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American Diplomacy
Opinion
June 2015

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United Kingdom on today’s international stage
Will the Mad King ever come to his senses?

by Kenneth Mathieu

Once upon a time there was a mad king that coveted the gold of a fierce dragon at the expense of an unchained princess only waiting to be released. What might appear to be a nice fairy tale funnily but sadly describes on the margins of the Ukrainian events the current relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union on one side and with the renewed Chinese-Russian pragmatic partnership on the other. While it seems more than unlikely to witness a major shift in Her Majesty’s foreign policy in the next couple of years partly due to the promised referendum on British membership of the European Union, the occupant of 10 Downing Street should reconsider the strategic importance of strengthening its traditional alliances for its own political and economical survival in the coming decades.

Among the major countries of the European Union, the United Kingdom under David Cameron’s government is certainly today the most characteristic of a purely economic bilateral approach towards the new emerging powers. Even if later followed by France, Germany and Italy, its recent hasty decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is fully symptomatic of a turning point in the cornerstones of the British foreign policy. Although the call for reform of the international financial institutions is today a necessary debate, one could also legitimately wonder how the global balance of power would evolve over the medium term given the minor role and prerogatives European countries would get in this newly Beijing-led financial institution.

Obviously, the rising economic powers are above all competitive partners, the Cold War is well and truly over and there is no debate in the need of every nation to develop extensive political and economical ties with one another in an increasingly interdependent and multi-polar world. It is nevertheless no secret that Xi Jinping’s China no less than Vladimir Putin’s Russia take full advantage of the divisions among EU member states, the absence of a common European-wide energy policy strategy or even coordinated positions on major geopolitical issues. Acting like a « lone ranger » in the new international security environment leads more than ever to the European Union being a political dwarf and on a wider scale results in the declining primacy of the western world. As the second military power of the European continent, the United Kingdom should be aware of the dangers of a unilateral business-based strategy with irresponsible stakeholders as demonstrated in the Ukrainian crisis. On the top of that, the country’s lengthy absence from the negotiating table with Moscow is particularly revealing of its loss of influence on the international stage. It would be worth learning from the Franco-German leadership in this respect.

« It’s the economy, stupid !» one might argue referring to the famous slogan of the 1992 US presidential campaign. Well, that is certainly no longer the case at least regarding the international relations of these last couple of years. On the 2015 geopolitical chessboard, the United Kingdom must recognize the importance of strategic and defensive alliances in the face of powers ready to use force and coercion against their close neighbors to achieve their political ends. The need for a higher degree of solidarity between EU Member States should definitely prevail over a China constantly expanding into African and Eurasian natural resources markets and a Russia that is prepared to pay the price of war and blood to recover its former sphere of influence.

To survive in this ever-changing world, the continent should take ambitious and decisive actions with sustained support of a United Kingdom as a global European player and not a unilateral actor. This does not mean, of course, we are ready for the establishment of a European army as suggested by the incumbent President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. We are bound to rule out the rising of a federal government in Europe, it would be unrealistic to expect such from secular nation-states. But at the time of the Ukrainian events, it would be all the more relevant to build a significant hard power with the gradual use of synergies between member states, though respectful of state sovereignty. The inadequate involvement of the United Kingdom to the European peacekeeping operations and their veto over of the creation of an EU Operational Military Headquarters in July 2013 are among several unnecessary obstacles to this fundamental asset that is military force. The United Kingdom can only reduce its economic dependency and become a major power of the 21st century by endorsing a genuine strategic autonomy for the whole European Union. The denial of any structured common policy towards the emerging powers would be a major strategic error for the country’s future. Only a concerted leadership between the latter and the Weimar Triangle could lay the foundation of an efficient and balanced partnership with the United States for global stability and security. It is high time for the king to come to his senses and release the princess, he would realize she can bring him much more happiness than the dragons’ treasures.bluestar

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.


Author Kenneth Mathieu earned a Master’s degree in European Politics from the Institute of European Studies in Paris. He also graduated from Lille University with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Law and Political Science. Kenneth held an internship with the political service of the Representation of the European Commission in France in 2011 and recently spent twelve months in Bamako, Mali working as an international volunteer at the Embassy of France.

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