Is the United Kingdom capable of grand strategy? Common wisdom suggests otherwise. Some think it implausible amid the maelstrom of domestic politics, while others believe the UK lacks the necessary autonomy, as a cog in the US-led order. 

In this talk, Dr William James will challenge these claims. Drawing on his recently published book, British Grand Strategy in the Age of American Hegemony (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2024), James will argue that British politicians and officials have thought in grand strategic terms under American hegemony – even if they do not realise or admit to this. James also demonstrates that the role of allies in shaping British grand strategy has been overstated. Moreover, James highlights the conditions under which domestic political actors can influence grand strategic decision-making. 

The book centres on three British grand strategic decisions, namely: (1) delaying the ‘Second Front’ during the Second World War; (2) withdrawing from the large military bases ‘East of Suez’ (principally Aden & Singapore) during the Cold War; and (3) committing heavily to the US-led war in Iraq in 2003. Written for practitioners as well as scholars, the book concludes with several policy recommendations at this inflection point in British history. 

More about the speaker:

Dr William James is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Grand Strategy at King’s College London. Prior to joining KCL, he was the Transatlantic Defence Research Fellow at the Oxford Changing Character of War Centre, where he remains a Senior Associate, responsible for their seminars in strategic studies. Dr James was previously based in the United States as a research fellow at MIT’s Security Studies Program and at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. He holds a DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford. 

Dr James’s work has been published in journals such as the European Journal of International Security and International Politics, as well as outlets such as War on the Rocks and Engelsberg Ideas. One of his aims is to produce academically rigorous research which is accessible and useful for policymakers. To that end, he has submitted written evidence to three parliamentary inquiries on British foreign policy. In 2020, he won RUSI’s Trench Gascoigne Prize for original writing on defence and security. 

Discussants: 

Ashlee Godwin is Head of International Affairs and National Security at the House of Commons, where she has worked in support of various Select Committees since 2016 and is now responsible for both policy development and career development for internal experts in the Select Committee and Research & Information Teams.

Dr Rob Johnson, Director of the Secretary of State’s Office for Net Assessment and Challenge, UK Ministry of Defence.

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