BRITAIN CAN NO LONGER ignore that its influence on the world is shrinking amid the rise of developing nations, a panel of senior lawmakers has said in a sharply critical report.
The group also said Britain should prepare for looser ties with the United States, as Washington shifts its focus from western Europe.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on National Security Strategy, which includes an ex-head of the domestic MI5 spy agency, Eliza Manningham-Buller, rebuked Prime Minister David Cameron’s government over its failure to accept that the nation’s power is in decline as austerity measures trim the nation’s military and dent its diplomatic ranks.
Britain’s national security strategy, published in October 2010, insisted that the UK would maintain its position as a major world power, despite budget constraints and the shift of economic might from the West to the developing world.
“This is wholly unrealistic in the medium to long term and the UK needs to plan for a changing, and more partnership dependent, role in the world,” the committee said it its report.
Cameron is making spending cuts worth about £103 billion (€123.3 billion) through 2017, aimed at slashing Britain’s budget deficit, including an 8 per cent reduction to its annual £37 billion (€44.3 billion) defence budget over four years.
Washington turns away
The panel of House of Commons and House of Lords members also urged Cameron to “reflect deeply on the long term implications” of the US turning its attention away from Europe.
President Barack Obama has announced plans to shift the US military’s focus back to the Asia-Pacific region following the winding down of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cameron will hold talks with Obama in Washington next week on the planned drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and the end of the international mission there in 2014.
“If the US is moving its focus eastwards, there is the possibility it will become involved in conflicts in which the UK has little direct interest,” the report said. “Conversely, the US may be less interested in situations involving UK interests.”
Committee Chairman Margaret Beckett, a former foreign secretary, said Britain must decide what “sort of country we want the UK to be in future and whether our ambitions are realistic.”
She criticised the government’s latest strategy as flawed. “A good strategy is realistic, is clear on the big questions, and guides choices. This one does not,” Beckett said.
The panel also criticised Britain’s national security council for failing to consider in detail the possible risks to the UK which would be posed by a full — or partial — collapse of the eurozone.
“It also needs to examine the long term strategic impact for the UK of any measures to save the euro, such as further eurozone political integration or the exit of some states from EU membership,” the panel said.
Britain’s government has insisted it has carried out contingency planning, and held discussions with businesses, over a possible eurozone collapse.
- David Stringer