How do you take part in someone else’s historical moment? Christopher Coker, a sharp observer of world affairs, posed this question last spring, speaking at an event at RUSI. He asked it in the context of the unipolar moment – when the United States “was really the only country in town” – and how we tried to prove ourselves useful to the Americans in order to take part in their Place in the Sun. The question informs a larger one that no one in British politics has yet answered, even though the answer should inform every foreign policy discussion we have in this country: what is the UK’s role in the Pacific Century?
I believe it is more correct to call the 21st Century the ‘Pacific’, rather than the ‘Asian’ century, as the United States will continue to play a dominant role. And the strategy to play that role is relatively simple for them: continue what they’ve been doing in the region since 1945, only with greater resources and more adroitness. The United Kingdom is not blessed with such strategic clarity, however, which poses a challenge to the British political class, as they are used to taking their ideas about foreign policy from America.
We need to come up with an answer to The Question fast because it will influence everything else this country does from its relationship with the United States to its approach towards Europe to the composition of the armed forces.