British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a televised press conference at 10 Downing Street on February 22, 2021 in London, England.
Leon Neal | Getty Images
Has British Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally given his country the global role it has eluded since losing his empire?
Did the disrespectful, ambitious, pug-haired leader of the UK – the biographer, admirer, and sometimes emulator of Winston Churchill – provide the blueprint for his own shot at greatness?
Or are Johnson’s critics right that this week’s release of “Global Britain in a Competitive Age” – Her Majesty’s Government’s formidable 114-page guide to the future – provides bold but inadequate cover for the historic Brexit mistake who will forever tarnish his legacy?
One thing is certain. This document was a welcome reminder of Britain’s strategic seriousness after Oprah Winfrey continued to whine about national decline with villain kings Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (who included a visit to their California farm and their rescue hens).
Johnson’s article is also a belated reply Dean Acheson’s stabbing speech at West Point nearly six decades ago in 1962, in which he argued, “Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.”
At the time, the legendary US diplomat praised the “enormous importance” of the UK’s application to join the then six-country European Common Market, which it would only join eleven years later in 1973.
His words humiliated then British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and electrified the media on Fleet Street.
“Trying to play a separate role in power,” Acheson said, “that is, a role outside Europe, a role based on a” special relationship “with the United States, a role based on being the head of a” Commonwealth ” “To be has no political structure, no unity or strength – that role is played.”
One wonders what Acheson would say today, more than a year after the UK left the European Union, 47 years after joining, and with current Prime Minister Boris Johnson now looking for that elusive role again.
It’s a fair bet he’ll be encouraged by the ambitions, clarity, and details of the Integrated Review. At the same time, he would wonder how little attention he thinks it pays to the central role of the European dimension in the role of Britain.
Perhaps the pain of divorce remains too close for sound reflection.
Nonetheless, this paper takes the UK in many of the right directions that could ensure its oversized global role as a medium-sized European country with world-leading security and intelligence agencies.
It also shows a deep understanding of the most pressing global challenges, which makes it a must for officials in the Biden administration. It’s inspirational as a rallying point for other democratic countries.
“History has shown that democratic societies are the strongest proponents of an open and resilient international order,” wrote Johnson in the newspaper, “in which global institutions demonstrate their ability to protect human rights, manage tensions between great powers, conflicts tackle and instability. ” and climate change and share wealth through trade and investment. ”
Most notable among Johnson’s new ambitions for Britain, as he put it in his foreword to the newspaper, is “to secure our status as a science and tech superpower by 2030”.
Eight pages detail how the UK intends to do this by expanding research and development spending, strengthening its global network of innovation partnerships and improving national skills – including a Global Talent Visa to attract the world’s best and smartest.
“In the years to come, countries that play a leading role in critical and emerging technologies will be at the forefront of global leadership,” the paper says, which identifies quantum computing, artificial intelligence and cyber domains as priorities.
Without wiping off the overused term “special relationship”, Britain would give top priority to relations with the United States (“no longer valuable to the British people”) while at the same time “overturning” its international focus on the Indo-Pacific.
Johnson has invited the leaders of Australia, South Korea and India to participate At its G7 summit in June, he visits India in April to intensify his efforts to deepen ties with the world’s largest democracy, which was under British influence until 1947.
There is much more to the pages of what is billed as the UK’s most important strategic rethink since the Cold War, which this week will be followed by its military dimension. The bumper sticker is that Britain will be “a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective”.
Many will argue that this paper cannot undo the strategic mistake of Brexit. They indicate the inevitable, long-term blow to the UK economy, both for London as a financial center and for Britain as the domestic manufacturing base for European markets.
You are wondering if the UK, with a population of 0.87% of the world’s population and an economy ranked sixth in the world, will ever have any influence to compete with what it calls one of the leaders of a European Union with a total of five Has enjoyed, 8% of the world population and 17.8% of the world economy.
That said, if Johnson’s intent was to confirm his Brexit decision, the paper comes at a good time. Criticism of the EU’s leadership and bureaucracy in dealing with Covid-19 and vaccine distribution is mounting, and the UK is doing well by comparison.
The most important thing about the document is its pragmatic, non-ideological and intelligent framework for the future. There is no Boris Johnson clamor in a paper designed as a “guide to action”.
You can see the fingerprints of the man Johnson selected to head the review, 40-year-old historian John Bew. Johnson recruited him for his broad perspective while also turning away from the more conventional choice of a senior government official or politician.
Most importantly, the integrated review has turned Global Britain from a maligned slogan into an extraordinary plan. If the UK can take action, the former empire may have found a global role to match its resources, capabilities, ambitions and the historical moment.
Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and President and CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of America’s most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked for the Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as foreign correspondent, assistant editor-in-chief and senior editor for the European edition of the newspaper. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place in the World” – was a New York Times bestseller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his view every Saturday of the top stories and trends of the past week.
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