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Foreign Policy:
Towards a role for the 21st century

Royal Marines in Afghanistan The shape of things to come?

As Britain adjusts to its new place in the world, will it find its strengths lie in peace-keeping and diplomacy?

British Royal Marine commandos in Afghanistan

Britain was once famously described as a nation which had lost an empire and failed to find a role.

Quote Mark We are not a superpower, but we can act as a pivotal partner... a force for good... I believe we have found a modern foreign policy role for Britain. Quote Mark

Tony Blair, January 2002
Over the four decades since an American Secretary of State delivered that harsh judgement, successive governments have struggled with a central dilemma: how to square Britain's imperial past with the size of its military budget.

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BBC TV: Yes Prime Minister
Sir Humphrey and his colleagues attempt to avert an international incident.
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, put forward his own view of Britain's place in the world: if no longer a super-power, then at least a force for good in the world.

The story of Britain's place in the world over the last century has been described as one of managed decline: an orderly withdrawal from a vast empire.

Quote Mark Great Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role. Quote Mark

Dean Acheson, former US Secretary of state, 1962

Britain's imperial past has brought with it a series of questions about national identity. Most importantly: which way should we face - towards our erstwhile empire; our closest trading partners in Europe, or across the Atlantic, to the power which outstrips all others economically and militarily, the USA?

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BBC TV: How to be A Foreign Secretary
Foreign Secretaries on the art of taking a cat-nap

The legacy of our imperial past has helped make the post of Foreign Secretary one of the most sought-after jobs in government, but also one of the most demanding. Britain still retains its place at the heart of the most influential international clubs: the United Nations Security Council, NATO and the G8 group of the world's richest economies.

But, the Foreign Secretary can find himself a figurehead, a prisoner of his own elegantly efficient civil service machine.

Tony Blair & Jack Straw
Who's in charge of foreign policy: the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister?

He can discover, too, that there are tensions with his boss the Prime Minister, over exactly who represents the public face of Britain abroad.

Despite all the tensions, successive Foreign Secretaries have found the job a fascinating one - and many have been reluctant to give it up, when the inevitable cabinet re-shuffle has come.

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