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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
What is Britain's role in the world?

How should Britain see itself in the world? Are we a major league player, or must we accept that our role will be as a small team member in international affairs?

Conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East have focused attention on the role of Britain in international conflict. Do we side naturally with our European allies or do we relate more to America?

With a Republican administration in the USA, are the Conservatives more likely to support the "special relationship"? Are Liberal Democrats, the most pro-European of the three parties, more likely to support EU initiatives? Is a middle way possible?

Where is Britain's place in international affairs and does it matter which political party is in office how we are seen abroad?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reactions

The most valuable role that the UK provides to the rest of the world is as a 'de facto' example of what happens to a country and culture that is in terminal decline. If you want to succeed, just take a look at how the UK behaves, both politically and morally, then adopt policies that are completely the opposite. Your country's future happiness and prosperity will then be secured!
Joe, London UK


Britain has come to a fork in the road, and you must burn one bridge in order to travel the other.

Bobby Alpy, Saratoga N.Y.
Britain has come to a fork in the road, and sooner or later she'll have to choose which way to go. Once she's chosen there is no turning back. You must burn one bridge in order to travel the other. It's going to be interesting to see which way you go. Very interesting indeed.
Bobby Alpy, Saratoga N.Y.

I can't wait for Britain to become more involved in Europe. The other main powers of France and Germany can show us a thing or two about how a country should be run considering their excellent public services. Why shouldn't we take a leaf out of their book and learn a while. I would hate to think of the British as isolated and steeped too far in their past. Its time for change, yes change is hard but it's going to be for the better, I'm sure.
Jason, Camberley

As we are the only English speaking country in the EU, whenever it comes to relations between the EU and US everyone would automatically think of Britain. I don't think we'd be forgotten like say, Wyoming in the US. Who cares about Wyoming??
Aaron Shaw, Kent, England


Why are afraid that we should be drawn into a super state of Europe when it has never been the unifying ambition of Europe to do so?

Yanis, Southampton, UK
Neither, do I agree with the notion that we can resolve the issue of our own identity by allowing those outside forces, such as the US or Europe to weave our destiny. I certainly do not believe that we can re-discover our own sense of identity in the 21st century by adopting the US as our role model. This is not to suggest that we should uniformly oppose the US but rather that we develop an independent attitude towards our relations with the outside world. Europe appears ideal as a forum for the UK to express itself, but not necessarily for it to subject itself to a subservient super state. The question, one might wish to ask is why are afraid that we should be drawn into a super state of Europe when it has never been the unifying ambition of Europe to do so? Furthermore, it assumes that Europe is some how conspiring against us. One should never act in fear, if one is to be a success. Otherwise we may as well just give up our ambitions to be a strong, vibrant and confident nation.
Yanis, Southampton, UK

I can't understand why so many British people are against Europe. I am always surprised to read some comments here, saying: "if we join EU, we will lose our sovereignty and our power, etc...". Are you seriously thinking EU members want to lose that? Britain should let the past be the past and should think about the future. Saying the EU is a bureaucracy is nonsense and people who say that should read how the European Community runs. The US is the only superpower at the moment and that is not good for the stability in the world (see the Bush's decisions). Europe could play at the same level but it depends on our choices. It is evident that Britain has no main role in the world today, and neither do France, Germany or Japan. Only a strong Europe can protect us against the economic instability and allow us to be as powerful as US is (Don't you think Airbus is a good example?). So, Britain, don't hesitate any more, you're welcome here.
Christophe, Rouen, France


Stern Magazine has just published a 12 page article of how bad Britain is, I agree with Stern.

Angela Severn-Morrell, Leicester, England
I think it is about time we listened to what Europe is saying about us, Stern Magazine has just published a 12 page article of how bad Britain is, I agree with Stern. It is time we as a nation stood up to be counted. We don't need to be part of Europe or America, we need to be independent and strong. It is time we stood up to be counted and fought for the good things that used to make Britain Great.

It amazes me how little emphasis has been given to global issues in this election. The 4 million people who signed the Jubilee 2000 petition to cancel third world debt and the thousands of British people who have travelled to G8 world leaders' summits have demonstrated strong and popular concern for the levels of inequality and poverty in the world. In fact, most young people interested in politics are choosing to work on these issues rather than become involved with party politics. With widespread predictions of a low turnout, is it not time for politicians to wake-up to the issues that concern us most?
Nick Buxton, London, England

Forget ethics and common sense, it's all about money. Our State Department (Foreign Office counterpart) continues a ridiculous policy for Cuba (ignoring all the reasons it applies to other human rights violators when we do business with them), but happily jumps into bed with China and its 1bn consumers and cheap labour. If there's enough money to be made, we'll do business with them. If pushing free enterprise in a country is the way to promote freedom (the excuse our government uses), then why are we continuing to punish Cuba? I'll tell you why: votes. As long as the Cuban community in Florida runs our Cuba policy, nothing will change. Foreign policy is economic policy.
Keith Hagerman, Maryland, USA

It is time the government instituted the ethical foreign policy it spoke of in 1997. We are still selling arms to many regimes which are using them in quite horrific ways. We are still trailing behind the U.S.A. although our stated aims are not the same as theirs (especially the new President. WHY?
P.J. Manning, London

I think our world position is a balancing act between the US and Europe. This is how we are geographically placed, and our political position reflects this. I speak as someone who has spent time in both the US and parts of Europe. The British government should maintain economic growth and stability based on self-sufficiency. We can have strong links to both America AND Europe.
Carolyn Ward, Nottingham, England


Make no mistake, [the U.S.] administration will sell you out if it serves their purpose.

Keith Hagerman, Maryland, USA
I wish the UK would be more critical of the US (environment, missile defence, overreaching foreign policy). Make no mistake, this administration will sell you out if it serves their purpose.

As far as the EU is concerned, look to your history as to why your American cousins fought for independence: a smothering disinterested, distant government. I'm unable to understand why the Brits would want to be absorbed by Brussels (I think of the grocer taken to court for using pounds instead of kilograms! Look up the Stamp Act!) Perhaps it's our shared history, but I don't see the UK as European, but rather as an independent light on the other side of the pond.
Keith Hagerman, Maryland, USA

I thought all the super power, world player stuff had died with the cold war, the 'special relationship' was concocted by a couple of paranoid old crackpots (Thatcher, Reagan) and as the Americans seem to be regressing into the old, couldn't give a toss about the environment, diplomacy and, dare I say it, democracy. We should leave them to it and forge stronger links with Europe. I do not agree with B J Thornton, I feel I have more in common with most French, Dutch and even German people than I do with most Americans or even Australians.
Stuart, London, UK


Unfortunately, Britain's role in international affairs seems to be dependant on who is running the White House.

Arvind, London
If you look at the history of the last 30-40 years, you will see that when there has generally been a Republican as president of the USA, there has been a Conservative prime minister in the UK. Similarly, when there has been a Democratic president, there has been a Labour prime minister. Unfortunately, Britain's role in international affairs seems to be dependant on who is running the White House.
Arvind, London, UK

So the Conservatives have a mantra: "in Europe not run by Europe". May I suggest they have two others: "in capitalism, run by capitalism" and "out of the USA, run by the USA"?
Pascal Jacquemain, Croydon, UK (French)

I'd like to know more about how our politicians intend to respond to the new US President. As Bush's position on the environment shows, we are dealing with a quite different US government than we were in the recent past and therefore a different approach is needed.
Jenn Wilson, Bucks, UK


Britain's role is clearly outside the European union where it can do most good

D. Tyler, England
I think if you look very hard the historical and social links between Britain and America are much closer than those of Europe. British links with the rest of the World are much closer like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to name a few, Britain's links with the rest of the world have been damaged by being constrained inside the European union. Britain's role is clearly outside the European union where it can do most good. Britain has thus far got nowhere, which is exactly where her European partners want her.
D. Tyler, England

This special relationship has always been one sided. The special side has always been the government of Britain capitulating to anything asked of it by the US government. And where was it to be found during the Suez Crisis? Didn't our special pals cause a run on the pound to put pressure on the British government to withdraw from Suez?
Dominic Corby, London UK


Forget the "special relationship" and do what is right for Britain, not the USA

Alan, Denver, CO, USA
The American media never gives the UK any credit for its assistance in international issues or conflicts, such as its ongoing role in the Middle East and Balkans. Why Britain clings to this one sided relationship is beyond me. Forget the "special relationship" and do what is right for Britain, not the USA.
Alan, Denver, CO, USA

Our World role at present can be characterised in one phrase- 'lapdog to the USA'. While I admire many things about their country, the way we unerringly support them in unethical enterprises like the bombing of Iraq is unacceptable. As for Europe, if we can 'win' against them in war, why can't we do so in peace and build a really successful union of countries that prospers together?
Stephen Preisner, Preston, UK

Britain shouldn't even think about its role in the world until it sorts itself out.
Steven Andrews, Rochdale, UK


Britain's role in the world seems to be to apologise for history

Paul R, Oxford, UK
Had we ever bothered to treat the Commonwealth with the dignity it deserves, then we could have the largest free-trade area in the world. There would be no squabbling about Europe because it would be irrelevant in comparison. Britain's role in the world seems to be to apologise for history and to play lapdog to everyone else.
Paul R, Oxford, UK

Clearly right from the first, the whole European venture has been established on lies and deceit. People are getting angry and feel disenfranchised while our politicians lie and get fat on our heavy taxed burden. The three parties that are allowed on TV are left of centre, they all voice the same old mantra. The only real voice raised in Opposition is the UK Independence Party. It is the only one with a contrary view of Europe that fulfils the need of a large group of the electorate. This is supposed to be a democracy. People are angry. I am and I'm usually apolitical.
B J Thornton, Farnborough, Great Britain

I thought I must reply to John from London: But so does every country - Leave the past where it belongs, in the past and move on. You cannot judge what happened in history by today's standards
Colin Mackay, UK


If Britain can command respect it is because of its potential power, not the actual power that it holds.

Lulu, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The USA does value Britain, but the general opinion is that Britain is the lapdog, the eternal supporter who has no fundamental role of its own. Certain aspects of its foreign policy have not helped to gather support from other areas of the world, and if Britain can command respect it is because of its potential power, not the actual power that it holds. If this power is to be developed into something useful, the government will have to adopt new policies.
Lulu, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Britain matters more than it thinks. America values her and would hate to see London's role in the world reduced by an overreaching Brussels. One out of 15 or more votes in the EU is not good enough. As an American who loves his country, I would point out that it is the British, and not the American system, that is most used in the world. The Monarchy remains a symbol of British liberty and influence - as is demonstrated by those republics where the President fills the monarchical role.
James Geoffrey, Washington, USA


I honestly don't think we are taken seriously any more

Linda, USA (British Citizen)
Britain is not highly regarded as a nation with any significant power - more as the nation that once was a superpower but lost its empire - for good. I honestly don't think we are taken seriously any more but perhaps a lot of this derives from our own low morale. Living in the US has taught me how proud I am to be British but I never knew that until I moved away. Americans are taught from day one to be proud of their country - maybe we can learn some lessons from this to improve how we are perceived by the rest of the world.
Linda, USA (British Citizen)

Today's foreign policy is not just a pro-EU, pro-US split, although these are the areas which most often grab the headlines. I think that British foreign policy needs to have a more global vision, be more aware of what is going on in my part of the world, and realise that its foreign policy affects not just people in 'other countries', but people within its own national borders as well.
Mark, Tokyo, Japan

Any ethical foreign policy pretensions this government have adopted have been absolute nonsense. Of course it's possible to have an ethical foreign policy; as the issues surrounding asylum seekers prove we do not live in a vacuum - there is a reaction to every reaction. Maybe we should all think about why this government is subsidising the Illisu dam project in Turkey when thousands of Kurdish refugees turn up at Dover rather than blaming the people it affects.
Chris Welch, Sheffield, UK

For me foreign policy is important living where I do. I'd like to see Britain spending less time crawling to America and more time working with the EU on a Middle East policy that's less pro-Israeli. Also I think Son of Star Wars is destabilising, unworkable and would not benefit the UK in the slightest.
Stephen P Roach, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia


Will Britain have more power as an independent nation with its own voice or as a part of a European superpower?

John W, Liverpool, UK
The question is: will Britain have more power as an independent nation with its own voice or as a part of a European superpower? We have to decide! As for me I am not sure... I just want the best for this country.
John W, Liverpool, UK

I would like to see the next UK government put more spine into its "special" relationship with the US. Being Uncle Sam's yes-man does not restore Britain to its former status as a world power - a spurious goal to begin with. Let us especially keep pieces of America's odious "missile shield" out of this country.
Peter Smith, London, UK

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