The UK has a lot to think about as it reorients its foreign policy

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss speaks at the Atlantic Council Christopher J. Makins 2022 Conference in Washington on March 10, 2022 on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Speaking during an official visit to Washington on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned that the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are as dire for the world as those of 9/11, and said that the UK and other Western countries were paying the price. for years of inaction against Moscow.
The only practical suggestion she highlighted was that all countries need to do more in terms of funding their defense capabilities. She argued that spending 2% of gross domestic product should now be seen as a minimum goal, pointing out that during the Cold War many countries were spending more than 5%.
While his speech was aimed at an international audience, his main motivation for shaping this program was to make his mark as Foreign Secretary on UK foreign policy. This will build on last year’s post-Brexit Global Britain strategic review.
It is now six decades since former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared – around the same time as Britain’s first application to join what was then called the European Community in 1962 – that the United United had lost an empire but not yet found a new role in the world. In the years since, the nation has managed to find that role, with a strong and influential international voice, fueled by its twin alliances with Europe and the United States.
However, 60 years later, British foreign policy is again in flux, and the question of a British grand strategy is urgent and important in 2022 – and not just because of Ukraine.
First, the UK’s relationship with another major power, China, is also in flux due to the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing’s security crackdown in Hong Kong and wider developments, including the government’s decision Britain to exclude Huawei from rolling out the country’s 5G network. .
At the same time, the UK has completed its departure from the EU and its institutions, including the single market and customs union, and a constructive new partnership is gradually forming, which could be accelerated by the Ukraine crisis. . Meanwhile, after the “America First” emphasis of Donald Trump’s presidency, Atlanticist Joe Biden is seeking to reunite the post-Trump, post-Brexit Western alliance.

Although the immediate focus may be on Russia, proper strategy is needed in all of the UK’s key relationships, from China to the EU-27 and the US.

Andrew Hammond

The main challenge facing Truss is that ‘Global Britain’ is more a slogan than a meaningful strategy for the future of the UK. At least since the 1998 Strategic Defense Review, successive UK governments have failed to articulate grand strategy, instead proposing policies, plans and political direction with the budget as the driver of strategy, rather than the reverse. This is despite the creation in 2010 of the UK’s National Security Council.
In the past decade, in particular, this has been widely seen as leading to a “drift” in foreign policy. Post-Brexit and given the events in Ukraine, there is an urgent need for greater strategic clarity, with several key areas of focus.
As Truss has indicated, a top priority should be what exactly global Britain means for the UK’s position vis-à-vis China and Russia. Both are key nations and the UK will need to engage with them in the years to come.
When it comes to the Russian dimension, one of the key questions going forward will be how productive the UK’s post-Brexit relationship is with Brussels and the EU-27. While the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU in 2019 and the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement in 2020 provided some definition of future links, there is still much to decide. This latest agreement did not include collaboration on defense and security, as was originally planned and which will now be key after Ukraine.
The UK’s future relationship with the US is also vital. While Biden has long been a friend of Britain, including early support during the 1983 Falklands War against Argentina after the Reagan administration’s initial mistrust, he was opposed to Brexit.
Amid speculation over the strength of the personal bond between Biden and Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, some UK policymakers are concerned about the UK’s lasting value to Washington now that it can no longer play the role of that what Tony Blair called the “bridge” between Europe and the United States.
Another factor to consider is the UK’s position on the pressing challenges related to the environment, climate change and the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources, which the Ukraine crisis has made even more important.
There is also what has been called the “new” security agenda, which includes terrorism and cyber threats to infrastructure and data.
All of this underscores the scale of the task facing the UK as it tries to reorient its foreign policy after Ukraine. Although the immediate focus may be on Russia, proper strategy is needed in all of the UK’s key relationships, from China to the EU-27 and the US.

Andrew Hammond is a partner at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.

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