Liz Truss's militant rhetoric is another sign that post-Brexit Britain is dangerously delusional
The Foreign Secretary’s campaign against China and Russia indicates that London has lost the plot
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, a Neoconservative extremist, presents global affairs as if there were no other way.
It seems that she is addicted to Cold War passions.
On Wednesday night, her address in London was bordered upon showing a desire to war against both Russia and China simultaneously. To call first “PushRussia is the only country in Ukraine that has not been occupied.”Truss called the conflict “our war”, then turned to China to taunt Beijing about its “unavoidable rise”. You demanded they follow the rules and suggested NATO could defend Taiwan against a contingency. Truss once more called for an “a network of liberty”, and encouraged them to avoid dependence economic on non-desirable countries (this time referring to Russia or China).
Truss is wrong, however, because despite what climate it may be, all of her exaggerated talk has no basis in actuality. Yet, if she gets her way, the potential dangers are existential: The British Foreign Secretary’s rhetoric is spoiling for direct conflict not just against one but two nuclear superpower adversaries. There are two possible scenarios that could end up in military action, possibly even nuclear: China trying to take Taiwan and Russia out of Crimea. Truss seems unaffected by the situation, although European leaders may not like it. But it speaks to an even wider truth: Britain is being driven off the cliff edge by the nostalgia and hubris of Brexit, displacing any foreign policy that was based on reason, restraint moderation, moderation, or realism about where it currently stands in the world.
One way to sum up Britain’s history in foreign policy is that it has been a decline empire going through grief. While the Suez Crisis symbolized anger and denial in 1945, Britain’s 1970s application to the European Economic Community represented negotiations and acceptance. It didn’t work. The Anglophone exceptionalism identity of Britain, combined with the geographical conditioning of being separated from continental Europe, created a different history from its neighbors. France and Germany both have recent memories of massive devastation due to centuries of wars. Britain however, is unscathed by such events and does not possess the same pragmatism as its neighbours.
As a result, the British Empire faded away as opposed to facing a “reckoning” of sorts, meaning British public opinion was never “reset” and continues to believe it was a force for good, allowing the political right to continue to iconize it, and it is precisely this nostalgia of Imperialism which has manifested itself in the form of Brexit amongst many in the Conservative Party. The reality is that Brexit has not brought any economic benefits. Therefore, Johnson’s government tried to make up for it by increasing nationalistic rhetoric as well as the exuberance of “Britannia Rules the Waves”. Global Britain is, in fact, a code name for Empire. This connotation refers to a country which seeks out ambitious trade deals all around the world.
This rhetoric only gets worse with the UK’s economic climate deteriorating. The UK’s economic environment is deteriorating and inflation is at its highest level in 30 years. Energy prices have soared, Covid-19 has caused chaos and Boris’s government, which is already deeply dispopular, is seeking any distractions that it can. Is it any surprise that Liz Truss, given this background and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is calling for a Cold War, or even a Hot One? These comments are not an indication of Britain’s strength as much as they may seem. It is a demonstration of Britain’s weakness. This government is merely trying to appeal to Nationalist and Imperialist sentiments by imagining war with other major powers, and using the offensive Opium-wars rhetoric against China. The reality is however, quite the opposite. Truss will not admit it but China is a crucial post-Brexit partner for the UK. And we know that Russia cannot be expelled from Ukraine. It’s unlikely, given her anti-China stance and the fact that Boris is not so steadfastly anti-China that Truss has any real power to make her vision a reality.
This rhetoric is dangerous but it’s empty talk from an ever-unpopular government. It wants to make as much noise before local elections. But that doesn’t stop Truss doing as much damage to Britain’s global standing as she can for her aspirations to be the leader of the free world. This talk by the Foreign Secretary is indicative of wider issues facing Britain, which is an identity and aspirations that are constantly out of step with the reality. This is not a project of victory, it’s a reflection of the current state of affairs.