The UK is today in the middle of a historic phase of change concerning international relations. Right now, they are trying to keep their relations with both the Commonwealth, the USA, and the European Union, but will probably soon have to choose which one they want to be closer to in the future.
The start of this period of confusion was the breakdown of the empire, and the two world wars. During the centuries before, Britain was used to ruling enormous areas, and their influence in the world was almost without limitations. Now, however, they’re standing more alone. True, the Commonwealth, as a remainder of the empire, still exists, but Britain’s influence can’t be compared to what it was. Today they have no more power than any of the other nations in the Commonwealth. This relationship to the former colonies is pulling Britain in one direction. The organization that consists of 54 countries is tied together by common history, language, economy and culture. They stand together working for democracy, human rights, social development, and economic growth, but the Union itself is not very strong. Even though they all have equal power in the Commonwealth, Britain has sort of a leader role. What Britain think is important to the other nations, and there is educational and cultural exchange, where most people aim for London.
This probably is a big reason why the UK wants to keep up the Commonwealth. It gives them a sense of still being big, that they can still influence without anybody else influencing them too much.
The relations between the UK and the US are also changing. These two nations have had a hate/love relationship during the last centuries, from the war of independence to the First and Second World War. They both used to be superpowers, they had the same language, they agreed on fundamental government issues, and human rights were important to them. Not strange they had a lot of cooperation. Especially after the US assisted the allied in the world wars, Britain probably feels that they owe the US their support. At the end of WWII, Britain was in ruins from the German bombing. The US passed by them in economic growth and is the only one that remains a superpower today.
It seems like Britain is gluing them to the US to keep a sense of still being a superpower. They usually support the Americans in everything they do, the war in Iraq, and the war on terror being good examples. But with the inequalities in size, influence and world power, it’s not clear how much longer the cooperation is going to last. Britain is very eager to keep their friendship with the US, while the Americans don’t really care what the Britons do or don’t.
The last and newest organization the UK is involved with is the European Union, the EU. This is a union that is growing in strength, and Britain can’t ignore it very much longer. Since they joined in 1973, they have been called the reluctant bride because they want to have as little as possible to do with the EU. Right now, from June and the rest of the year, the UK is holding the presidency of the EU, so maybe that will change the euro-skeptic attitude in Britain.
They have realized they can’t afford to stay out of it, but the idea that other European nations can participate in Britain’s own decision-making really bothers them. Especially after the Maastricht treaty in 1992, the Union is getting stronger and more influential for the members. The nations then got a common EU citizenship in addition to the national one, they got a common immigration policy, common foreign and security policy, and a common economic and monetary system. The Euro had made trade within the union easier and cheaper, and Britain (who did not join the euro zone) is left more outside. With Europe being the most important trade partners, Britain sees that it’s not very smart to stick with their own money, but they’re too traditional and proud to change it. The pound has been a national symbol for centuries, and for the moment they don’t have enough flexibility to change it, they say. The matter is up for discussion though.
Either they want it or not, the UK is placed in Europe and they have to be more active in what’s going on here. Their attitude is that they want as much influence and power in the EU as possible, but they don’t want to give away anything of their own decision-making. But the way the union is evolving, Britain may be making a mistake to stay only halfway in the union. As somebody said, there is only one way Britain can influence EU in the future, and that is from inside the union.
So what is the conclusion of the UK’s position in the world today? They’re crammed in between the EU, the US and the commonwealth. Wanting to be part of the US, but placed in Europe, wanting to rule the world, but experiencing that they’re not really needed anymore. Therefore they’re holding on to the Commonwealth to keep the sense of former power. The situation is that they’re now more dependent on others, than the others are on them. Even though they’re geographically situated in Europe, the EU is the organization they’re least wanting to participate in. Anyways, I think the European Union is the future for Great Britain.