Liz Truss was not the favorite candidate of her Tory parliamentary colleagues. They preferred former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to be the next British prime minister. Unlike many previous party elections for the post, however, it was not 357 Tory legislators who stood to choose their leader, but the 675,000 Conservative party members who were eligible to do so. And they preferred that Truss move into 10 Downing Street.
Truss is an avowed Thatcherite. She is an unabashed free marketeer; no lover of Britain’s unions; a strong Atlanticist; a hardliner on Russia and China; a strong supporter of Israel; and a somewhat recently converted Euroskeptic. There can be little doubt that just as her open veneration of Margaret Thatcher turned off some of her colleagues — as was once the case with the Iron Lady herself — so did those very same stances electrify a majority of the Tory “base.”
Moreover, just as many in the media and among her colleagues underestimated Thatcher when she came into office, so too are the voices from the same quarters musing that the new prime minister is not up to the job. Actually, Truss was quite effective during her relatively brief tenure as Foreign Minister. In particular, while she held office, Britain continued to re-emerge as a significant presence in East Asia, with the signing in May 2022 of the new Anglo-Japanese defense agreement that complements the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) submarine arrangement of the previous year.
Just as Truss has been subjected to criticism from the British left, so too has her assumption of the premiership disconcerted American progressives. In this respect Truss also resembles Thatcher. The American left despised Thatcher almost as much as it vilified Ronald Reagan, her good friend and ideological soulmate. On the other hand, while it is unlikely (though not impossible) that Truss and President Biden will develop the same degree of personal warmth that marked the Thatcher-Reagan relationship — their views on domestic issues do not coincide — there is every reason to expect that the “Special Relationship” between the two countries will remain on solid ground.
Similarly, Truss is no less strongly opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine than is Biden. And unlike some of Biden’s continental NATO colleagues, Truss shows no sign of pulling back on aid to Ukraine. Indeed, Britain has taken the lead in training Ukrainian forces, and with more than $4.5 billion of funds and materiel sent to Ukraine, Britain is second only to the U.S. in supporting the embattled nation.
To begin with, both leaders share a common view of the threats that Russia and China pose to Western interests. Biden, like Truss, has a vested interest in the success of AUKUS. Moreover, Britain’s maritime deployments to East Asia underscore and supplement American interests in the region.
Moreover, despite Britain’s suffering from the highest rates of inflation in decades, Truss has given no indication that she plans to modulate Britain’s full-throated support for Kyiv. In addition, Truss, like Biden, is a strong supporter of Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO. Britain long has maintained close political and military ties with the Nordic States; London also deploys forces to both Estonia and Poland as part of NATO’s deterrent against an aggressive Russia.
Truss also shares Biden’s concern for stability in the Middle East. With the opening of a British base in Bahrain — the first such facility since it withdrew East of Suez and indeed from Bahrain over five decades ago — London has signaled that it, too, is wary of both Iran’s troublemaking and terrorist activity in the region. In addition, British aircraft and drones continue to hit ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, thereby supplementing American military operations against the terrorist group. Finally, under Truss’s leadership, the British-American intelligence relationship is likely to remain as strong as ever, both within the context of the “Five Eyes,” as well as bilaterally.
Truss has been criticized for seeking to focus more heavily on economic cooperation with America as a substitute for Britain’s departure from the European Union. Yet, from an American perspective, London’s maintaining an ever-closer relationship with Washington need not come at the expense of London’s relations with Brussels. In any event, the Brexit die has been cast, and there is little point in wishing that somehow Britain will turn back the clock and reverse the outcome of its 2016 referendum.
Queen Elizabeth was exceedingly popular in America and was one more symbol of the closeness between the two nations. Indeed, the White House and all federal buildings are flying the flag at half staff out of respect for her passing. Nevertheless, American-British ties run far deeper than the Crown. There is a fund of American goodwill toward Britain, especially in the national security community, many of whose senior leaders spent some portion of their student lives in the UK. There is, therefore, every indication that, as in the past, the Special Relationship that World War II first cemented will continue to thrive, this time under the leadership of Prime Minister Liz Truss.
Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.