Afghanistan marks a turning point – the once strong western liberal alliance is in danger of disintegrating

There’s a clear lack of direction in Britain’s long-term foreign policy – we must have clarity on what we stand for, or the world will move on without us, writes Salma Shah

Wednesday 01 September 2021 15:40
<p>Britain’s relationship with the US is increasingly fractious  </p>

Britain’s relationship with the US is increasingly fractious

While the situation in Afghanistan is still volatile and the complex efforts at evacuation continue, it’s worth reflecting on what this means for Britain and its foreign policy in the long term. Should we have been in Afghanistan? Were we right to leave? These questions will be hotly contested and will fuel a polarised debate for some time to come, but they expose, quite starkly, the absence of any long-term foreign policy objectives on the part of the UK.

That we were caught off guard, and dependent on the whims of the American president, underlines a lack of articulation about what Britain wants to achieve in the world. We know that Brexit was intended to bring back some form of sovereignty to the UK, and campaigners suggested the break from Europe was about not isolationism but a new form of internationalism, with a renewed confidence in who we are, establishing an evolved position for “brand Britain” abroad. But so far this has been nothing but rhetoric, with no sign of substantive policy in any direction.

The UK is a top-10 global economy and an equally important military power. Our resources and history mean that, for now, we retain the right to be at the top table. But we fail to appreciate that we need a purpose to apply all that strength and experience to. We’re also troubled by uncertainty about whom we want to do business with. Our relationship with China is awkward, our relationship with the US is increasingly fractious, and in many respects, our relations with the EU are downright hostile.

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