“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Lord Palmerston, Remarks in the House of Commons, March 1, 1848
The debate over the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union is paralleled by a debate over the future of the nation’s foreign relations. While more hardline remainers tend to be in favour of a closer security arrangement with Europe as part of the European Union, there are parallel trends towards Atlanticism and promotion of the Anglosphere or cross-Commonwealth security arrangements among leavers.
Other trends, though less pronounced, can be spotted too. Many are the strains of globalism which advocate for the transfer of sovereignty to international institutions. Likewise, there are special interests that will argue unremittingly for alignment with the interests of particular foreign states, or who will always take a position for or against a particular foreign party in any debate, to the point that, rhetorically, the UK’s national security concerns are subordinated to that of some foreign state. Too many are the voices in British politics for whom Pakistan or India, Israel or the Palestinian Territories, Russia or Ukraine, Europe or the United States, or Saudi Arabia or Iran can do wrong, and while most are sincere in their tunnel vision, it should be acknowledged that some of these voices are bought and paid for.
How few by contrast are those foreign policy voices in British politics who advocate for our freedom from fixed alliances, and the value of independent and autonomous action. No one embarrassed to say “Britain first!” should ever be left at the helm of the ship. The primary purpose behind the existence of the nation-state is the self-determination of and the protection of the indigenous peoples of that state.
It is a matter of realpolitik to state that disenfranchised peoples are always vulnerable to genocidal predications. Nationalism protects nations (or paraphrasing Yoram Hazony, nationalism is virtuous). The presence of a homeland – which is militarily defensible, whose boundaries recognised in international law, and which other nations under the balance-of-power doctrine are compelled to unite to protect – is almost certainly a more powerful buffer against genocide than it is commonly recognised. Equally however, saying that the primary purpose is the protection of indigenous peoples in no way abrogates the law of hospitality. As the Law of Moses states, “Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
As part of this belief in the value of self-determination, it is of course right and proper that a sovereign nation should stand by subjugated nations or ethnic groups, particularly where genocide is threatened or practised, and we should never shrink from action against states who commit or tolerate crimes against humanity. The lack of European intervention in the Thirty-Year Genocide by the Turks against the Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians speaks to a failure of European leadership. So too was the tragic destruction of the Selknam people in Tierra del Fuego at the turn of the last century. It is always in your national interest to stand up for and act decisively on behalf of peoples facing genocide, regardless where in the world it is taking place and what other interests are at stake.
To see the power of this claim, we need only look back on the tragic history of the Twentieth Century. Might not the substantial populations of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians living within the Ottoman Empire have been better able to resist Turkish oppression if they had greater autonomy, or their own states? Would not the Jewish people in Europe have been better able to resist their annihilation had the state of Israel been in existence to serve as a refuge, and a voice for European Jews in the international arena? Is not the current precarious position of the Kurdish people due in part to their being the world’s largest people group without their own state?
In pursuit of its interests, the UK must of course continue to cooperate with the United States on a wide range of issues, and should equally work closely with France and Germany, Italy and Spain for our mutual economic benefit. But pray, do tell me, what what is the point of freeing ourselves from the shackles of the European Union to tie ourselves permanently to any other permanent alliance!
The United Kingdom’s best defence is the modern world is doughty independence, not compromising international alliances, and a healthy teacup of suspicion should always be reserved towards voices that would seek to lever us even temporarily into federation with any foreign state or states. After all, even allied states with closely-aligned cultures and institutions, or strategic economic partners, may one day turn around and practice the sort of oppression that a ‘partner’ would blush to call out (viz Norwegian Barnevernet’s campaign of mass forced adoption or China’s ‘reeducation’ camps).
Equally, we should have no eternal animus against any other nation. In a world where nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are always at risk of falling into terrorist hands, and where people smuggling and narcotics trafficking transcends national boundaries, we should always leave a foot in the door for dialogue, and not stretch criticism of or action against other states beyond the demands of the occasion.
Paraphrasing Palmerston, let us rather resolve to say, ‘We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are principled and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.’
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