The future seems as uncertain as ever. Just as the academic discipline of International Relations largely failed to predict the end of the Cold War, it failed to predict the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Contemporary international politics entails the oft-cited phenomena of globalisation, realpolitik, cooperative alliances, trade, diplomacy and conflict among a plethora of other norms. But new trends are now also evident on the ever-changing global scene, such as the prominent rise of anti-establishment popularism, fake-news and the post-truth society where ‘experts’ are disparaged.
Within international politics, domains of defence (and security) and development (including poverty alleviation) have immutably been linked to some degree. But they haven’t always been treated as such, as is evident in some ivory towers lecturing in ‘war studies’ and others in ‘development studies’ as arguably distinct perspectives on imagining world order.
Nonetheless, if the spotlight falls on the individual, rather than the state, ‘human security’ finds access to fresh drinking-water and opportunity for work as immediate a concern as any foreign army. If thinking on security in broad terms, under-development impinges perceptions of security, and uneven-development may give rise to grievances. On the other hand, insecurity may impede perceptions of development and opportunities thereof. Conflict has been observed to be ‘development in reverse’.
Unfortunately, it is in many ways a small world. Insecurity, under-development, uneven-development and conflict abroad have the tedious potential to spill-over and hurt us at home. It is difficult to qualitatively pin-down the actual extent of this argument. But 9/11 is the domineering example of how grievances afar may come to haunt us here; potential post-‘Brexit’ border-posts with the Republic of Ireland would risk rekindling grievances unnervingly closer to home.
Perhaps of most concern for some is the urge to stick one’s head in the warm and comforting, if blinding, sand – as with the ostrich. This is the urge of isolationism where the agoraphobic, or the state, disengages from the world. Within the historiography of international politics this is not an unusual idea; the Chinese, British, Americans and a multitude of other nations have at times pursued it. Whether it was a good idea at the time may be perceived to be dependent upon the then historical context – what was then occurring(?). Today, in the 21st Century era of hyper-globalisation, fake-news and political conflict, the idea becomes highly untenable.
The UK as a state is dependent upon international engagement for the economy, trade and international finance (we are not self-sufficient); our collective security (through NATO, but also European and bi-lateral links), and indeed our very peoples – the UK of today is a state of multiple nations and cultures.
The UK is not necessarily dependent upon European political union. But, along with the US and China, today’s European Union is certainly one of the ‘big three’ world powers, and with great power comes great prospects for trade negotiations, collective security and indeed stimulating cultural breadth.