With a shrinking budget, London looks to shift resources to where they will have the greatest effect
BRITAIN has begun to redefine its global role, with the aim of doing a better job projecting itself internationally while living within a shrinking budget.
In a series of speeches, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd has begun to warn that unless Britain reassesses foreign policy goals and is content to "punch its weight" in the world, it will lose what international clout it still possesses.
Prime Minister John Major affirmed the need for a reappraisal on his return from a Washington summit with President Clinton: "The world is changing at such a rate that we cannot afford not to examine the changes, take account of them, and see where British interest lies."
This reappraisal comes as Britain has pulled back from the full commitment to European unity envisaged in the Maastricht Treaty. It has taken on a growing role in UN peacekeeping, while reiterating its commitment to a nuclear deterrent based on its Trident submarine system.
As part of the policy reappraisal, Mr. Hurd has instructed Foreign Office diplomats to examine how British embassy posts around the world could be shared with other European Community (EC) countries. His advisers have also begun a rigorous analysis of actual and potential trouble spots in order to decide how many of them Britain can afford to take a direct interest in.
There are indications, however, that the drive to redefine foreign policy goals will stir trouble for Mr. Major's government.
Supporters of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher say Britain runs the risk of being side-lined in world diplomacy if it flinches from maintaining a high profile. Lady Thatcher, now in the House of Lords, has repeatedly urged the government to commit British troops more deeply in former Yugoslavia, where they are currently confined to a humanitarian role.
Another constraint to reshaping commitments arises from Britain's membership on the UN Security Council. The government is under pressure from Conservative Party supporters to defend Britain's retention of its permanent seat. "Giving up that seat, or sharing it with other EC countries, must not be on the government's agenda of reappraisal," a leading Conservative backbencher said.
Opening a foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons last week, Hurd said Britain was determined to keep its seat and was against Germany and Japan becoming permanent members of the Council.