In the same week that Boris Johnson celebrated the UK formally leaving the European Union in January 2020, the first domestic cases of coronavirus were identified. The pandemic suspended normal life as well as politics, and stifled what might otherwise have been a dominating theme of our national debate: what does Britain do next, after leaving the political and economic union that shaped its postwar role on the world stage?
Peter Ricketts’s new book is an attempt to answer this question. He is able to rely on his 40 years of service at the heart of British foreign policy to offer practical, but accessible, lessons for the future.
From his roles with Nato, at the Foreign Office, as national security adviser and as ambassador to France, the book is filled with insights into the institutions, players and events that cause the balance of power across the globe to shift over time.
Part one of the book is a history lesson, assessing “how we got here.” The chapters on the founding of the UN and creation of Nato are bursting with anecdotes and new perspectives. But Ricketts’s devastating verdict on Bush and Blair’s march to war in Iraq, and its effect on the international order since, is what truly hits home.
Part two sets out a vision for the future. Ricketts calls for a revival of the “lost art of strategy,” arguing that an honest assessment of modern threats, from 9/11 onwards, would have left Britain better prepared for the realities that we face today. The third part of the book sounds warnings about what’s to come, including the Sino-American battle that will define the 21st century, and emphasises the need for modern multilateralism.
The conclusion is representative of the author—in many ways a deeply traditional foreign affairs thinker, but able to understand changing threats and opportunities. This means the book is a perfect introduction for those engaging in the crucial—and newly wide open—debate about where Britain sits in the world, and where it goes next.
Hard Choices: What Britain Does Next by Peter Ricketts (Atlantic, £14.99)