British Foreign Policy: Pivotal Power

Since September 11, British, or more accurately, Tony Blair’s foreign policy has been very much in the news. Prime Minister Blair immediately moved to the forefront of the international scene, providing strong political support for the US and, perhaps more importantly, playing a leading role both at home and abroad in explaining and justifying the war internationally. In the face of sceptical and potentially hostile opinion in the Islamic world, the Prime Minister often articulated the goals of the war – to quote the New York Times – more eloquently than President George Bush. He has also given major foreign policy speeches at the Labour Party conference in October and during his visit to South Asia in January.

The World Today Published 1 March 2002 Updated 23 October 2020 5 minute READ

Peter Mangold

Senior Associate Member, St. Antony's College, Oxford

Tony Blair is very much a Prime Minister in the activist tradition that appeared to go into eclipse during the decade between the final withdrawal from East of Suez in 1971 and the Falklands war of 1982. He does not, of course, claim that Britain is a ‘Great Power’; the term has disappeared completely from the British vocabulary. But he does see Britain as being in a special league, ‘a pivotal player’ to use his own graphic, if not perhaps literally accurate, phrase.

In doing so he builds on a combination of opportunities: the absence of major international figures – with the obvious exception of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan – willing to articulate a vision of a post-Cold War international order, and the advantage that so many of his predecessors in No. 10 Downing Street after 1945 lacked, of a stable, and relatively successful British economy.

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