The Silent Empire of the UK

Those who think the United Kingdom has disappeared from the international scene are mistaken. London is more than present in the various crisis zones, from North Africa to the Middle East, from the Sahel to the South China Sea. And appears to have no intention of withdrawing. The recent moves of the British government appear to indicate a basic truth, albeit perhaps less apparently than in preceding decades: despite its fragility, the UK is present, out there, and, even if as a ghost of its old self, ready to maintain its role as inheritor of Empire.

Let`s begin with one of the crisis zones nearest to Italy and which affect Italy most: Libya. There is another actor, silent yet with a greater presence than one might think, in the conflict in this North African country, a conflict which it has followed for some time and which it itself contributed to instigating – London. The UK is present in the local, regional and international war taking place in Africa, and its activities must not be underestimated. In recent months Britain has more or less assumed the role of spokesperson for the Western Alliance and, in particular, for the special relationship with the US. The documents of the UN Security Council all originate from drafts drawn-up by London. And British Special Forces have been involved for years in Libyan territory, while totally below-the-radar. And over these years, the UK has many times spoken of Libya as a potential happy hunting ground for Russia, witness how almost all the accusations towards Moscow concerning the presence of its contractors there have emanated from Great Britain. Furthermore, let`s not forget how a few days ago it was precisely British Intelligence which sounded the alarm on the possible presence of ABU BAKR AL BAGHDADI in Libya, so confirming also the presence of British aerial spies overflying many areas of the North African country. Thus London is in Libya. And it is fundamental not to forget it, especially because further south, in the Sahel, British forces are present, albeit in agreement with the French, Germans and Americans, and especially in Niger, the true nucleus of that Saharan belt.

But Libya is not the sole crisis zone where the UK is present. British diplomatic moves in recent weeks have been very interesting since they regard Syria also, a conflict forgotten but not finished for all that – a conflict which threatens to flare-up again with the Iran-US crisis. An escalation, this, which, among other things, marks an explicit parting-of-the-ways between the aims of London and Washington. The British are opposed to a mounting of the tensions in the Persian Gulf, and have already expressed that view at the Pentagon and the White House. However, meanwhile, in Syria, they continue to develop their mission. UK Special Forces have formally left Syria, but this does not mean that the UK has lost interest in a war where its fighter-planes and élite troops have intervened a number of times. Further, in the international coalition led by the USA, British forces play a fundamental role. A role obviously important also in Iraq, where ex-President of Kurdistan Massoud Barzani has received in Erbil the British Ambassador to Iraq, Jon Wilks. Their discussions covered ISIS and the refugee Yazidis, while stressing the necessity to continue the struggle against Islamic terrorism.

Yet London`s diplomatic moves do not stop “just” at these two scenarios. British diplomacy is active in yet another area of tension which at this time could flare-up again: the Eastern Mediterranean and, in particular, Cyprus, an island where the UK maintains two military bases, indicating unquestionably the importance this territory holds for the UK. The seabed around Cyprus has been for some time at the centre of a very important stand-off between Ankara and Nicosia. And everyone is involved in this struggle, including the international players with their oil giants. Not least London. It`s not by chance that the British Foreign Ministry has intervened in the middle of the stand-off, asking Turkey to cease all drilling activity off Paphos in the south-west of the island. A request that has irritated not only Turkey but also the Cypriot government, since the Foreign Office has spoken of an area “of which the sovereignty is under discussion”. A statement which Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades described as “unacceptable”.


Translation from Italian by John Lanigan