U.S. Foreign Policy – A Time to Stop Drifting? A British Perspective

Tuesday, January 15, 2013, The Woodrow Wilson Center’s European Studies program hosted Lord Lothian, formerly the Right Honorable Michael Ancram Member of Parliament, in a discussion of the shift in United States foreign policy. Lord Lothian emphasized the implications the pivot of focus to the Asia-Pacific region may have for the future of the Euro-Atlantic relationship in the context of the present global tensions, particularly in the Middle East region. Lord Lothian’s extensive experience in foreign affairs includes a career as a Conservative Member of Parliament from 1974 to 2010. After his service as an MP, he was appointed to the House of Lords as a Life Peer. Presently, he serves on the Intelligence and Security Committee and is the Chairman of Global Strategy Forum.

The discussion focused on three key areas: shifting Western foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall, identifying a new phase of problems, and the challenges Europe will face with waning military support from the United States. Lord Lothian noted that after the Cold War there was a “unipolar moment for the United States to use its power to benefit the world…but after the Balkans (when the U.S. and other European powers failed to intervene against the USSR), it drifted”. He explained that with the events of the 9/11 attacks there was a clear existential threat to respond to in Afghanistan, however the purpose got “muddled up”. He stated that pursuing the Taliban was like “pushing water up hill” the trouble with which is that it will come down again. Thus, it was clear that Western forces must stay until the job was done, but the issue became defining the “job”. In this context, Lord Lothian identified three other areas where a new phase of problems has developed: Syria, Jordan, and the Pacific. With regards to Syria and Jordan, Lord Lothian underscored the “untenable position” we are getting drawn into in our misunderstanding of the Arab Spring and the rise of militant Islamism, which we perhaps unwittingly supported. Here again he points out that it is unclear what we are doing. Finally, Lord Lothian posited what the shift of the United States’ influence and interests towards the Asia-Pacific region means for Western foreign policy. Arguably, he maintains that such a shift poses enormous problems for Europe including undermining NATO possibly to the point of collapse, and exposing European countries’ inability, or in some cases unwillingness, to provide defense for the European Union at-large. Britain and France are incapable of financially supporting a larger military, Germany is not willing to “underwrite European security outside of the European theatre”, and other countries would face the impossible task of increasing their defense budgets “150-200%”. Lord Lothian’s final assessment: Europe is simply not able to conduct security the same without the United States.

In closing, Lord Lothian took the time to answer audience questions. One of the interesting points he made was in articulating the challenges that the European Union faces in its attempt to unify the European countries. Lord Lothian noted that there is a distinct difference amongst European citizens with regard to their identity. European citizens do not feel identified with their nation. There is an internal movement in Europe and the demographics are shifting. Europeans are not like Americans in the sense that each American, regardless of state of origin, identifies as an “American”, part of the nation at-large. Europe is made up of distinctly different people who do not consider themselves “European”. Thus, unifying them under one centralized government is not necessarily possible as it is in the United States of America.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *