Realism in British Foreign Policy

The Houses of Parliament in London, November 2015. Toby Melville / reuters

Looking back at the foreign policies of Britain and the United States since 1800 one sees two strands woven closely together-the strands of idealism and realism. In both countries, governments, parliaments and peoples have been happiest when these two elements have been brought together in apparent harmony. Take for example two quotations from nineteenth-century England:

We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow. . . . With every British Minister the interests of England ought to be the shibboleth of his policy.

And then again:

I hold that the real policy of England is to be the champion of justice and right: pursuing that course with moderation and prudence, not becoming the Quixote of the world, but giving her moral sanction and support wherever she thinks justice is, and whenever she thinks that wrong has been

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