Magazine article The Spectator

Foreign Affairs in the Age of Jane Bull, and the Raw Veg. of New Britain

Magazine article The Spectator

Foreign Affairs in the Age of Jane Bull, and the Raw Veg. of New Britain

Article excerpt

Encouragingly early in my journalistic life - about 1954 - I was invited to write for the prestigious American journal Foreign Affairs. The subject was anti-Americanism, the hottest issue of that period, and I pulled out all the stops. Some months later, in the reading room of the London Library, I found myself sitting in an armchair alongside an elderly gentleman who was actually turning the pages of the number of Foreign Affairs which contained my piece. Imagine my thrill when he reached it, stopped turning the pages and started to read. Pride surged. At first he seemed to be reading very slowly, giving himself time to take in every word. Only slowly did the awful truth dawn. He wasn't reading but falling asleep.

If he had frowned, snorted with disgust, thrown the journal across the room, any of these hostile reactions would have been satisfactory. But for my first effort at classy journalism to elicit only snores and snuffles was unbearably humiliating. In those days, as I say, anti-Americanism was at the top of the political agenda, as were foreign affairs generally. So how had that old gentleman dared to fall asleep when reading my article? His wits, I concluded, must have been dulled by drink after lunching too well at the Garrick.

This memory came back to me last week when I too fell asleep while reading Foreign Affairs - the 75th anniversary number as it happened-in the reading room of the London Library, after having lunched too well at the Garrick, in the very same armchair as that old gentleman had done nearly 50 years earlier. On waking there was also a young man looking at me rather crossly in the next armchair, but it would be too much of a coincidence to suppose that it was his article that had put me to sleep. In any case, even if it had been his article, he would have had no excuse to be disappointed because nowadays, unlike when the Cold War was at its height, articles about foreign affairs are boring.

Why have foreign affairs come to seem so dull? It is because with the Cold War over the outside world has suddenly begun to seem unthreatening. Never before has the United Kingdom had cause to feel so safe. Ever since the 16th century there has always been an enemy in sight. First it was Spain, then France, then Germany and finally the Soviet Union. In so far as the existence of the United Kingdom is threatened today, however, it is more from inside our borders than from without.

Today's Euro-sceptics, of course, like to pretend that the threat of European federalism is also a matter of life and death and it is true M. Delors did, for a time, become a household demon on a par with Ribbentrop and Ciano. But anybody whose memory goes back to the days of Ciano and Ribbentrop, or even Molotov and Gromyko, will know that Delors is the exception which proves my rule. For whereas the earlier bogeymen sent shudders up the British spine, Monsieur Delors merely rubs us up the wrong way. Nor are the other contemporary so-called 'threats' - China and Islam - worth taking any more seriously. Columnists in search of something new to write about sometimes try to scaremonger about them, on the principle that if no dangers exist it is best to invent some, but it is uphill work. For the truth is that whereas once upon a time the problem for the West was to find the power to meet all its commitments, today it is rather to find the commitments to match all its power.

So let us be thankful, not, in this case, for small mercies, but for a most monumental mercy: that for the foreseeable future the United States is going to be the only hegemonic power, spending more on defence than all the other leading powers combined, and that she happens to be benign - particularly so far as this country is concerned. …

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