Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

The World Has Changed


Article by Dr Melanie Sully in the Wiener Zeitung, August 2021

It’s not the first time the so-called special relationship between Great Britain and the US has come adrift. There was the Suez debacle in the 1950s when Washington abandoned Britain and France to ignominious imperial failure. From then on London’s relationship was one of dependence on the US whilst France turned to Europe.

With Joe Biden in the White House the assumption was that Britain would have to curry favour with the new President. With his Irish roots and a possible trade deal on offer, London could not afford to upset Biden. With the fall of Kabul however any respect for “Uncle Joe” has evaporated. Across party political lines in Britain, dismay and condemnation of America’s disastrous retreat was loud and clear. Why ever again should the UK join forces in an overseas conflict at the behest of the USA only to be left in the lurch at the last minute? London must search for alternative strategic partners like Australia, Japan, Canada and even Germany and France. The rise of new powers in Asia poses an economic and political challenge to Europe which it has so far failed to meet.

The bedrock of the Western Alliance, NATO, also failed miserably to respond to the crisis in Afghanistan. Tearful pleas of help from female journalists fearful of their jobs and lives were made to the NATO General Secretary who looked on helpless. As so often in major crises it is women who suffer disproportionately. It’s high time that a female became NATO General Secretary. There are many suitable candidates from countries such as Estonia, Lithuania, Italy or Croatia.

Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May has also been touted as a possible NATO Chief. In her speech on Afghanistan in parliament she criticised the Government of Boris Johnson as has become her want. Also she had harsh words for the inefficacy of NATO and suggested major reforms were necessary. May as former Minister for the Interior has experience of international security issues and won a modicum of respect from European leaders for her negotiations on exiting the EU. The UK is a loyal fee paying member of the Alliance and its critical stance of Moscow lends it additional credibility.

Yet Britain is a divided country with an unpredictable future. The potential for conflict in Northern Ireland is real and if Scotland should become independent, London would lose its naval nuclear bases on the Clyde. The main fault lines in post-Brexit Britain revolve around race and religion especially in communities with a large percentage of Muslims and Hindus.

British politicians were vociferous in their criticism of the USA and failure of the international community in Afghanistan. But many voters will be relieved as in America to “bring the boys” home. They are weary of such costly ventures in far flung places of the globe. The appetite for a new global role will be subordinate to demands for solutions to domestic politics.