By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi
There is a widespread belief among foreign policy theorists and practitioners that Britain does not have an independent foreign policy and it usually tows the American line. In the aftermath of 9/11, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was unceremoniously labeled by political satirists as President Bush’s poodle. But is this realty? In my view, the situation is the exact opposite; it is Britain that has driven the US foreign policy in the direction that benefits her interests.
At the advent of Second World War, it was clear to Britain that they do not have the resources and the capacity to counter the expansionism of fascist German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. It was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that decided that their safest bet is to recruit the support of USA as an alliance partner. But America was quite contented as a supplier of weapons rather than become a direct stakeholder in a European power struggle. The situation changed when Japan unwisely attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 as a preventive strike. It was a God sent for Churchill who eagerly welcomed USA into the fold of allied powers. At that time Germany was engaged in a major assault on Russia, operation Barbarossa, and reached near the suburbs of Moscow. Stalin, in desperation, was pushing Allies for opening a second front but Churchill knew that Russia is a monster they have to deal with after the war. He allowed the fight to continue between Germany and Russia for almost three years. About 34 million Russians died in this conflict, and it was only in June 1944 when a second front was opened by an invasion on Normandy, France.
At the end of WWII, Germany was destroyed and French were reduced to a secondary status after her occupation during the war. The only remaining threat to British influence was Russia. Churchill laid foundation of a Cold War, between allied partners USA and Russia, when he famously made his Iron Curtain speech in 1946 in Fulton Missouri, USA. This situation was beneficial for the interest of Britain as it reaped the benefits of becoming an arbiter in world affairs between the two competing powers. She benefited economically from the US funded Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. NATO, which is largely funded by the Americans, provided a security umbrella, thereby removing the need for a considerable defense budget of her own. According to the 1st Secretary General of NATO Lord Ismay, the goal of the organization was “to keep the Russians out, Americans in and Germans down.” In other words, two main competitors of Britain were contained through American power. Interestingly, Lord Ismay was Winston Churchill’s chief military assistant during WWII. We don’t know how the world would be like if the main architect of this new world order was re-elected as Prime Minister at the end of the war.
For assuming the the role of a superpower, and important ingredient to have is the knowledge of cultures and people from around the world. Out of the five permanent members of UN Security Council, only Britain and France posses that global diplomatic knowledge, aquired as a result of being colonial powers. After WWI, both these powers laid the architecture of the present day Middle East. Moreover, Britain planted the seed of Israel in the aftermath of WWII.
At the end of WWII, America, bordered by Atlantic and Pacific oceans, was contented in its geographic and diplomatic isolation. She, and for that matter Russia, did not had the colonial experience. It was this lack of reach that limited Russian expansion to its neighboring countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Realizing this diplomatic void, Britain came forward to enable the global reach of USA to her former colonies in Middle East, Africa, South Asia and South East Asia, and ensuring that British interest are safeguarded. This allowed Britain to benefit without losing face or treasure.
It should not come as a surprise that although anti-Americanism is on the rise presently, Britain still enjoys good reputation and relations with many of the states where American popuplarity is declining. It has been a lucrative partnership for Britain that has come at the expense of United States. Surprisingly, as US economy experiences recession, British economy is on the rise.
After 9/11, America was hesitant to initiate the second gulf war. It was Prime Minister Tony Blair who energetically came forward to influence world opinion against Iraq’s WMDs. British interests were driven mainly by access to fossil fuel. At the end of this adventure, the Iraqis were eager to evict the American but the British oil companies benefited from running the oil facilities there (search this in google “British oil companies in Iraq” and you will find treasure trove of news published by reputable UK newspapers).
It is interesting to note that Britain is immune to National Security Agency’s (NSA) eavesdropping mainly because of an intelligence sharing partnership with the US. It is not clear whether the information gathered from Germany, Spain, France and Brazil, was passed on to the British, however, the probability of this is quite high.
Tension in American ties with Brazil caused by NSA leaks, also benefited the British oil companies. These companies are the front runners for one of the largest oil contracts in the world, such as Libra field that is estimated to hold reserves of 12 billion barrels. On October 21st, Brazil awarded a contract to an oil consortium. In this consortium, Shell Oil, an Anglo-Dutch company, has 20% share, while two Chinese firms have 10% share each.
The US-British ties are now entering a new phase. There is increasing realization among British foreign policy planners that American economic and diplomatic troubles are serious. The British are deliberately diluting this special relationship to create room and opportunities. British parliament’s decision to not authorize military action against Syria is a watershed event and follows this trajectory.
The question then is who is going to replace US as a next partner for Britain? The likely candidate is China for the following reasons.
Britain established goodwill with mainland China by the peaceful transfer of Hong Kong in 1997. Middle Eastern and African countries are conservative Muslim societies and they may not feel comfortable dealing with a Godless China. Britain, as people of the book, may offer a bridge for China, as it has previously done for USA. Moreover, Britain may be able to provide good diplomatic cover to ease tensions in South China sea, and at the same time, keep American influence contained. The country can also use the historical suspicion between Russia and China to her advantage. The Japanese alliance with US and her increasing tension with China, will also be used by Britain to provide a counter balance.
As US economy declines, Germany is more than eager to take a lead role in NATO, along with France and Britain. While China has expressed frustrations with dollar as a default international currency, the nation is worried about her 1.67 trillion dollars investment in US treasuries, which that could be affected if no debt compromise is worked out. Britain may be encouraging China to move these investments into British markest to enable the pound to emerge as an alternate currency. Moroever, Britain can offer China her expertise in international finance to develop renminbi as a default currency in the long term while benefiting in the medium term.
Last year, during an interview, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown commented that Britain can offer high tech equipment to China while import consumer goods. He called it a win-win situation without any conflict of interest.
In this emerging landscape, Turkey was likely to emerge as a competitor of UK. However, the lingering crisis of Syria may have diminished this prospect.
Predicting international relations is not an exact science. The ideas presented in this article are the kinds of scenarios foreign policy planners would have to deal with in the future, and should be taken as food for further thinking. I wonder what Lord Ismay would say about NATO today. It might be something like this: “keep Germany in, Turkey out, and Russia down”.
The writer is a former President of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA and member advisory committee of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI). He has authored three books titled Freedom by Choice, Lessons from Quran and Islamic Social Contract. The opinion expressed here are personal and not the official position of PTI or PoliTact. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.