Courtesy Reuters

Has Britain a Policy?

"AND how," inquired a visitor to Sans Souci in 1768, "how would Your Majesty define the English system?"

"The English," snapped Frederick the Great, "have no system."

The events of the last six months might appear to confirm this apophthegm.

Yet is it reasonable to suppose that the greatest Empire which the world has ever known has in fact been maintained, as well as created, in a mood of absent-mindedness? Can it be seriously contended that this little dot of land to the west of an Asiatic peninsula has, by mere unconscious cerebration, spread and consolidated one of the few enduring civilizations in human history? Is it really credible that responsibilities as vast as those which have been inherited by the present generation of islanders have not imposed some theory of policy, some habit of extroverted mind? These habits may be little more than congenital instincts. Yet what are those instincts? Are they as valid today as they were before the war? Has the establishment of democratic control of foreign policy rendered these instincts sectional and confused? Is Great Britain abandoning her former directives? Or is the present stage of volatile confusion merely transitional and occasioned only by sudden shiftings in the balances of European power?

Such are the questions which impose themselves today and which, in this article, I shall endeavor to examine.

I am well aware that it would be more expedient for me to postpone what I write until the very last moment before it must go to press. The events of the next few weeks may well disprove my analysis. Yet wisdom after the event is a penurious form of wisdom. It is more stimulating, and in fact more useful, to choose a date (let it be this tenth of May 1936) at which the future of British policy is still obscure; and to examine that obscurity in terms of the probable. What, in other words, are the elements of the present confusion and into what pattern of policy

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