Sunday, June 09, 2002
Plenty of Questions, Very Few Answers

Emmanuel Goldstein has kindly asked me to contribute to his weblog, Airstrip One, and I have enthusiastically accepted as there is no thing anybody who writes likes better than entry into the blogosphere. Please note that my contributions will endeavour to maintain the high quality that has made me a regular reader of Airstrip One for many months.

My current career is in the financial services, but previous to this, a doctoral thesis was completed in the history of science. All details spared though if you wish to read the tome, please feel free to use Inter Library Loan and a microfiche reader.

Since my academic background is in history, anything written here will be informed by the historical context within which current policy or opinion is located. (Please comment if you find any mistakes or disagree with the interpretation given) However, contemporary events remain within the realm of our influence, and we should question the grand narratives that are used to justify particular policies or the maintenance of the status quo in British foreign policy.

For example, it is an unspoken assumption that we live in a world with one superpower. Yet, what justifies America’s entitlement to this term, with its connotations of unique power and strength in contrast to the other great powers? America’s economy is in relative economic decline and has been so for decades. The United States spends more on defence than any other nation but has not fought a major land war with another great power since Korea. Its diplomatic actions are constrained by the need to act in concert with others when it is willing to exercise its power in other regions. Would it be more accurate to describe the United States of America as a great power that is able to act globally but not on an individual basis? If so, we should move away from George Bush Sr’s concept of a ‘New World Order’, where the US acts as a global policeman and realise that we have finally entered the multipolar world that Paul Kennedy anticipated with “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”.

If this is the case, then the United Kingdom has an opportunity to renegotiate and redefine its relationships with the United States and Europe over the next decade in order to rediscover the freedom of action that it lost following the various scuttles of Empire and the confinement of the Cold War.

If we look to examples in Europe, will we take heed of the lessons provided by Norway, Finland and Switzerland as they define themselves against a greater power? What strategy will best serve our interests? What are the costs of maintaining the current status quo?

Philip Chaston


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