In the post imperial world of the last seventy years the UK has sought to continue in a global role. This has caused arguments. Some have argued that we do need to join a United States of Europe, to have influence over a rising regional power in Europe. Others have said we need closer ties with the world’s only superpower, the USA.
Neither of these approaches appeals to me. The UK would make European union that much more difficult. We do not share a full set of common foreign policy interests with the rest of the continent. Nor do I see any need for closer ties with the USA. The framework of NATO works well. A participant country does not have to join in with an American war if they do not wish to. Particpants do benefit from a secruity guarantee when it comes to warding off any threat to their own borders. I have no more wish to be a state in the American Union than I do to be a state in any United States of Europe.
The truth is the UK does not have to decide to integrate more either with Europe or the USA. The UK is a serious sized country with an island base. We do not have the border issues that countries on the continent face. Our borders are easy to police, and entrants to the UK have to come via just a few main ports and airports.
We can choose what kind of a world role to undertake. We should keep our membership of NATO to add allies to our defence forces, just in case a new military threat should ever emerge to our independence. We should keep friendly relations with the continent, and reach agreements on trade, transport links and other matters of common interest with our neighbours. We should strengthen and nurture the Commonwealth.
In our current economic plight it might be wise to avoid too stretching a world role. We need a little time to get our public spending under control and to get our economy firing on all cylinders again. We need a strong diplomatic corps to project our interests and concerns. We should keep sensible forces that are mobile and capable of intervention from sea and air so we can contribute to wise UN and NATO tasks that make sense for us. We should have an aid programme to assist with famine, flood and other disasters. We should not be offering aid to nuclear weapons countries, or think that old style aid will lift countries torn by civil war or marred by bad dictators out of poverty.
We should think better of ourselves. We do not need to tie ourselves irrevocably to any major power.We have strong links across the Channel, and strong links across the Atlantic. There will be many things we wish to do with our European neighbours, and many we wish to do with our American allies. Each one should be judged against the questions can we do it, do we want to do it, and is it in our interests to do it?
We have lost an empire, but have a world to influence. The UK can be a force for the good. We should help assemble coalitions of the willing for causes we believe in, from free trade and democracy, to civil liberties and the attack on poverty.