The historical tables have certainly turned over the past two centuries to the point where Britain, the US’ former colonizer and once the world’s sole undisputed superpower, bowed to its American “big brother” last week after Washington threatened to sanction London if it purchased 5G infrastructure from Huawei. This shameless prostration before the US shows just how far the UK has fallen in the past couple of years. Instead of becoming more independent since Brexit, it just traded its dependence on Brussels for Washington.
As proven by its banning of Huawei under pressure from the US’ unilateral sanctions regime, the historical roles have reversed and the US is now the UK’s “big brother”. There were extremely high hopes among Brexit supporters that their country would finally regain full control over its domestic and foreign policies. That was the promise, at least, which inspired millions of Brits to vote for their country to unprecedentedly leave the EU. The reality, however, has turned out to be quite different than the dream that was sold to the masses.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, nor was this course of events inevitable. The UK had a historical opportunity to carve out its own niche in an increasingly multipolar world by balancing between the US, the EU, and China. Instead, its leadership chose to defer to the US in determining its domestic and foreign policies, as the acquisition of Huawei’s 5G technology relates to domestic development for its people through an important foreign deal. What’s unclear, however, is exactly why the UK chose to sacrifice its national interests for the US’.
Some might be inclined to attribute this to Prime Minister Johnson’s chummy relationship with Trump, and that was probably a factor to an uncertain extent. Still, he didn’t single-handedly make this decision despite being ultimately responsible for it as the country’s leader since it was likely arrived at after closely consulting with members of his administration. The very fact that it’s been publicly disclosed that the US’ sanctions pressure played a role in all of this strongly suggests that a short-sighted economic gamble was behind it all.
To explain, the UK has been flirting with the idea of reaching a free trade agreement with the US since Brexit, but that wouldn’t be possible if Washington sanctioned London over its acquisition of Huawei’s 5G technology. China, just like the US, is another one of the UK’s top trade and investment partners, but pressed to choose between the two as a result of American pressure, the island nation decided to take an enormous risk by doing the US’ bidding instead. This was a terrible decision for several reasons.
Firstly, there’s no guarantee that the UK will ever reach its hoped-for free trade deal with the US, let alone that the US won’t stop twisting its partner’s arm in order to squeeze even more concessions from it during the course of negotiations. Now that London already crossed the proverbial Rubicon by jumping on Washington’s anti-Huawei bandwagon, the US might feel like it can go even further since the UK already showed that it doesn’t have the stomach to resist its “big brother’s” sanctions pressure.
Of pertinence, the UK announced right around the same time that the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will be deployed in the Far East where it’ll participate in the US’ naval drills in the region, which might even illegally intrude in China’s portion of the South China Sea. Coupled with the UK’s criticism of China for Hong Kong’s new national security legislation, these three developments — the aforementioned two and the Huawei one — suggest that the country is decisively taking the US’ side in its perceived zero-sum global rivalry with China.
Britain mustn’t have thought this all through otherwise it would be fearful of the inevitable blowback to its irresponsible actions, yet the false confidence with which it’s made these recent moves speaks to how little it truly understands the international situation and the changing dynamics of today’s multipolar world order. Instead of respecting itself as the independently minded country that it’s been for most of history, the UK voluntarily submitted to the US’ will and became its proxy in the New Cold War in exchange for nothing at all.
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