On 15 May I attended the annual meeting of former UK United Nations civil servants in Bournemouth. I had been invited to give a lecture. I took as my theme British Foreign Policy – the need for a fundamental rethink.
My basic argument is that the UK obsession with the special relationship with the US, its seat on the Security Council and its possession of nuclear weapons all flow from the failure to come to terms with the way in which the end of empire has changed Britain’s role in the world. The ugly idea of wanting to “punch above our weight” flows from this. I suggest that in the Cold War days this obsession was not so harmful, particularly as Harold Wilson was wise and brave enough to keep us out of the Vietnam war. But now the US is failing to come to terms with the changes taking place in post-Cold War world and making enormous mistakes, Britain’s craven support for US policy exacerbates those mistakes.
I do not suggest that we should fall out with the US but that we should reconsider how we can play a more useful role in the world. The final part of my argument is that the adoption by Britain since 1997 of a strong commitment to international development policy points to a possible different role from Britain.