Britain’s efforts to regain lost glory:  possibilities and challenges

There was a time when the world said that the sun never set on the British Empire. As history unfolds, we see that the British Empire stretched from north to south, or from east to west. Large countries such as the United States, Australia, India, Canada, or small nations like the Maldives, Cyprus, or Malta were colonized by the Empire. Also, thirty-five million lands were overwhelmed by the British Empire, which means that the empire governed 25 percent of the world’s land. So the British Empire’s vastness was not only its presence but it was also regarded as one of the undisputed components of the then-world order. At the same time, the idea of governing the whole world was once a matter of dignity for the British.

 However, in the fallout of World War II, much of that glory was lost. Because after World War II, when the era of decolonization started, that sun of the empire became very stagnant. And in the post-Brexit period, many assumed that British glory had vanished forever. Because in the post-Brexit era, Britain is going through an economic crisis. EU members are also imposing an unannounced “blockade” on Britain for political, commercial, and technological gain. Because of the crisis in the UK, the British themselves are skeptical of the resurgence of their lost glory.

 Notwithstanding, amid so many crises, Britain’s recent political strategy sounds a bit hopeful. Because in the current global political circumstances, Britain is trying to turn around again. The presence of the UK on several recent political issues gives some indication of the resurgence of Britain. Many analysts have already called it the beginning of the end of Britain by demonstrating such indications.

First, we can mention Britain’s role in the current Ukraine crisis. For a couple of months, Putin has been intimidating Ukraine to capture, and unfortunately, he has demonstrated his real face by employing a large-scale operation in Ukraine on Feb. 24. However, the UK has been providing arms, technology, and training assistance to the Ukrainian army in response to the recent threat of an invasion by Russia. It’s not a new matter for Britain to proliferate its helping hands towards Ukraine. Because in 1994, Britain signed a memorandum whereby Britain pledged to honor Ukraine’s autonomy and sovereign integrity. Again, Britain desires to illustrate its capabilities and willingness to stand behind its allies. Similarly, the UK has got a shot to broaden its strategic links with East European nations by bolstering Ukraine.

 Furthermore, the UK has been aiming to be a crucial escort to counter “global” menaces like China. The UK’s presence in the AUKUS deal is an instance of it. In 2021, Britain and America declared they would supply all the necessary elements to Australia for generating nuclear-based submarines. The main aim of that deal is to curtail Chinese aggression in the Asia-Pacific region. Like the USA, the UK also ponders a threat to global security. That’s why Boris-led Britain is boldly participating in ending the Chinese dragon in the Asia-Pacific region. Also, through the submarine deal, the UK seeks a huge benefit from it by strengthening strategic interests in this region. Britain is often pursuing a vital role in great power politics by appalling China.

 Similarly, the UK isn’t only confronted externally but also internally. We can illustrate this with Britain’s ban on Huawei’s 5G program in the UK, which occurred in 2020. After getting such solid evidence from MI5, MI6, and American intelligence, Boris Johnson deterred Huawei’s 5G plan in the UK. They had a fear that China might snatch Britons’ information. That’s why Boris imposed sanctions on Huawei to prevent cyber security threats from Chinese state-controlled companies. Therefore, on the China issue, the Boris administration is following a conservative policy.

 Additionally, the UK is endeavoring to enhance its military capacity by innovating new offensive weapons and technologies. In 2020, Boris announced £16 billion in military expenditure, which is the biggest military spending in the post-Cold War era. By expending such an amount of money, Britain seeks to confront possible security challenges from Russia, Iran, and China.

 Moreover, the role of Britain amid the pandemic situation is commendable. In particular, Oxford-AstraZeneca invented vaccines that have been applied all around the world. Recent UK-based Jet Laboratory research has made a massive breakthrough in nuclear fusion research. So it’s certain that the UK is capitalizing on research and development projects. Along with America and Europe, the UK is investing in several scientific projects, such as technological progress, digital taxation, quantum research, etc. 

Most importantly, Boris’s administration is striving to carry out its “Global Britain” program beyond the EU region. It’s seen as the British government’s conception of Britain’s widespread role in global politics over the next decade. The mega plan includes foreign policy, security, trade, business, defense, research & development, and other aspects where the UK will contribute. In this case, the UK is negotiating with its crucial allies like the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other Commonwealth nations.

However, Britain’s ambition to emerge as a crucial global power won’t be so easy for it at all. because the reality remains so tough for this nation. We can illustrate this with Britain’s economy as an example. Since the Brexit situation, the British pound’s rate has been declining. Its GDP has fallen by around 3% since then. The UK-EU trade percentage has also plunged by around 15%. Amid this crisis, Britain is still persuading the EU to proliferate its helping hands. The UK is often bargaining with the EU in several sectors, including the Northern Ireland border issue.

Besides, the UK’s recent evacuation plan from Afghanistan has been glimpsed as a strategic defeat for the UK and the rest of the Western allies. Since the beginning of the Afghan mission, Britain has expensed around 40 billion pounds to “modernize” and “democratize” the Afghans. But the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban last year made Britain realize that all its efforts were in vain.

Additionally, a possible geopolitical & geo-economical shift is about to happen in the world. In particular, the uprising of China and Russia has appeared a threat to the Western world. The question now is how Britain will adapt to this new shift in world politics or whether Britain has that potential at all.

Similarly, the UK has to deal with several transnational confrontations like finance, trade, global pandemic, climate change, counter-terrorism, etc. In the upcoming days, these issues will take a huge test for Britain.

In conclusion, to bring back its lost glory, the queen’s soldiers have to combat such drawbacks one by one. But, indeed, the United Kingdom may not have the capacity that China, Russia, or the United States have. Yet Britain can only hope to regain its lost glory if it does what it can. And if that is possible, it is hoped that Britain will re-emerge as an important player in the premier league of global politics.

Ashiq Iqbal Jishad
Ashiq Iqbal Jishad
Ashiq Iqbal Jishad is pursuing undergraduate education from the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka. He's pursuing a scholar internship at Modern Diplomacy. His research interests include security & defense, migration, transatlantic relations, Eurasian issues, European Union, and NATO affairs.