Are we fighting the wrong battles?

An interesting piece from Matthew Parris in the Times on Britain’s power position in the world today:

“In a range of big foreign policy questions it is time we British embraced the politics of impotence. We should save our enthusiasms, our money, our international friendships and our soldiers’ lives, for what is doable.”

Parris argues that British adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq should be placed firmly in the opposing category: they were not, and are not, doable. On aggressive posturing towards Iran:

Britain should do here what we should have done before the attack on Iraq: give the world to understand that we are unpersuaded that the time is ripe for confrontation; but that we will not try to undermine a key ally, America, that has taken another view. We should sit this one, like that one, out. We are, anyway, impotent.

I can’t help feeling that he has a point. Are we still suffering from a post-imperial hangover? Certainly, Britain is still (for now) the fifth largest economy is the world, ranks sixth in the world in military spending, and holds a seat on the UN Security Council. But any sober judge must recognise our ability to project power around the world is limited.

As such, should we be concentrating the limited resources we have on showpiece moral projects, or must we be more ruthless? What Britain most needs in the contemporary world is not a democratic Iraq, satisfying as that is, but access to markets and to reliable supplies of energy. Is the belief that we can still play great power politics distracting from these aims, to our long-term detriment? Perhaps Britain must choose: either we accept our descent to a middling power and bind tight to the national interest; or we keep our ideals, but move them to a stage where there is the potential for Britain to have genuine influence – is now the time to look again at a single EU Foreign and Security Policy?


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