Friday, January 24, 2003
The Heir of Gladstone and Thatcher - 24th January 2003, 23.45

Looking back at the relationship between Britain and America, the current marriage of war aims and diplomatic approaches referred by some to as the US/UK entente, is far closer than any Prime Minister has encouraged since Thatcher. The last Labour Prime Minister who had to balance the demands of his backbenchers with American requests was Harold Wilson; and his decision was to remain unengaged from the Vietnam conflict. It is only a decade ago that US/British relations were nearly ruptured over the fall of Yugoslavia. Blair's support for America, enthused by his own 'muscular christianity' and crusader mentality, is conditioned by the traditional poles of British foreign policy that have enccompassed these ups and downs: the Atlantic Alliance and engaging with Europe.

However, in the last year, European powers have accelerated the process of integration through the European Convention and have emphasized their diplomatic goal, previously soft-spoken, of acting as a counterweight to the United States. This has come as a calculated response to the renewed international presence of the United States and has been accompanied in both continents by a renewed focus on difference amongst ideologues on both sides: in terms of values, economic models and diplomatic goals. The latest rupture is the Franco-German opposition to an Iraqi war; and their mortification at a snappy one fingered salute from Donald Rumsfeld by return of post.

In the post-Cold War world, the search for new models of engagement between states has resulted in a three different approaches: the transnationalist emphasis on international law, now damaged by the visibly self-serving actions of the Great Powers and championed by the Left; the technocratic European Union that presents itself as an improvement upon liberal democracy and has yet to discover that the relationship between legitimacy and power will bring about its downfall; and a realist approach that clothes itself in the rhetoric of international action for convenience. The flexible nature of international relations has increased the debate on how states should relate to each other, including the creation of such cultural constructs as the Anglosphere and renewed appreciation of soft power or the influence of diasporas.

Blair retains a risk-taking approach to foreign affairs, informed by his deep sense of Christian faith, although he is not above squalid deal making as his latest 'result' over Mugabe indicates. Thus, the combination of a moral approach to foreign policy, harking back to Gladstone, combined with a muscular Atlanticism reminiscent of Thatcher displaying Blair's attachment to the nostrums of the Cold War and his belief that he can maintain the balancing act of America and Europe.

It is too early to tell if the current divisions between America and Europe herald a wider division or if the current identification of the West (a word one hears less these days) will be retained and strengthened by future developments. In the short term, the US/UK campaign in Iraq has destroyed the possibility of a common foreign and security policy in the European Union. It has caused, through fear or opportunity, an attempt by both Germany and France to revive their core relationship as an attempt to dominate the forthcoming European constitution and has effectively sidelined Britain.

However Blair retains a view of British foreign policy that is rooted in the Cold War and his actions do not recognise the new roles that the US and European states have taken in the last few months. He displays a blindness concerning European integration that could prove deeply damaging to British independence.Will he have the strength of character and the political clarity to effect a 'diplomatic revolution' if he finds that the European Convention replaces an independent foreign policy with a united European view, based on qualified majority voting?


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