Election of Bill Clinton Led UK to Brace For 'Turbulence' Over NI, Say Papers

    Election of Bill Clinton Led UK to Brace For 'Turbulence' Over NI, Say Papers
    Last updated Dec 29, 2022
    Image credit: belfastlive


    • Documents declassified this week show that the election of Bill Clinton as US president in 1992 prompted the UK government to brace for "turbulence" due to his views on Northern Ireland (NI).[1]
    • In a letter written to an Irish-American group just weeks before the election, Clinton called for "more effective safeguards" against the use of lethal force in the region. The letter was circulated in the NI Office before it was suggested to the UK's ambassador to the US that Clinton's views needed to be challenged, rather than being left to "calcify."[2]
    • Clinton's letter was declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast, alongside memos concerning the communication. John Chilcot, a senior member of the civil service at the time, stated that Clinton's reference to lethal force in the letter was "particularly unwelcome."[3]
    • Clinton's letter also commented that a "realistic solution" to The Troubles in Northern Ireland — the sectarian civil violence that took place between the late 1960s and 1990s — could only be achieved through political negotiations and consent, rather than "further acts of violence." Chilcot described Clinton's NI agenda as unwelcome, although conceded that it "might well have been worse".[4]
    • Clinton, the first-ever sitting US president to visit Northern Ireland, went on to help broker the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, bringing an end to three decades of conflict. In December 2022, the Biden administration appointed Joe Kennedy III as a special representative to Northern Ireland, as the UK and EU look to come to an agreement over the region's post-Brexit trading arrangements in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.[5]
    • The publication of the controversial comments comes as it emerged, also through the declassification of documents, that no contingency plans were included in the establishment of the Northern Irish Stormont power-sharing assembly in 1999. Devolved Northern Irish institutions have been suspended a number of times since their founding, and the Stormont is currently suspended due to the DUP's protest over the post-Brexit NI Protocol.[6]


    Pro-establishment narrative

    Clinton's foreign policy approach to Northern Ireland was a resounding success. Even his harshest critics were amazed at the love the former president received during his trip to the region, and the peace agreement was largely a triumph for the Clinton Administration. The US continues to be a positive influence in the nation.

    Establishment-critical narrative

    The US has its own economic interests, and although it holds a commitment to peace in Ireland, America will ultimately seek to advance its own goals. There is no obvious reason for the US to take sides in the current Brexit-fueled dilemmas surrounding the region, and no one should count on the country to support Ireland's interests, despite America's diplomatic success there in the 1990s.

    Nerd narrative

    There is a 41% chance that Northern Ireland will hold a reunification referendum before 2030, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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