In conversation with LSST’s Dr Maria Bastos: do we need to re-evaluate the UK’s international standing?

Kunal Chan Mehta

By Kunal Chan Mehta | Article Date: 18 November 2023

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Britain stands at a pivotal moment in history, poised to harness the valuable lessons from its exceptionalist past to navigate the challenges of the present. To do so effectively, Britain must adopt a more constructive and open approach to its international relationships with Europe and the broader global community. In light of the ongoing shifts in global politics, it becomes imperative for the UK to undertake a rigorous reassessment of its position on the international stage.

The UK’s Integrated Review, which encompasses Security, Development and Foreign Policy, necessitates a comprehensive evaluation and public discussion to ensure it remains relevant and effective in addressing the changing dynamics of our interconnected world.

The UK currently finds itself at a significant turning point, where it must strategically adjust its global positioning and orientation to effectively navigate the challenges posed by events such as Brexit and global conflicts. This necessitates a thoughtful and deliberate approach to ensure that the UK remains stable and secure in the face of these pressures.

To shed light on the associated risks and opportunities as we traverse the unknown terrain ahead, we ask Dr Maria Bastos – an expert on feminist approaches to foreign policy and global affairs – and a Health Course Leader and Chair of LSST’s Research Centre, to offer valuable insights into this critical juncture:

1. What pivotal decisions must the UK undertake in the ensuing twelve months, considering the ever-evolving global context?

The next twelve months are critical, not only for Britain but for the world. International instability brought by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which we cannot classify as a surprise, in view of events that have been taking place for years in Eastern Ukraine, is now aggravated with yet another eruption of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

The identification of pivotal decisions has been done by the UK government in its comprehensive Integrated Review. Those are closely linked to primary national interests and with national security. To be sure, these are the conventional principles pursued by any state. Thus, from a feminist foreign policy approach, these came as no surprise.

The UK continues to identify potential sources of instability within the international order, including in the Indo-Pacific region, where China continues to play a role that is perceived as expansionist, and revisionist in relation to Taiwan. Pivotal decisions include maintaining and strengthening its security and diplomatic relations with its traditional allies, including the European Union. The latter is, in my opinion, critical towards strengthening Europe’s security. This, however, requires a rethinking of the UK as a key foreign policy actor in Europe. To be sure, whilst, a more aggressive posture serves well on how the UK wishes to portray and imagine itself as a ‘global power’ Post-Brexit, pursuing stronger diplomacy, based on negotiations towards achieving enduring and sustainable peace settlements should be pivotal. Investing in and negotiating towards achieving enduring peace prospects is pivotal, in my opinion.

2. What should be the focal priorities for the UK in its global role, and how should it strategically position itself amid the complexities of the fracturing geopolitical landscape?

Conventional foreign policy-making, which is by definition state-centric, places security at its core. It is very clear that state security is the UK’s first focal priority, as extensively explained in the Integrated Review. Thus, conventionally speaking, the UK government aims to continue focusing on security enhancement. That serves two purposes, which are interlinked: creating a national identity that attempts to recover elements of global dominance, whilst responding to existing threat situations. These have been UK focal priorities. If you wish, the UK has historically adopted a strategic positioning that is fully aligned with the US and other Western powers. Thus, there will be no shift here. In fact, the AUKUS, which can be understood as a Western-dominated trilateral security alliance, will enhance the UK’s influence in the Indo/Asia-Pacific region (Cheng, 2022; BBC, 2021). This strategic alignment in the Indo-Pacific region is but a coherent continuation of historical British foreign policy designs.

To be sure, the concept of ‘global role’ may be subject to various interpretations. It is now well-established that an imagined global role for Britain in post-Brexit is one that seeks to enhance a stronger military posture, and more power-seeking with a more robust defence policy (see Whitman, 2016). This results in a more militarised foreign policy. Thus, in my opinion, we will be witnessing a further militarisation of the UK, including of elements its national identity. And this is then reflected in how other very urgent issues, which are also geopolitical in nature, are thrown into a second plan.

Whilst conventional analyses of foreign policy are mostly limited to so-called concepts of ‘hard power’, there are critical elements in foreign policy that appear to be secondary to the UK’s foreign policy-making options. I am referring to the Climate Emergency and Global Justice, for instance. Skilfully, the UK government refers to them as ‘thematic priorities’ (Integrated Review, 2023 p26). From a critical, feminist foreign policy analysis approach, these should be not secondary priorities.

In sum, focal priorities are well identified as national, state-security oriented, which are aligned with the UK’s aspirations for global power. However, it should be clear that pursuing a critique of such focal priorities does not mean they are not legitimate, but it further opens the space towards paying attention to the costs of not focusing on core issues such as global justice, broadly understood.


3. In the face of mounting humanitarian crises worldwide, how can the UK formulate its most effective response?

Humanitarian crises become more visible as a result of armed conflicts. Once again we are witnessing it. Through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, successive UK governments have applied great expertise and pursued a policy funding international development that is global in nature. Currently, that is no exception, and policies appear to be in place and are actioned.

Notwithstanding, it is interesting to observe how FCO is interested in further enhancing knowledge and capabilities concerning for instance, how to prevent and reduce civilian harm resulting from conflict (FO, 2023). In view of the present international events, this appears to be a timely, critical initiative. Moreover, it is important to mention that the UK government must uphold, without exceptions, the International Humanitarian Law.

In my view, despite FCO policies and actions towards humanitarian crises, and international development, core foreign policy thinking and making does not contemplate a much-needed ethics of care. Thus, while states think of foreign policy and security in terms of risk and violence, I am of the opinion that ethics of care and all debates surrounding, it should be receiving more attention from the UK government and others. To be sure, this is an area where I wish to increase my understanding and research.


4. Given its current strategic and economic standing, does the UK possess the necessary capabilities to fulfil its foreign policy and development commitments and, in doing so, align itself with its global aspirations?

It is never possible to reply to questions of such nature with a decisive ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Despite Brexit, the UK remains heavily dependent on what happens in Europe, at all three levels:  economic, social, and political. Currently, there is a high degree of uncertainty and a very volatile situation closer to Europe’s most eastern regions. The war in Ukraine, the Palestine-Israel conflict, and a much less-known conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the region of Nagorno-Karabagh can potentiate extended periods of armed conflict. That may hinder the UK’s more global ambitions in far-flung regions, such as the Indo-Pacific.

Notwithstanding, the UK has chosen approaches to foreign policy that will enable a value-maximising (note the neoliberal jargon), international positioning where it wishes to be imagined as an independent, strong, robust power, infused with bellicist elements, if you will. That is clearly demonstrated in how language is used in the Integrated Review, which provides a good example demonstrating how those focal priorities are closely linked with the UK’s imagined global role.

To be sure, it is a heavily gendered strategy. Traditionally, these are believed to be part of the parochial recipe towards achieving dominance and power. The UK is a power-hunger state, where the memory of The Empire continues to speak. Thus, following that line, we could think yes, theoretically the UK could succeed.

On the other hand, such strategy raises concerns whether UK will be able to pay attention to the pressing agenda of Climate Emergency, or the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It will be very interesting to follow how the UK will conduct international development policies, including those at the intersection of Climate Emergency.

In sum, if one thinks and believes that a state-centric perspective foreign policy suffices to successfully amalgamate global power, then the UK has clearly laid its strategy. If, on the other hand, one prefers to seek a more critical and feminist approach to understanding UK foreign policy, there is enough room to provide a critique, which includes a focus on other dimensions such as gender, sexuality, and race (see Achilleos-Sarll, 2018) and thus open spaces for better democratic scrutiny of any elected government options.

Dr Maria Bastos is a regular contributor to The International Studies Association – and has recently presented on Militarism And Foreign Policy: Framing UK-Pakistan Relations Post-Brexit.

For any questions or comments about this article or to set up an interview with Dr Maria Bastos, please do not hesitate to contact Kunal Chan Mehta, at

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Achilleos-Sarll, C., (2018). Reconceptualising foreign policy as gendered, sexualised and racialised: Towards a postcolonial feminist foreign policy (analysis). Journal of International Women’s Studies, 19(1), pp.34-49.

BBC (2021) Aukus: UK, US and Australia launch pact to counter China. 16/09/2021. Available from [accessed 25/10/2023].

Cheng, M. (2022). AUKUS: The changing dynamic and its regional implications. European Journal of Development Studies2(1), 1-7.

GOV.UK (2023) ‘Integrated Review Refresh 2023 Responding to a more contested and volatile world’. Policy Paper. Available from:  [accessed 25/10/2023].

GOV.UK, FCO (2023) ‘Wars fought better: Building the evidence on promoting restraint by armed actors’ 14/09/2023 Available from: [accessed 25/10/2023].

Whitman, R.G., (2016). The UK and EU foreign, security and defence policy after Brexit: integrated, associated or detached?. National Institute Economic Review, 238, pp.R43-R50.

2 thoughts on “In conversation with LSST’s Dr Maria Bastos: do we need to re-evaluate the UK’s international standing?”

  1. True, UK is straggling for their global position was before . Needs expertise in dealing international politics as it is completely change because of global economic growth.

    • Profession: Student
  2. Since the UK’s International standing is not static (it is a moving target) and since UK knows its position and the fact that the UK is willing to occupy the position, it will be very difficult for us to re-evaluate UK’s standing on such variables some of which are new to the modern world. It would be wrong to use the old variables only and ignore the new variables which could be even more important. The UK always re-adjusts itself to changes(new variables) to stay on top so that when changes occur, it is like nothing has happened. The whole world is progressive where some countries are playing catch up and others are coming up with innovations to still be in the leading group.

    • Profession: Lecturer in Computer Science

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