LAST WEEK'S VOTE IN THE BRITISH HOUSE OF COMMONS: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
"The British Parliament’s rejection of a motion endorsing UK participation in expected military action against Syria is nothing less than stunning – an event with a political significance that transcends the immediate debate over whether and how to respond to what appears to have been wide-scale use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces against civilians in their own country.... In part, the vote also reflects an always-present anti-Americanism. And the vote reflects what former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described as “the demilitarization of Europe–where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it....” But the British decision will have far-reaching consequences. These go beyond a loss of influence in the world (and in Washington, in particular). The label “special relationship” will come in for some derision. Indeed, the UK is in danger of separating itself from both the EU and the US, an undesirable status for a medium size country that wants to play a world role but has few independent options.... But to a larger extent the change reflects the reality that Britain and the rest of Europe are neither able nor willing to play a substantial role in these other regions that will define the 21st century. Instead, European politics are likely to become more parochial, focused mostly on matters of governance and economic policy on the continent. ."Richard Haas, "Britain drifts towards isolation." The Financial Times. 30 August 2013, in www.ft.com.
"Britain has not rejected America nor abdicated its role in the world. The Sun’s reports of the death of the special relationship are exaggerated. Thursday’s vote may have given John Kerry a chance to indulge his Francophillia (‘our oldest ally,’ purred the Swiss-educated State Secretary) but this was not us chickening out. It was a very British omnishambles. Today’s Daily Telegraph splash carries the depressing details of what went wrong. This is not the first time Cameron has conjured up an historic defeat from nowhere. Remember the Health Bill? The 2012 Backfiring Budget? The 71 U-turns? You could add the general election campaign, perhaps the biggest self-inflicted wound of all. The Syria vote fits a trend".Fraser Nelson, "Syria defeat: the anatomy of an omnishambles." The Spectator. 31 August 2013, in www.spectator.co.uk
"The ultimate aim of any Government in the United Kingdom must always remain the security of these islands from foreign domination or attack, the prosperity of the British people and the protection of our individual freedom and liberty. The following paragraphs consider how best these aims may be safeguarded over the next 10 years, in light of the international situation depicted in Part I and the estimate of the United Kingdom's material resources in Part II....Whether we like it or not, our interests are inextricably linked with those of the whole free world. We cannot hope to preserve them by our own independent action, and we are much too important a part of the free world to be able to retreat into a passive role like Sweden or Switzerland"."'Future Policy Study, 1960-1970': Cabinet memorandum, report of the officials committee," 24 February 1960 CAB[inet] 129 / 100, C(60) 35, Public Records Office, Kew. The key question in interpreting last week's parliamentary vote in the House of Commons' is: was it a sign that the UK is shirking its (remaining) Great Power responsibilities or is it merely a damp squib, brought on by incompetent parliamentary management? Given the fact that the self-same government a little over two years ago, was able to obtain almost universal approval for a policy towards Libya which involved a considerably more expenditure of monies and potential fatalities, it is easy and indeed au fond accurate to say that last week's vote was a mere événement. However, that prognosis overlooks the fact that such 'events' can and do have consequences: that what was merely perhaps an erratum committed by a second eleven, Tory Party House of Commons management team, may over time, become the beginnings of a long-term trend in policy. Currently, it is impossible to make a reasoned surmise as to what the future might hold. And while I am quite willing to believe that British PM Cameron, notwithstanding all his good qualities, may perhaps be rated as the worst Tory leader in government since Austen Chamberlain, the fact is, that the savage cuts in British defense spending by the self-same Tory-lead government, was perhaps one the of the main reasons that many in the parliamentary party voted against their own Prime Minister 1. And unless the cuts in question are reversed in the next five to ten years, then contrary to the then smug prediction made back in 1960, about the UK's future world role, it will indeed be the case, that 'retreat into a passive role like Sweden or Switzerland' will be the future. 1. For some of the underlying reasons for the vote by the Tory rebels, see: Fraser Nelson, "David Cameron failed the test of trust, and paid the price." The Telegraph. 29 August 2013, in www.telegraph.co.uk; Isabel Hardman, "Syria defeat: what happened to the whips?" The Spectator. 29 August 2013, in www.spectator.co.uk. 2. On the defense cuts that the Tory-lead coalition government has agreed to, see: Andrew Dorman, "Evaluating the 2010 Strategic Review," Chatham House: reports and papers, October 2010, p. 7; Paul Cornish, "Defence: Muddling Through," The World Today (November 2010), p. 6.