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December 14, 2011 2:45 am
From Mr Gregory Shenkman.
Sir, Perhaps the history I studied at Cambridge was different to that absorbed some years later by Jonathan Powell at Oxford (“Cameron has betrayed 200 years of history”, December 12). Mr Powell suggests that “for 200 years since the battle of Waterloo we have expended enormous effort to maintain a leadership role in Europe”. This is nonsense. Britain has never sought to lead in Europe. Indeed, we were merely observers to many of Europe’s great post-Waterloo events, such as the unifications of Germany and of Italy in the 19th century. Britain has long understood that, given its geography, it could only influence events on the continent and not lead them. British foreign policy in Europe was focused exclusively on preventing any other power from dominating continental Europe. This policy long predated Waterloo, which is an artificial watershed.
England, under Elizabeth I, resisted Philip II of Spain’s continental ambitions in the 16th century. Britain frustrated France’s drive to dominate the continent in the War of the Spanish Succession and the Seven Years’ War in the 18th century; and Britain, with its allies, finally frustrated France’s plans of European domination at Waterloo. Having scotched French hegemony, British foreign policy in Europe remained focused on attempts by other nations to dominate Europe: the Crimean war to contain Russia in the 19th century and the first and second world wars to contain Germany in the 20th century. At no point did Britain seek, as Mr Powell suggests, a leadership role. Britain consistently sought a balance of power in Europe and, at times, was content with splendid isolation, as under Disraeli and the brilliant Lord Salisbury.
Far from being a betrayal, therefore, David Cameron’s veto, intentionally or not, is entirely consistent with centuries of British foreign policy in Europe. It challenges Germany’s clear desire to dominate the continent through the imposition of its chosen fiscal and monetary rules. That these rules seem unlikely to resolve the eurozone problem of imposing a single currency on such a disparate bunch of national economies renders the veto logical as well as strategically consistent.
Gregory Shenkman, London W8, UK
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