Friday, 12 January 2007

First week - made it!

I’ve made it through my first week in London. Work was good, the people in this office seem generally nice. A lot of new people are actually starting this week, so the whole office went out for drinks Wednesday night. It was fun - got to know a lot of people – although after I had had a few the conversation of course veered into politics and I was probably a little too virulent in my rhetoric. But people seemed interested by my take on Europe and the UK, even if they did disagree with it. I think a favorite hobby of mine here is going to be challenging the Brits’ perceptions about the world and their place in it.

Interestingly Tony Blair just gave a big speech on the subject yesterday. Speaking to an audience of defense experts and military personnel in Plymouth, he said Britain faces a choice, continue to participate in international military intervention or cease. He warned of the dangers of the former. But the problem, as many military experts here have pointed out, is that the UK doesn’t have the money to increase its military budget to the degree needed to continue the kind of military intervention its engaged in in the last six years. Britain will shortly be withdrawing 1/3 of its troops from Iraq, and internal government sources are saying by the end of the year they will have withdrawn their entire force there. It is widely understood to be an acknowledgement that the Iraq misadventure has failed.

But in my mind there is an obvious solution here. If Europe were to band together and form a pan-continental army, there would be no need for any country to increase its military budget. In fact, many countries, such as France and the UK, could decrease their military budget. But that’s never even posited here as a legitimate option.

And when I asked my coworkers if they really thought it was a tenable position to be reliant on the US for protection in the 21sy century, they insisted they didn’t need the US’s protection. Oh really? What’s going to protect you? Trident? NATO, they insisted.

I hope that people who don’t know me here don’t think that my harping on the fact that Europe depends on the US for military protection is because of some sort of jingoism. Obviously, readers of my blog will know that it’s not. Still, one of the first things I’ve been struck by here is the naiveté with which many Britons perceive their place in the world, particularly their future place in it. It’s interesting to me. The jist of it is they don’t see military power as being all that important in today’s world. Maybe they’re right, and maybe I'm approaching the issue from an outdated geopolitical perspective. But my gut tells me they’re not. Perhaps I will explore this issue more in the future.

They think about the future in other ways here, certainly. They are, for instance, single-mindedly fascinated by global warming at the moment. Every newspaper on Tuesday morning had an article which started with some variation of “The effects of global warming left New Yorkers sweltering in the heat Monday…” I mean you seriously can’t get away from it. But there’s a lot of frustration too because Britain, and the rest of Europe, is doing so much to reduce its carbon footprint, but in the end it will make no difference if the US, China and India don’t cooperate.

Anyway I’d better head out, I’m hoping to do some proper clubbing tonight, even though it means an agonizingly long trip home on the night bus. I cannot wait to move into my flat on Sunday! Then I can stumble home whenever I want to.

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