What will a post-pandemic British foreign policy look like?

Introduction

The United Kingdom’s post-corona foreign policy is likely to be driven by some crucial economic factors. On the one hand, it will continue to work closely with countries like the United States, Japan, Australia, and India to reduce its dependence upon China. On the other hand, the UK cannot totally bank on the US for achieving its economic goals, given the unpredictability of US President Donald Trump.

The UK needs to look at new Free Trade Agreements (FTA’s) and also be part of multilateral arrangements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will enable it to diversify its supply chains.

Important upcoming economic decisions

Given the changing environment of the post-corona world, London now has an eye on enhancing self-sufficiency and reducing reliance on China.

The Boris Johnson government has set up a committee — ‘Project Defend’ — which seeks to study the UK’s economic dependence with hostile countries (with a specific thrust on China), especially for sensitive imports. Based on the findings of Project Defend’s report, for example, the UK will work towards the relocation of pharmaceutical companies. While changing supply chains overnight may not be an easy task, the Boris Johnson Administration has made an important decision.

The UK’s recent decision on Huawei

The Boris Johnson Administration has also recently decided to reduce Huawei’s participation in the 5G network to zero by 2023. In January 2020, Boris Johnson had given a go ahead to Huawei’s participation in the ‘non-core’ element of the 5G network, with important restrictions, as well as a 35% market share cap. This decision drew flak from a section of Conservative Party politicians, who for long have been arguing that the UK needs to be cautious with regard to close economic ties with China, since this has serious security implications. The Trump administration had also expressed its displeasure with the Boris Johnson administration. The US President and senior officials in his administration have publicly expressed their unhappiness, saying that this decision could have an impact on security cooperation between both countries.

In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, ties between the UK and China have gone downhill (senior officials of the Johnson administration have criticized China for suppressing information with regard to the outbreak of the pandemic), and Johnson’s decision was driven by two factors: 1) increasing pressure from Conservative MP’s who had threatened to vote against the government’s decision, and 2) the fact, that the UK is keen to go ahead with an FTA with the US (there have been differences between the US and UK, however, on the issue of the FTA, with the US urging the UK to make a choice between China and the US).

Apart from this, the recent US sanctions imposed on Huawei have also played a role in Johnson’s decision of reducing Huawei’s participation by 2023 (the Trump administration has made it compulsory for foreign manufacturers using U.S. chipmaking equipment to obtain a license before being able to sell chips to Huawei).

D10 network

Interestingly, the UK has also proposed that a group of 10 countries, dubbed as D10, joins hands to provide an alternative to Huawei’s 5G network and other technologies with the aim of reducing dependence upon China. The proposed grouping would consist of the US, Italy, Japan, the UK, South Korea, India, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia.

The UK has thus taken the lead in providing an alternative to the now bipolar status quo. Significantly, Trump has also stated that he is keen to expand the G7 and include not only India and South Korea but Russia as well.

UK also keen to play an important role in the TPP

While on the one hand the UK is trying to reduce its dependence upon China by joining hands with the US and like-minded countries, on the other the UK is also seeking membership within the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which consists of 11 members (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam).

While the idea of the TPP was proposed by former US President Barack Obama, the first decision taken by Trump after his electoral triumph in 2016 was to withdraw from the agreement. Japan has been playing an important role in the TPP, and efforts are being made to expand its membership so that democratic dependence on China is still further reduced.

The UK faces numerous challenges and while it does need to reshape its economic relationship with China, London recognizes that this cannot be done overnight, so enhancing FTAs and joining the TPP are important steps in geopolitical context.

From a purely strategic perspective, the UK-US relationship has been important and with Johnson and Trump at the helm, and increasing convergence on attitudes vis-à-vis China, this is likely to get further strengthened (though of course there will be differences on both economic and geopolitical issues). The idea of the D10 grouping mooted by the UK has also sent a clear message that in spite of numerous economic challenges, the UK is keen to emerge as an important player, in its own right, in the post-corona world order.

First Contact, libertarianism, and astropolitics

Permit me to speculate.

Earth is currently composed of 193 or 195 states, depending on who you ask. There are several more states that have an ambiguous status within the world order. Of these states, dozens have bureaucracies dedicated to scientific research in outer space.

Now suppose there is life on a planet close to ours, say on Proxima centauri b, and suppose further that the life there harbors an intelligence that mirrors our own.

How many countries would be on Proxima centauri b? Given how difficult it has been here on Earth to establish global dominance, I have to assume that the same difficulties face other extraterrestrial life in nearby star systems. I assume this because if they haven’t been able to contact us, or are unable to contact us, they are likely on the same playing field as us when it comes to intelligence.

What if the United States or its much more libertarian successor, the Federation of Free States, allies with a country on Proxima centauri b, while China allies itself with another country on proxima centauri b and Russia allies itself with a third Centaurian country?

I think this would be the most realistic scenario for First Contact. If there are species out there with higher intelligence and better technology, I don’t think they would even bother with us or with the Centaurians, not even if they needed our help. Would we, as humans, ask for the help of baboons if we were stranded in the desert with a broken arm? Have we ever thought it necessary to eliminate another species simply because it existed or even because it might pose a future threat? I think those of us who can achieve the same type of reasoning based on the same limited cognitive ability of our brains will be brought together in our section of the Milky Way.

Basically, I think when First Contact happens, it will be the same ol’ geopolitics playing out, but instead of being geopolitics it will be astropolitics. All the more reason for libertarians to eschew unilateralism in favor of federation.

Cixin Lui’s trilogy has been on my mind, as has Neill Blomkamp’s short film Rakka.

Nightcap

  1. What the West and its liberal world order is becoming Bruno Maçães, National Review
  2. Medieval geopolitics: the invention of the idea of sovereignty Andrew Latham, Medievalists
  3. The secret caste of nineteenth-century horse mystics Amelia Soth, JSTOR Daily
  4. Sanctimonious econ critics Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias

Eye Candy: Shanghai Cooperation Organization

NOL map SCO 2018
Source

First off, Shanghai and Warsaw are two very different cities, and because of that I think the SCO is a different animal than the Warsaw Pact. For one thing (aside from the difference in the two cities, one being selected for its geographical prominence, the other for its commercial acumen), the Warsaw Pact was a military alliance led by the Soviet Union, while the SCO is dedicated to political and economic cooperation as well as military security. Notably, the security aspect of the SCO is dedicated to coordinating state-led efforts against terrorism and separatism rather than against a rival alliance.

I don’t see anything wrong with multilateral efforts undertaken by states other than the US. I don’t see any need to worry, fret, or otherwise suspect the SCO of undermining world peace and prosperity. The fact that the SCO is made up of cooperating autocratic regimes rather than democratic ones does not faze me. The SCO has been making overtures to the democracies of India, Iran, and Sri Lanka (be sure to check out Tridivesh’s excellent take on India and the SCO), and multilateral cooperation among states is in itself an exercise in political participation among equals, albeit not at an individual level.

There is also cause to be happy that China and Russia have bound themselves up in such a prominent cooperative venture, too, given the two powers’ history of fighting each other. The SCO is contributing to peace and prosperity, and while it appears on the surface that the venture is designed to be a rival of the Western-built world order, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization actually contributes to it.

(h/t Nick)