Thursday, May 30, 2024

War in Europe gives the UK new momentum for a role on the world stage

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Since Brexit, the UK has turned its back on Europe and struggled to find natural allies as a solo global player. Now war in Ukraine could be helping the UK forge new bonds with old partners.

On April 9, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson travelled to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Organised in secret, the trip was widely viewed as an exceptional diplomatic success. 

Days earlier the city had been under attack from Russian forces, and a video of Johnson and Zelensky walking through the city posted by the Ukrainian Defence Force on Twitter quickly clocked up millions of views.

Just 24 hours earlier, the prime minister held another high-profile diplomatic meeting, this time with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Downing Street, London. As the two leaders posed for photos together, they spoke of the bond uniting their two countries.

“We are going to intensify our co-operation on all levels. We want to make progress and intensify relations,” Scholz said.

“Olaf and I agree that our two countries and our allies must go further and provide more help to Ukraine,” Johnson added. “Britain and Germany share exactly the same sense of horror and revulsion at the brutality being unleashed [there].”

It has been some time since such words of unity have been spoken between UK and European leaders. Since Brexit, relations on both sides have been typified by antagonism, stalled negotiations and counter briefings to the press. 

But the war in Ukraine has united countries in the West against a common enemy in Russian President Vladimir Putin. For the past seven weeks, the UK has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with allies in the EU, NATO and around the world to condemn Russia’s actions and support Ukraine’s fight. 

Doing so seems to have given the UK a burgeoning new profile on the international stage. 

“It’s a huge opportunity for the UK to find its voice in a very positive way,” Dr Melanie Garson, lecturer in international conflict resolution and security in UCL’s Department of Political Science, told FRANCE 24. 

‘Britain should be a great power’“The UK has taken the opportunity to raise its voice as a defender of democracy and freedoms, and to make sure it is part of the international conversation,” Garson says.

This position has echoes in the last large-scale war in Europe. 

“It is reaffirming the role of ‘great power’ the UK has been looking to play since the end of World War II,” Tim J. Oliver, Lecturer in British politics and public policy at the University of Manchester, told FRANCE 24. “That means a country that sees itself as a manager of international order, and one of the big players in charge of the system.”

A 2021 UK government foreign policy report states an ambition to be “a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective”. Throughout the war in Ukraine, this has meant collaboration with other countries. 

As early as November 2021, UK intelligence forces joined the US in sounding alarms over unusual Russian troop movements near the Ukraine border.

By February 21 – three days before Russia Invaded Ukraine – the US and EU started imposing sanctions on Russia, and were joined by the UK 24 hours later. It has kept in step with sanctions since then, although it was somewhat slower to blacklist wealthy Russians – some of whom own significant assets in the UK.

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