Monday, 2 September 2013

What should be Britain's place in the world?

Since the British parliament embarrassed the government by rejecting the idea of military action in Syria, Britain has been asking herself one question over and over again: where is her place in the world?

The fact of the matter is that Britain is not that great anymore. We haven't been a superpower in a long time, and most of our national pride comes from our sense of humour and our lingering ability to queue orderly, rather than because we are nation that leads the world. Sure, we still have stuff that we are good at, and we should be proud of a lot of the stuff we do, but, at least on the international scale, we are not what we once were.

Our military, although still advanced, is a lot smaller than it once was, and our economy speaks for itself. Compared to the US, Germany, and most of Eastern Asia, we have been losing out for a long time now. Even our place on the UN security council is something that harks back to an age when we were more powerful that we are now, since the organisation was created in the 1940s.

A lot of people have a lot of opinions flying about over what Britain should do next, and how we can cling to the last vestiges of greatness that are left.

Since we are no longer an economic or military superpower, a lot of people, mainly politicians, have jumped at the idea of becoming best friends with the people who have inherited our crown. The logic is that we just have to suck up to America, and then we can pretend like we are their equals, despite the fact that they are a huge nation and we are a tiny rock in the North Atlantic. Whether it is Tony Blair or David Cameron, being Prime Minister seems to mean doing what the US President tells you to.

A lot of people look with disdain at the "special relationship" we have with our cousins across the Atlantic, and instead point to our place within Europe. A continent that has been built out of the ruins of war, a place where modern civilization itself was born, surely must be where our destiny lies. These are the people who suggest sucking up to Europe instead of America, and who basically suggest that we adopt the European Union as the federal government of Europe that it is meant to be.

Then we have the people who vomit over both these ideas, and become sick at the thought of losing any sense of the British identity. They don't want the Americans, they don't want the Europeans, but are dedicated to being British. In their heads, they replay Churchill's speeches over and over again, thinking about how they would happily fight on the beaches to protect Britain. One nation against the world, free from foreign domination and rules, simply minding its own business, drinking tea, and working as hard as they can to defend being British.

A fourth group is the people who don't care. This is probably a happier group, unbound by sleepless nights worrying about their nation. This is a group that has got things right.

The reason for that is because pretty much every other group is over thinking things. They are desperately trying to hang on to some form of greatness because they believe that Britain should always try and be as great as possible.

Clinging to an illusion of greatness is not going to do much. A better, and much more reasonable idea, would be to try and do what is right, instead of trying to preserve our relationships with the countries around us. We should not, for example, support military action in Syria if the only reason for doing so is to keep on good terms with the US.

It would also be stupid not to act in Syria, if our only reason for doing so was to annoy everyone else and do things differently. There is no point in being military or economically great if we are not actually a nation worthy of it. If it was the right thing to do to undergo military action in Syria, then that is the right thing to do. All other reasons are political rubbish.

Rather than diplomacy being about loyalty and stubbornness, it should really be about doing what is right. Otherwise there is not point in diplomacy at all.

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