Self/Other and Nation-State Identities: The Case of the Special Relationship and the Syrian Conflict

  • Abstract:

    This paper examines nation-state identity construction through the lens of the Self and Other nexus. In doing so, we have chosen to focus on the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom and how the Syrian conflict configures Self-Other identity constructions of the alliance. Although taken for granted, the UK-US alliance is neither unproblematic nor uncontestable, particularly during times of conflict or crisis. Three conceptual approaches are employed. First, through a discourse analytic approach, political elite perceptions uncover patterns of language or discourses in which each state has a certain meaning or role for the other. Secondly, nation-state identities are articulated through such patterns. Finally, these identities can be amalgamated to produce US-UK Others. These symbolize the roles each state is perceived to have by the other and elucidate complimentary and conflictual Self-Other configurations. These structures we categorize as friendly, non-radical and radical Others. Using an inductive, qualitative approach, we have examined key British and American political spokespeople from parliamentary debates, presidential/prime ministerial speeches and formal official addresses covering the period 2011 to 2015. Identity-based statements have been extrapolated for meaning and interpreted using a discourse analytic method utilizing predication (the meaning attributed to who the states are), presupposition (the background knowledge assumed to exist) and subject positioning (how the meanings relate to one another).
    Here we present the findings of this analysis and they can be summarized as follows:
    • Both states imbue the other with agency created the conditions of a ‘logic of intervention’.
    • Values rather than interests continue to forge the alliance although such perceptions have more dominance for the US readings of Britain.
    • The traditional political values of democracy, rule of law and freedoms have given way to human values based on humanitarian aid, assistance and refugee support.
    • UK multilateralism is sometimes at odds with US unilateralism with fears attached to regional instability.
    • America’s militarist identity creates tensions in the UK-US alliance.