless, a partner not a supplicant.
Most of the visits I have made as a member of the Shadow Cabinet have been to a Washington entirely dominated by the Republican Party (although my personal political contacts in America go back 20 years). While the Republicans are a sister Party to the Conservatives in the Centre-Right International Democratic Union there have always been good personal and political relationships with the Democrats. It is the new dynamic in DC which I will be experiencing this week – a Republican Whitehouse alongside a Democratic Congress. This new environment will be fascinating to see.
In defence issues the USA remains king – by far the world’s most powerful and best-funded fighting force. There are no shortage of issues to discuss: Afghanistan – where NATO faces the Taliban threat and the unwillingness of some European partners to fully commit to the necessary funding or troop levels; the threat to non-proliferation and global stability posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the recent Chinese test of space weapons.
There are also important bilateral issues to sort out, not least the issue of the Joint Strike Fighter and the American willingness to commit to defence technology transfer. Without this we would become entirely dependent on the USA for the through-life capability of this project, something that would limit our sovereign capability. I am personally keen to see greater Anglo-American cooperation in defence procurement not least for the economic advantages of scale in being able to tap into the vast research capabilities of the US defence industrial base. It is also highly unlikely that we would face military deployment alone and isolated from the United States and I will set out our objections to EU military pretensions later in the week. But our American friends need to understand that if cooperation is not forthcoming on technology transfer then the likely result is to push the UK towards a more European-based procurement programme, something I believe to be in the interests of neither party.
So this week I will be undertaking a number of meetings – on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House. I will also be visiting one of the major defence hospitals to see the state of Amarican defence medicine. I will have a number of interviews and speeches to make which will hopefully now be given greater credibility given the healthy state of the Conservative Party in the polls under David Cameron. I will give an update on Conservative Home each day ahead of the debate in the House of Commons on Thursday where we will discuss “Defence in the world”. There couldn’t be a better time to be having this particular dialogue in Washington.