ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT BACKBENCH UK
Toby Fountain’s article Britain’s military identity crisis: Questioning our place in a new balance of power is centred on the idea that Britain is in ‘a schism between an old Britain we cling on to that no longer exists and the new Britain in a new world that we are reluctant to acknowledge’. His argument stems from this point, but it’s a point I take issue with. The old Britain I believe he references is the Britain of the British Empire, the largest empire in history, which at its peak consisted of over 24% of the world’s surface. That empire may not be the same in 2017 as it was in 1913, but Britain is still one of the most powerful nations on earth. Fountain suggests that this ‘new Britain’ is of far lesser power, and with a far smaller influence. Being a patriot, you can accuse me of confirmation bias, but I disagree with his point and shall explain why the world needs an engaged United Kingdom.
The general theme of the UK is our ability to punch well above our weight. European Geostrategy, a geopolitical think tank, published a study in 2014 ranking the world’s major powers. The UK was placed second, the only nation on the list classed as a ‘global power’. The US was unsurprisingly first, classed as a ‘super power’, with the nations below the UK, including France and Germany, classed as ‘regional’ powers. I won’t go into detail, although having looked at the HUGE excel spreadsheet that lists the factors and data used to create the table, I find it hard to think of a better way to rank global power.
We live in an unpredictable world, something which Fountain recognises. It’s a world that justifies a sizeable military as any nation is constantly at risk. It’s also a world of evil. His article suggests we should pursue a foreign policy which puts our ‘own interests at its forefront’. Whilst I can understand this mind-set, I believe it to be rather immoral. There are those nations who see the evil in the world and happy to allow it to happen, safe in the knowledge that said evil doesn’t exist within its borders. These are the nations whose only foreign policy is to ignore what is going on outside its borders because it doesn’t directly affect its people. The suggestion is that we need to head in this direction. Prioritise domestic interests and allow the evil elsewhere to exist.
Here is why I take moral issue with the foreign policy Fountain suggests we pursue. Let’s think of the world as a small village, where each family inside a home represents a nation. My house is perfect. I have wealth, food, water and there is no conflict. I never have need to leave my house. And yet out on the streets and in other houses there is evil. Starvation. The use of chemical weapons. Gangs who murder based on religion or sexuality. The owners of houses oppressing the occupants. People who look to my house, with its wealth and power, to help them. Is it morally acceptable to stay inside my house, with the curtains closed, and let the evil happen, happy, because it doesn’t affect me? Or should I, with my riches and my power, try and make the village a happier place? Should I try to fix the evil in the world? There are those nations who are the former, Switzerland for example, who endeavour to stay out of the international conflict and focus entirely on the welfare of its occupants.
Leaving our village, I would be ashamed if the UK hadn’t participated in the fight against Da’esh, an organisation who murder indiscriminately based on sexuality, religion, gender, and even for being too happy. Da’esh are evil, and it would be wrong for the UK to stand back and watch. The Bosnian genocide is another such example. Here, the UK was faced with a crisis that didn’t threaten or affect it yet still chose, given the evil nature of the act, to intervene and try to bring peace to Bosnia. The UK made a conscious decision to do so and, along with the UN peacekeeping force, brought peace and saved hundreds or even thousands of lives.
The world needs a United Kingdom that is prepared and equipped to go anywhere in the world at short notice to ensure that human rights are respected. The article states that for the past twenty years the UK has failed catastrophically in its foreign policy, even suggesting that we have exacerbated the threat of global terrorism inside the UK. The UK and the US made an error in Iraq; they have since fixed said error. We have rid Iraq of Da’esh and supported their government in regaining control of the nation. It should also be stated that terrorists act to cause terror, not to avenge involvement in preventing their evil. Nations that have nothing to do with the fight against Da’esh have also been victim to Islamic extremism.
Britain has never been an ‘offensive military power’ as Fountain states. Rather, it has been a military power on a mission to protect the human rights of individuals, regardless of whether or not they are British. Regardless of nationality, we are all part of the same community, and a breach of the human rights in Syria should be treated with the same concern as a breach here in the UK.
The UK is truly a global power with immense capability to project our good will and altruistic nature to all corners of the globe. To retreat from this capability would be an international tragedy. As John Kerry said last year, the US and the world needs an ‘engaged’ United Kingdom. We always have defended and must continue to defend the people of the world, regardless of their nationality. Our place in the global balance of power must remain the same. To withdraw would be to say to our foes ‘we will no longer oppose your brutal evil’.