Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Reform of International Institutions: good or bad for the UK?

A long absence from posting? Culpa and mea, in no particular order. It's the summer, and wifi-less beaches exert a certain attraction even for me.

I have just posted a comment on a recent Spectator article, taking issue with its argument that the UK should fight tooth-and-nail before it relinquishes its systemic advantages in international politics, e.g. UNSC permanent member status, lots of votes on the IMF, that sort of thing.

Korski's lamentable thesis is predicated on an assumed strategic benefit to the UK in maintaining the presently unequal international system. He appears particularly unhappy about proposals to create an EU permanent seat on the UNSC and to afford similar representation to India or Brazil.

This is mistaken on several levels. First, I don't think the UK derives a significant strategic benefit from UNSC membership. This sounds counter-intuitive, and I confess to a little hyperbole. Of course there are tactical advantages inherent in the higher profile and, if you like, geopolitical "dining rights" (to get all Oxbridge on you) that come with P5 status. But in the long-run this can only be a Very Bad Thing for the UK.

Why? Because it's at least 80 years since the UK was a bona fide super-power. Get with the programme people: this is a relatively small island with terrible weather and a good line in irony, not an economic colossus bestride the globe, a la China or the good old US of A. An A Grade self-image is dangerous for a B Grade power and gives the UK ideas above its station and its duties. Far better for it to focus on being a constructive part of a wider, more influential whole (I speak of course of the Borg-like EU - you will be assimilated!). The UK has swallowed the misplaced pride, put aside the delusions of grandeur and done just that in the WTO. It may well be time to emulate this exemplary practice in other spheres.

Second, clinging onto something which you cannot conceivably keep a hold of in the long-term displays poor judgement and no sense of history. Cut your losses and extract the maximum PR boost by appearing to make a voluntary, high-minded gesture, surrender P5 status or - more realistically - register your interest in merging the UK and France seats into a new EU seat. And watch the world collectively blink in surprise and respect. A state that didn't have to give up the seeming influence UNSC seat, voluntarily compromising for the greater good? Impressive skills, Batman.

When your national reality is out of sync with your international status, it's better to face-up to that fact sooner rather than later. Start acting like a responsible, constructive and very modest player in a much bigger game, and begin to reap the benefits of team-work and pragmatic self-awareness. British people are rightly proud to live in this country. It has loads of things going for it. But auto-pilot travel along the well-worn imperial trajectory of Global Significance is not only quaint and somewhat silly, it really undermines UK image internationally.