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 found his country the global role that has eluded him since losing his empire?
The irreverent, ambitious and flabby-haired leader of the UK, the biographer, admirer and sometimes emulator of Winston Churchill, has he provided the blueprint for his own shot at greatness?
Or are Johnson’s critics correct that this week’s release of “Global Britain in the Age of Competition“ Is the impressive 114-page guide to the future of Her Majesty’s Government a courageous but insufficient cover for the historic Brexit blunder that will stain its legacy forever?
One thing is certain. This document came as a welcome reminder of British strategic seriousness in the wake of new rumors of national decline after Oprah Winfrey sit with rogue royals Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (which included a visit to their California farm and rescue chickens).
Johnson’s article is also a late effort to answer Dean Acheson’s stinging speech at West Point nearly six decades ago in 1962, where he argued: “Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.”
At the time, the legendary American diplomat praised the “great importance” of the United Kingdom’s candidacy to be part of the then European common market of six countries, which he would not join until eleven years later, in 1973.
His words humiliated then British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and electrified the Fleet Street media.
“The attempt to play a role of separate power,” said Acheson, “that is, a role outside of Europe, a role based on a“ special relationship ”with the United States, a role based on being at the head of a ‘Commonwealth’ which has no political structure, no unity, no force that this role is about to play. “
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 chasing that elusive role .
Chances are he would be encouraged by the ambition, clarity and detail of the Integrated Review. At the same time, he wonders how little attention he pays to what he sees as the central role of the European dimension in the role of Great Britain.
Maybe the pain of divorce stays too close for aural reflection.
Yet this document takes the UK in many of the right directions that could fulfill its outsized global role as a mid-sized European country with leading security and intelligence agencies.
It also shows a deep understanding of the most pressing global challenges, making it a must read for officials in the Biden administration. It is inspiring as a rallying point for other democratic countries.
“History has shown that democratic societies are the strongest supporters of an open and resilient international order,” Johnson wrote in the newspaper’s foreword, “in which global institutions prove their ability to protect rights of man, to manage tensions between the great powers, to fight against conflicts and instability. and climate change, and to share prosperity through trade and investment. ”
Most notable among Johnson’s new ambitions for Britain, as he said in his foreword to the article, is “to secure our status as a science and technology superpower by 2030”.
Eight pages detail how the UK intends to do this by increasing its research and development spending, strengthening its global network of innovation partnerships and improving national skills, including through a Global Talent Visa for attract the best and the brightest in the world.
“In the years to come, countries that take a leading role in critical and emerging technologies will be at the forefront of global leadership,” the document said, identifying quantum computing, artificial intelligence and cybernetic domains as areas of interest.
Without dusting off the overused term ‘special relationship’, the UK would give the highest priority to ties with the US (‘no more valuable to the British people’) while ‘shifting’ its international orientation towards Indo -Peaceful. .
Johnson invited the leaders of Australia, South Korea and India to attend at his G7 summit in June, and he visited India in April to redouble efforts to deepen relations with the world’s largest democracy, which was under the British Raj until 1947.
There is much more to the pages of what is billed as the UK’s most significant strategic overhaul since the Cold War, which will be followed this week by its military dimension. The bumper sticker is that the UK will be “a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective”.
Many will argue that this article cannot undo the strategic mistake of Brexit.They point to the inevitable and long-term blow to the UK economy, both to London as a financial center and the UK as the national manufacturing base for European markets.
They wonder if the UK, with a population that represents 0.87% of the world total and an economy that is sixth in the world, will ever have an influence to rival what it enjoyed as one of the leaders. of a European Union with its total of 5.8% of the world population and 17.8% of the world economy.
That said, if Johnson’s goal was to justify his Brexit decision, the document comes at a good time. The EU’s leadership and bureaucracy are increasingly critical in its handling of Covid-19 and vaccine distribution, and the UK does well in comparison.
What is most significant about the document is its pragmatic, non-ideological and intelligent framework for the future. There is nothing of Boris Johnson’s boastfulness in an article intended as “a guide to action”.
The fingerprints of the man Johnson chose to run the journal can be seen, 40-year-old historian John Bew. Johnson recruited him for his broad outlook, while moving away from the more conventional choice of a senior government official or politician.
More importantly, the Integrated Review transformed “World Britain” from a much maligned slogan into an extraordinary plan. If the UK can run against it, the Old Empire may have found an overall role equal to its resources, capabilities, ambitions and the historical moment.
Frederick Kempe is a bestselling author, award-winning journalist and CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on world affairs. He worked at the Wall Street Journal for over 25 years as a foreign correspondent, deputy editor and senior editor of the newspaper’s European edition. His last book “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the World’s Most Dangerous Place” was a New York Times bestseller and has been published in over a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look every Saturday on top stories and trends from the past week.
For more information on CNBC contributors, follow@CNBCopinionon Twitter.
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