Britain looks confused and beaten. This has to change

By James Rogers

As the United Kingdom has got bogged down in withdrawing from the European Union, its attention has been drawn away from wider geopolitical considerations. Indeed, as Britain leaves the European Union, the continent has started to experience increasing geopolitical competition.

Germany has gained further in strength, using its economic muscle and influence in the European Union’s institutions to coerce its “partners” into accepting its policies. Most recently, Berlin has even gained traction over the direction of the European Union’s latest package of security and defence measures, agreed last autumn. This has led France under the renewed leadership of President Macron to offer new ideas for the future of Europe, including a “transfer union” and an “intervention initiative”.

Meanwhile, Russia’s irredentism, revisionism and aggressiveness have not subsided, while China’s communications and transport initiatives in and around Eurasia mean that it will likely emerge in the future as a European power. And the United States, long committed to European security, looks increasingly like it will invest more time and resources in constraining China’s rise, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.

Seventy years ago, Britain acted very differently when geopolitics took a turn for the worse. Through the Treaty of Brussels and the Western Union Defence Organisation, it put in place the foundations of the modern European world. It took its rightful place as Europe’s democratic “ordering power”, binding together the Western European states and drawing in Canada and the United States a year later with NATO. Its objective was to create a “democratic geopolitics” to keep the Germans down and keep the Russians out.

Today, Britain looks confused and beaten. It seems to lack vision and drive. This must change, not least because Germany and Russia have their own designs for the continent, which will likely lead to deep and structural change over the coming years if not resisted.

As the Global Britain Programme’s latest report argues, the United Kingdom needs to better understand its special geopolitical role in Europe, and seize hold of the initiative. It needs to ensure the alignment of European integration to NATO, and provide leadership to its European allies. This can be secured through a “European Defence Initiative”, to uphold liberal democracy, refocus attention on the importance and centrality of NATO, and encourage Europeans to spend more on their armed forces.

The British have long helped bury the old faultlines of European geopolitics. It is essential that Britain continues to act to keep them covered.

To read the full report, click here.

James Rogers is Director of the Global Britain Programme at The Henry Jackson Society


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