Whiteney & Spencer News

Britain Needs To Learn To Use It’s Global Reach Responsibly

Britain cannot afford to distance itself from its allies in a world that is becoming more insecure.

Britain needs to learn how to responsibly use its global reach and strength while other, occasionally predatory, states gain sway.

This past week’s headlines focused on more horrific incidents in Gaza and the urgent need for a long-term ceasefire as well as a paradigm shift in how the war is fought. However, foreign policy is rarely the main focus of general election campaigns, and 2024 is not likely to be an exception. The UK, however, cannot afford to believe that the rest of the world is unimportant.

One of the lies behind Brexit was the idea that we will live in a time where our actions will determine our fate alone, rather than our capacity to interact, motivate, influence, and discourage others.

The Johnson administration served as an example of the peril facing British policymakers due to its idealistic views about our strength and place in a world where non-state actors, powerful nations, and transactional, skillful, and occasionally predatory states were all gaining ground on one another as the multilateral system weakened.

Britain still possesses both hard and soft power, as well as worldwide reach and influence. Being one of the wealthier nations, we enjoy privileges related to our membership in the UN Security Council. However, it is essential that we comprehend the realities of our power in today’s world.


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We lack the resources of Saudi Arabia, France’s position as the EU’s rock, Turkey’s risk tolerance and regional involvement, and the demographic might of Indonesia or India. In the global system, there are several “middle powers,” including ourselves. Over the past ten years, we have become less powerful than others in terms of wealth, military prowess, and reputation.

If we don’t get our act together, we will be in a worse position on important issues like the economy, the climate problem, national security, and international development. The explanation is straightforward: Britain is at odds with some of the major global trends that are leading the globe towards an unhealthy disequilibrium.

“The new world disorder is being shaped the fragmentation of global power and the rise of global risks”

Two dynamics are shaping the new world order: the dispersion of global power and the escalation of global threats.

Although a number of nations are becoming less ready to comply with western demands, America and the west remain still powerful in certain significant respects. There is caution about Chinese or Russian strength in some situations, and concerns about the mishandling of globalization in others. This is not a “multipolar” world of balanced and different blocs; it is not stable. It is a far more fluid and unstable “multi-aligned” universe.

Global issues like pandemics, migration, and climate change are simultaneously making their way into people’s living rooms everywhere. The opposition foreign secretary, David Lammy, refers to these as “problems without passports.” One of the most significant shortcomings of current globalization period is their poor administration. Even worse, the fragmentation of geopolitics exacerbates these global concerns.

This leaves Britain and their next government with four important problems to address.

The first concerns our starting point. The UK government has handled the Ukraine problem admirably in recent times. It is difficult to come up with more instances where we deserve recognition, though. Our decisions have had a negative impact on our influence overseas.

Part of this has to do with Brexit, given the naive claim that “we held all the cards,” the difficulty in defining a viable exit strategy, and the threats to violate international law over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Additionally, there have been false pretenses and grandiosity, such as the British “tilt” toward the Indo-Pacific region. Not merely the proper policies, but also the appropriate mindset must define Britain’s role in the world. Humility is ineffective. Regarding the ability and clout of a medium-sized nation with international assets but a dismal track record recently, we need to be honest.

The second query relates to our core values. The Biden administration thinks that the contrast between democracy and autocracy holds the key to the solution. Undoubtedly, democratic institutions and ideals are eroding, even in the US.

However, democracy is not an organizing concept for international relations; rather, it is a domestic political system. We refer to a “rules-based international order” because the goal of the post-1945 global settlement was to prevent the abuse of power by establishing an international legal order rather than an electoral one.

The true threat to Britain and it’s interests and principles is impunity, from Gaza to Taiwan, from the Ukraine to Sudan. I am the chair of the advisory board for the recently published Atlas of Impunity, which demonstrates the everyday struggle for accountability and the fight against impunity around the globe. Britain would be on the right side of the most significant foreign policy debates if it used this as its compass.

For instance, France contends, along with Mexico and more than a hundred other nations, that in situations involving mass atrocities, the security council’s veto should be suspended. Such a step would swing the balance back in favor of defending individual rights, which the UN charter originally guaranteed. The UK ought to support this initiative.

The third query relates to alliances and allies. This is particularly difficult in light of the uncertainties surrounding the results of the next US election. But even if Joe Biden wins reelection, there are concerns about the United States’ capacity for persistently and actively exercising strategic global leadership, as well as its readiness to wait.

“There has also been ill-founded grandiosity and posturing”

Britain will need to participate in a variety of alliances in a world where there are many alignments. In politics as well as economics, geography still matters, and this is currently a major problem for Britain.

While we have solid connections inside NATO, they are essentially nonexistent with the EU. And given that the conflict in Ukraine has strengthened ties between the EU and NATO, this is all the more evident. We need to shift our perspective in light of the fact that the EU is a significant donor of international development, houses six million Ukrainian refugees, ships weaponry to Ukraine, is a G20 member, and is a regulatory powerhouse in the fields of trade, climate change, and digitalization.

A non-EU UK approach with Russia will be less robust and less successful. With regards to China, the same is true. Therefore, it is necessary to undo the UK’s 2019 decision to reject a political and foreign policy relationship with the EU. We must establish mechanisms and pledges to promote collaboration and synchronization across our several domains of mutual interest in foreign policy, defense, security, and development.

The fourth query focuses on our financial capacity. Given the situation of the public budget, it’s a good thing that not everything requires payment. The only way that Britain can support the rule of law is if we uphold it.

However, money is important. By European standards our defence expenditure of somewhat over £50 billion is significant; by US standards, however, it is relatively small (they spend $900 billion). For the same amount as we could boost defense spending by 10%, we could quadruple our budgets for intelligence and diplomacy. Additionally, significant portions of our money for foreign development have been diverted to aid Ukrainian refugees in the UK, at disproportionate expense to our standing abroad.

In an increasingly interconnected world, Britain stands to gain much and contribute much. The world system is changing. Our place is at the table, not at the bar.

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