United Kingdom Strategic Interests – A Hostage to Fortune?

9 May

As WWII was drawing to a close and following the Yalta conference, it was known in the higher levels of Russian, American and British government circles where the post war national spheres of influence in Europe would lie. The strategic essentials had all been discussed and, if not expressly stated, it was understood that to avoid an unwanted further East versus West confrontation following the destruction of Nazi Germany, Soviet intentions to emasculate Germany as a world power and to create a buffer zone of nations between themselves and the Western European powers were strategically inevitable. In any case, in 1945, Great Britain was exhausted and bankrupt and in no position to enforce terms and the USA, arguably, more concerned with preventing a return to the pre-war colonial status quo than challenging Marshal Stalin. Confronting the spread of world communism becoming US strategic policy only after the now famous Kennan ‘Long Telegram’ (1946) and ‘X Article’ (1947) had been digested and a policy of ‘Containment’ adopted to counter the energing ‘Domino Theory’ of communist expansion.  

Therefore, what became known as the ‘Cold War’ arguably stemmed from this pragmatic understanding, thereby constituting the genesis of the global strategic position for the next 40 or so years – but made more sinister in many respects by what Winston Churchill referred to as early as 1940 as ‘the light of perverted science’. And whilst 3 later leaders of the USSR, USA and UK – Gorbachev, Reagan and Thatcher – put an end to ‘cold war’ and ushered in a new era of international engagement, the ‘perverted science’ – now in the form of weapons of mass destruction, rather than what Churchill probably had in mind: the misuse of scientific theory and practice in the hands of totalitarian leaders – could not be dis-invented.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the balance and nature of international relations has changed dramatically, indeed, the balance of world military, commercial and influential power, still very much US dominated, is now shifting markedly in China’s favour. This is no mere accident of history; the Chinese have a long term world strategy. Their engagement on the UN Security Council, in world markets, as a major world exporter and investor and with direct and growing involvement in Africa, Indian Ocean and South America are all designed to create national security through wealth creation – defence, the securing of resources and international influence (from a Chinese perspective – respect for their view) at its core.

None of this awakening of a sleeping giant should come as a surprise but, perhaps, should give the West pause for thought. Indeed, the British media is reporting that the Chinese Investment Corporation (CIC), already heavily financially involved in various UK investment opportunities, may be backtracking, for political reasons, on offers to part-fund HS2 and nuclear capital projects in UK. Which, if proved  correct, could constitute a flagrant attempt to influence British foreign policy through commercial means. In this case for Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) to not only apologise for engaging with a foreign dignitary (His Holiness the Dalai Lama) but to refrain from doing so in the future: Tibet being seen by China as an internal affair and not open for international scrutiny.

The implications of such manoeuvring, if successful, poses serious questions for all nations that find themselves so indebted to a foreign power that sovereignty of the state may be at risk. In this case, HMG must merely decide whether a couple of capital projects may have to be re-geared but in the past (eg 1956 Suez Crisis) it was the nation’s solvency that was threatened when the USA, an ally, used financial pressure to force a change in UK/French foreign policy. What will be the policy next time?

So at the core of British foreign policy must be a strategic vision that recognises – as Lord Palmerston wisely is alleged to have said – “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Therefore, it would be prudent for HMG to consider that the best interests of the British people are not served by allowing the nation’s values, finances and prosperity to become a hostage to any other nation’s fortune.

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