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Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s close political, ideological and personal relationship is perhaps the strongest formed by any of the leaders of America and Britain. Reagan and Thatcher’s strong bond and understanding of each other reignited the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. that had started during World War 2. This assignment will uncover what America gained from the special relationship during Reagan’s presidency. The assignment will begin with an introduction of Reagan and the similar characteristics he shared with Thatcher. Then the focus shifts to Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) programme and the concerns raised by America’s allies. After focusing on the SDI, this assignment will explore the Falklands War and the roles Britain and America played in the conflict. Moving on, this piece of work will then look at the U.S. invasion of Grenada and the British response to the military occupation. Finally this assignment will look at the American military presence in Britain, focusing on the cruise missile stations and the bombing raid on Libya.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th president of the United States of America. Reagan served two terms in office from 1981-1985 and 1985-1989. During his presidency Reagan formed a political and economic philosophy with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Their relationship was a transatlantic marriage filled with affections and tensions. (Telegraph, 2015). Both leaders believed in free market economics and the reduction of state interference in the economy. They were also both staunch anti-communists and anti-socialists. Both Reagan and Thatcher played a part in ending the cold war along with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to London in 1984 he was garlanded and celebrated by Margaret Thatcher. “I like Mr Gorbachev,” she said. “We can do business together.” (The Times, 2015). The special relationship is a close economic, political, military, cultural and historical partnership between the U.S.A and the U.K. The term special relationship was coined by Winston Churchill. This ‘special relationship’, started during World War 2. Although both countries enjoy this special relationship, the partnership is not always equal.
On March 23, 1983 Reagan proposed The Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars or SDI). The SDI was a workable program envisioned by Reagan to shield entire populations from nuclear war. (Clifford, G, J. 1994, p. 28). Reagan sought a defence dominant strategy using SDI to interdict offensive weapons launched towards the U.S.A. in fear or anger. The programme would make the U.S.A. invulnerable and would reduce the probability of war. (Kegley, W, C. 1996, p. 113). Reagan’s defence secretary Caspar Weinberger told congress “If we can get a system which is effective and which we know can render their weapons impotent, we would be back in the situation we were in, for example, when we were the only nation with the nuclear weapon and we did not threaten others with it” (LaFeber, W. 1994, p. 708). The SDI is a perfect example of why the special relationship was not an equal partnership and was one of many initiatives taken without consulting the British. When Regan announced his SDI plan to the world, he never informed America’s allies or even some parts of his own administration. The SDI posed a threat to British interests as it reduced the chances of arms-control agreements, since Reagan saw it as essentially non-negotiable and the SDI also promised to make all nuclear forces obsolete, which in turn increased the cost of making nuclear weapons effective. (Smith, M. 1988, p. 18). Europe also shared Britain’s concerns in regards to the SDI programme, which would make America impregnable to nuclear attacks and questioned whether the U.S.A would continue to spend huge amounts of money via NATO in defence of Western Europe. At a meeting at Camp David in 1984, Thatcher informed Reagan that Britain was not against the SDI programme instead she wanted the new system to be seen alongside and not a replacement for nuclear deterrence. Thatcher who saw the commercial benefits of SDI, ensured that British firms were the first in NATO to participate with the Americans in research and development contracts awarded from the SDI programme. (Evans, 2004, p.96-97).
The Falklands War, was a ten week war fought in 1982 between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands and the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The war began on April 2nd when Argentina invaded and ended on June 14th. Before the war started, Britain’s two main political parties had sought a negotiated settlement with Argentina in which Argentine sovereignty would be met and the wishes of the islanders to remain British was safeguarded. The preferred solution was to lease the islands for a long period from Argentina, however diplomatic negotiations to find a solution were never completed. Britain misread the signs and left the islands vulnerable when they decided to withdraw the British naval presence from the island. Argentina invaded and quickly overcame the tiny British military presence that was stationed on the island. (Little, W. 1988, p. 137). Britain responded in kind by despatching its navy to take on the Argentine naval and air forces. In an official statement Reagan, supported Thatcher’s claims that the Argentinians were the aggressors and that the U.S. would supply Britain with war materials to assist if requested. However behind the scenes the state department painted a different picture to the one Reagan had portrayed in his statement. U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig reported the reaction from the state department: “In the early hours of the crisis, most of the staff shared the amusement of the press and public over what was perceived as a Gilbert and Sullivan battle over a sheep pasture between a choleric John Bull and a comic dictator in gaudy uniform.” (Evans, 2004, p.100). After regaining the islands from Argentina, Thatcher’s confidence in the superiority of Britain was manifest: “I believe Britain has now found a role. It is in upholding International Law and teaching the nations of the world how to live”. (Beckett, C. 2007, p. 91).
U.S. military forces invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada on October 25th 1983. Their mission was to overthrow a leftist regime, which had built close ties with Cuba. More than 6000 American military personal took part in the operation, which resulted in the death of more than 100 people including 25 Cubans. (Paterson, G, T. Clifford, G, J. Hagan, J, K. 1995 p. 526-527). Reagan saw it as an easy opportunity to topple communist regime. “Grenada came to look like a textbook example of a helpless state on the way to becoming a Soviet tool”. (Rosenfeld, S, S. 1987 p. 205). The invasion of Grenada was a military occupation by the Americans on a Commonwealth country, without the permission of the British government. Thatcher was outraged and expressed her feeling to President Reagan over a telephone conversation. The truth of the matter was that there was little the British could do. Later that year in December 1983, the U.S. lifted an export ban on arms sales to Argentina. (Smith, M. 1988, p. 18). Reagan’s reasons for invasion was to protect the lives of American medical students based on the island and to prevent the construction of an airport suspected of becoming a base for Soviet aircraft. The invasion of Grenada was blatantly intended as a warning to Nicaragua, who were supporting rebels in El Salvador with military aid that they ran the risk of provoking a similar response to that of Grenada. (Keylor, R, W. 2005 p. 375).
During the period 1983-1988, the U.K allowed the U.S. to install cruise missile stations at British Army bases. This further enhanced the closeness and interdependence of U.K and U.S defence policies. (Evans, 2004, p.95). In 1986, Thatcher allowed the U.S. to bomb Libya using aircraft stationed in Britain. Britain stood alone in the European community in endorsing the American bombing raids on Libya. (Allen, D. 1988 p. 48). American attention shifted to Libya after a series of terrorist attacks linked to the North African state. The American’s were also dissatisfied with Britain and its European partners in their reluctance to impose economic sanctions on Gadhafi’s regime. Britain and Europe simply believed that the sanctions would just not work. Of all the European countries, only Britain helped the Americans. (Smith, M. 1988, p. 21). The American bombing raid almost killed Gadhafi but his adopted infant daughter died as a result of the raids. “Later investigation indicated that Libya had not been directly involved in the West Berlin bombing that triggered the U.S. attack.” (Paterson, G, T. Clifford, G, J. Hagan, J, K. 1995 p. 530).
This piece of work clearly shows that America did gain significantly from the special relationship during Reagan’s presidency. It is also clear that the relationship is not equal and favours America more than Britain. When Reagan presented his SDI programme, Britain were not consulted and had no prior knowledge of his plans. The SDI programme would have made all but American nuclear weapons ineffective. Thatcher eventually won lucrative contracts for British personal to work on the SDI programme. Even though Thatcher was able to secure lucrative contracts from the SDI programme it is clear to see that the relationship was not as equal as it is suggested and that America would gain more from the programme than Britain and Western Europe. The Falklands War was an interesting conflict, involving Britain defending an overseas territory which had no significant value at all against an Argentinian invasion. Reagan publicly displayed his support for Thatcher and even went as far as supplying Britain with war materials. Even though the Reagan didn’t back Thatcher with military force, he showed support during the conflict which would have had a positive impact on the special relationship. However any impact Reagan might have made would have been tarnished by the statement released from the state department which criticized the conflict and Britain’s battle over “sheep pasture” in reference to the Falklands. The invasion of Grenada is perhaps the best example of why the U.S and U.K. special relationship is not on equal footing. America invaded Grenada without consulting Britain with whom it shares a “special relationship”. The invasion shows that America is the real power in this “special relationship” and that they could do as they see fit. Britain was unable to challenge the U.S. on Grenada, however Thatcher did tell Reagan what she really felt about the invasion. America clearly benefited from the special relationship, a key example is the installation of American cruise missile stations in Britain. Thatcher also allowed Reagan to use American military aircraft based in Britain to perform bombing runs in Libya. Britain was the only country to help America in this military operation. Europe and Britain were reluctant to impose sanctions, which the Americans had wanted. America clearly got what it wanted and was even allowed to use Britain as a base to launch their attacks. Throughout this assignment it is clear to see that America gained a hell of a lot from the special relationship during Reagan’s presidency. America’s sure size, economic and military power enables it to be the dominant force in the special relationship acting when and as it sees fit with no regard for Britain it’s so called partner.
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