April 01, 2007

Britain's place in Great Power Politics

It is often unrecognised that the Bush administration came to power in 2001 with a clear set of foreign policy priorities, which were emphatically not about the creation of stability and democracy in the Middle East, but were about the Great Powers and the new emerging powers of China and India. As Daniel Drezner chronicles in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs the Bush administration has made more progress on this front than one might expect. It has pushed for engagement with China on a whole range of issues, recognised the Indian nuclear capability, attempted to adjust IMF voting ratings and also pushed for the reform of the composition of the United Nations Security Council. As Drezner argues such moves make sense for the United States, they open up the possibility of coopting India and China into a global framework, rather than seeing new alliances develop in different parts of the world which would undermine global peace.

What Drezner also argues is that this would weaken the position of the United States's traditional allies, the European partners who America aided in the last world war and who it supported in the Cold War. For Drezner an increase in the power of the Asian Behemoths will lead to a reduction in the power of the aged European powers. The problem for a British administration is how to deal with this reorientation of intentions- should we object for instance should our security council seat be taken from us and given to India or to Brazil even, should we object if we lost votes in the IMF and in other international organisations. How should we see our role in the world that Drezner is talking about?

It is interesting in this context to observe that the UK is the fifth largest military spender in the world at the moment, and the four countries ahead of her are all members of the UN security council. One of the reasons that we spend so much upon defence is for the influence that supposedly it guarentees us within the councils of the globe- guns and troops buy us seats on international bodies and the ability to intervene diplomatically in conflicts like that in Sierra Leone. There is though a natural problem for us with this- and that is that the UK's position is gradually being economically eroded. More and more we shall have relatively less and less to spend, in comparison with other nations- so even if we maintain defence spending at current levels, others like China, India, Pakistan, Brazil etc will be able to pass us with ease and outspend us at will. In addition given Drezner's argument and the levels of influence that the British have had over Iraq- it remains an interesting question as to what our military power even now manages to buy us.

There is of course the argument then that by weakening our forces we would weaken the Western Alliance as a whole. There are two problems with this suggestion. The first being that it seems unjust to argue that the UK ought to maintain forces without having influence over what happens to them when in theatre- in Iraq for instance the cosmetic delivery of British units into Baghdad just before the US elections in 2004 was widely ridiculed on this side of the Atlantic as an example of how servile the British were to the Americans. The second issue would be whether the resources devoted to the military might be best spent in other ways- in improving education for example, into research which would benefit the West but also the UK economy- perhaps even reinvigorating manufacturing.

In many ways we face dilemmas not unfamiliar to the British before. Since the end of the second world war, British Prime Ministers have had to face the fact that they have ruled not a superpower but a great power. The readjustment that our fathers and grandfathers had to come to was a readjustment of the reach of British power- from the days of 1953 when the UK could overthrow Iranian governments to now when we can do little for our troops arrested by the Iranians is a long way down. It may be though that in the next generation we have to cope with a further reduction of global reach. That's not to say that our foreign policy need not be independent and virtuous- the Norway route of becoming a country which specialises in peacekeeping and conflict resolution, or the Australian route of becoming a regional ally to the United States are open- what is not open is the current global deputy sherrif game.

British Foreign policy will look a lot different in a world governed by a big three of China, India and America from what it looked like under a big three of Russia, America and Britain- it will look a lot different from today. In many ways this is the debate which hasn't yet started in Britain- amidst the confusion of the Iraq war- the real question for the UK is about what our role in future global politics will be. It may be less prominent. Our task is to make sure that it is as effective at building or helping others to build the kind of world in which we would like to live.


Anonymous said...

Valid appraisal of the current mood of the ruling elite, and further valid projection of the current modalities into future.

However, invalid exploration of the potential scenarios, that has been direct results of the paucity of thought, and vision as currently reflected and exhibited in the almost pantograph mode that currently is considered as 'punching above our weight' doctrine.

Further, the resultant of the same paucity of thought, and vision, translated to almost bizarre pronouncements of institution of new constructs in aid of tamping the runaway growth of Asian economic block, while actively intent on direct control of the hydrocarbon supplies, in turn direct control of the growth index of the same Asian block.

Both of which aspirations counter the natural growth cycles, and apoptosis of the existing structure which have long passed their usefulness as reflected in the deficits, and inflation plaguing the control block.

Schumpeter and his contentions (although subject to much misinterpretations by the current bunch of neoconmen) on the first glance consider the creative destruction in the wake of innovation, indicating a linear growth and innovative equation, to the eye of the novice. However to the seasoned observer, the inevitability of collapse of the over blown, and unusual growth pattern entities, that fall victim to the skeletal deficiencies, and shortcomings.

In other words, survival of the fittest, somehow has little to do with the potential for force projection, and lots to do with the strength of the constitution of the entities under study. Ironic, who was it who said if you only have a hammer in your tool box, after a while everything starts looking like a nail?

There lies the paradox of incestuous dynasties, included pheraonic systems and our current closed shop elitism, in both cases the urge for continuance in fact resulted in destruction. Time waits for no man, never seems to be synthesised in a dynamic system there can never exist a constant!

PS will be back depending on the responses.


Gabriel said...

A very insightful post, however I still do not think any time soon the old European countries are going to leave the major scene in the world to lesser-and-growing new powers. To start, the only major power reaching developed or almost that status in the next twenty year is China. Period. India, Brazil (the country where I live), Pakistan etc still have a looong way to come out the holes they are in. Analysing a situation of a nation outside of it might be misleading due to the major desinformation or one-side informations that come from various medias. We, from the outer-ring of the world, can have a more truthful view of the old powers due to the mass information about them, by their own citzens and with no censorship at all, than any people from the old world can have from us. Not that most of people who I have contact with care, they are used to biased information, they trust their biased information and they berely care if the information is biased or not. We, from the third world have many, many, many problems, much more than any one could ever guess up there. Corruption is rampant, incompetence reigns everywhere, heavy labor laws hinders economical growth, unions are strong and corrupt, half of our population is poor or miserable, lack of good and cheap cargo transport infrastructure (some smartass president thought roads were better than railroads: result, this huge country needs cars to go everywhere, and cargo needs to come by truck, causing many undesirable problems), organized crime is rampant everywhere, police officers are ill-payed for the risk they take, huge burocracy to open new business crippling private initiative, very burocratic and inefficient government institutions, huge and polemic constructions that ends up going nowhere while corrupt people cash in the money and the worse of all: the people. Apathic, generally corrupt, lazy and incompetent. We see a wrong deed and do nothing to patch it, if it is benefitial, we quickly jump in to get something out of it. An worse, our good people are quickly moving out of the country because of the high unemployment rates, ill-paid jobs or just restrict market and limited growth potential. Our potential over the time is very limited in the short range, medium range and even the long range. Although I don't have data over the other emergent countries, I'm sure they have many problems to deal as well and none of it is such a glowing star as China. Yeah, some of them have 'da bomb', but it doesn't buy them good conventional weapons, nor boost their economy, nor reduce general poverty and superpopulation. I know India, for example, is shining in computational research and they got some respected scientists, but I dunno if any of them actually resides there, nor do I know if their social indicators and general population welfare is raising, nor have I ever lived in India to understand their people and their potentialities. I find such analysis dangerous and sometimes incorrect. Sorry if I digressed to much, I felt a uncontrolable urge to comment this small part of the post :). Sorry my english either, I went into a flurry of words and my time is rather short, so no time to review :(.

Gabriel said...

By the way, I didn't know there were paragraphs here (not used to comment on blogs and see all my paragraphs showing up) and I failed to see the "visualise" stuff down there. For that, sorry about the monopost.

The Evil European said...

The world is changing, just as it has always done, just at it will always do.
The future though will not be like the past, our past, as in Empires and new frontiers. It will be more a case of living together and an ever more crowded world. If the world is a stage, I dont think new countries come on stage and others leave. Its a case of the stage getting more crowded and different voices are heard.
A future path, one that is rarely discussed in the UK, but which provides a way for our voice and influnce to hold in this changing world, is Europe. Europe, in the form of the EU, is the worlds largest economy, the world largest exporter, the 2nd largest military spender, technolgical advanced, and a manufactering powerhouse, and is going to stay that way for decades to come, represnts a different route.
It is a far from perfect system, but that is more the result of how it was developed, in a particular setting for a particular reason (post WW2 reconstrucution and the Cold War). This does not mean it cant change to meet future challenges.
There is nothing new in 'tribes' pooling power in the face of a outside influence. This is one basis of kingdoms and nations. And while we have much that is different (and which makes Europe a intresting place to live in), we have a huge amount in common, and that is what will bind us. Membership of the EU has helped construct a diverse, strong and flexiable mechnisims for managing complex inter-realtionships that exist between EU members and our neighbours.
However, I think it will take a real shock, something like Suez, to shake the British more than any other nation into touch with the reality of a changing world.
I dont belive the EU will become a super-power in the traditional sense. I don't know what it will be, but it does represent one way, and possibly the only way, that our concerns, our collective voice, to be heard. I doubt many will agree, Europe is seen as a dead end (and makes people foam at the mouth, WHAT WHAT!), but yet, no alternatives (51st state?) are ever put forward.