Britain’s election results may prove to be a blow to US foreign policy goals

U.S. President Barack Obama listens to British Prime Minister David Cameron. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

After last week’s elections, British politics is at a unique turning point and perhaps so is US policy, where in a tumultuous world, Great Britain has heretofore been a steadfast US ally.

The final vote on Thursday, May 7, confounded many political observers on both sides of the pond.

According to pre-election polls, the two major parties, Conservatives and Labour, were neck and neck with no clear indication of which would win the largest number of votes. Early polls seemed to indicate British voters were put off both by the prospects of further Tory austerity and a Labour alliance with a left-leaning Scottish party that wanted to dismantle the country.

Even if, for example, the largest number of votes had accrued to the Labour Party, party leader Ed Milliband would likely have had to somehow partner with Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) to obtain a governing majority. Despite defeat of the referendum on Scottish independence on September 18, 2014, the SNP remains committed to securing Scotland’s independence from the UK and, in any case, to eliminating British nuclear submarines from its territory.

Protests in Scotland over Trident subs.

By contrast, if David Cameron’s Tories had come out ahead, no matter who they might have partnered with to form a government (perhaps Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats again), Cameron was committed to holding a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU by the end of 2017, and probably to enacting further cuts in Britain’s defense establishment, which would erode its capacity to field troops in any significant foreign engagements.

In other words, no matter which of the two main parties came out ahead in Thursday’s election, America’s defense posture would be significantly impacted. If the Tories won, no longer would American policymakers be able to count on Britain to send its troops into battle alongside American allies as it has in the past, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Labour came out ahead, the US likely would have to adjust its nuclear deterrent force to compensate for Britain’s withdrawal of nuclear submarines from Scotland.

What the final election results now mean for US foreign policy

So, thus far, what do the final results indicate? In vivid contrast to expectations raised by advance polls, the Tories won a clear majority; Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been trounced to the extent that both Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg resigned from their respective leadership positions.

However, as expected, the SNP has emerged victorious in Scotland, winning 56 of 59 seats and, as a result, nearly destroying Labour’s traditional base there.

Given the SNP’s commitment to eliminating the UK’s Trident submarine program in Scotland, and the Conservatives’ intent to hold a referendum on Britain’s departure from the EU – further reinforcing Britain’s decline as a player on the global stage – America may find itself very much alone in dealing with ISIS and other threats to international peace and security.

All this means that, on a deeper level, the American-British “special relationship” will be impacted. Together with China’s rapidly escalating global financial, economic and military clout plus Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s Machiavellian machinations concerning Ukraine’s sovereignty, the British elections should give American policymakers pause for deep concern and reflection.