UK: new foreign policy direction

Posted on | mei 20, 2011 | No Comments

William Hague, UN Photo/Mark Garten

When President Obama announced that US troops killed Osama bin Laden, millions celebrated around the world, especially in the US. A number of analysts and politicians expressed ebullient enthusiasm about the historical significance of the occasion. Very few bothered to analyze the cost to US and other governments for the war on terrorism that has run into the trillions as I have stated in a recent post entitled THE COST OF AMERICA’S WAR ECONOMY.

The end of bin Laden marked an opportunity for the US to rethink its policy priorities and consider whether it is wise to continue the ‘war economy’ based on the decade-old war on terrorism, which in essence has replaced the Cold War. Yet, the only discussion on the part of both Republicans and Democrats is how to ‘win the war on terror’, as though it is winnable like a conventional war.

On 11 May 2011, the conservative UK government has decided that the time is now to change its priorities and cultivate closer ties with the countries that will play a dominant role in the world economy during this century. The UK has chosen to downsize its diplomatic staff in Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan, while increasing it in China, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil. Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that: “This government will work to build up Britain’s influence in the world, to forge stronger bilateral relations with emerging giants and old allies that have been neglected for too long, and to seize opportunities for prosperity.”

Is Britain admitting by its actions that there is no future in the neo-Cold War policies that the US has been pushing through to NATO as expressed in the war on terrorism and currently in military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya? The UK has very serious economic and fiscal problems, and it is concerned about its future competitiveness in the world. In the absence of at least this small practical step that it took on 11 May, it will be left farther behind nations that are very competitive and have nothing to do with the neo-Cold War or the ‘Old War’.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron is sending business delegations to a number of Asian countries because the ‘trade and market sun’ in the 21st century will be rising from the new business-oriented Orient and not from the ‘Old militaristic West’. Secretary Hague was blunt about where UK’s future rests: “Given that political influence will follow economic trends in the world and will increasingly shift to the countries of the south and the east over the long term, we need to plan ahead and create the right network for the future.”

None of this means that UK is giving up its traditional military and diplomatic alliances with US and EU. Nor does today’s announcement means that UK is giving up on military commitments and obligations. However, it is a realization that UK’s future does not rest in the neo-Cold War militaristic West, but in the trade and market-oriented East. The UK economy has fallen behind Brazil, its GDP growth has taken a hit in the last three recessionary years, its trade deficit continues to widen, and its external debt stands at $9 trillion, with few prospects of reducing it in the absence of rapid growth.

With unemployment just under 8% and poverty at 14%, the UK is in serious economic trouble. Unlike the US that continues to play cowboy diplomacy, the UK does not have the luxury of placing all its cards on neo-Cold War imperialist policies under the guise of ‘the war on terrorism’. While the US government and media are still discussing what hand-written memos bin Laden left behind, what TV programs he watched, and how great the Navy SEAL operations are worthy of perpetual praise, the UK is creating a parallel path to the ‘dead past’ because they know from experience that you can only beat a dead horse so much before the public begins to demand something more substantial that directly impacts their lives.

Are the measures that Hague announced on 11 May 2011 sufficient to help UK with its ailing economy? They are a start and a realization that the government did not really have a choice but to craft a foreign policy that reflects the new world order. What would be truly revolutionary is an announcement that the UK completely abandons all foreign military interventions that are only bound to cost more than yield any benefits, cut defense by 50% and raise funding for education, health, environment, research and development. Wishful thinking, one may argue. However, upon closer examination this is the future that is waiting for the Brits, the Europeans, and the Americans to embrace. The alternative is more rapid decline of the West and rise of Asia.

AUTHOR: Jon Kofas
E-MAIL: jonkofas [at]


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