The war, in which the Ukrainian army and citizens are defending the sovereignty of their country against foreign aggression, is about values. The values of human dignity, respect for life, democracy and the rule of law are under attack from a superpower, which is still thinking in geopolitical terms of spheres of influence, balance of power and imperial domination. The Russian-Ukrainian war epitomises a violent clash between the 19th century paradigm of the Westphalian system of International Relations and the 21st century demand for multilateralism and global governance.
According to former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Brexit was about the value of democracy too. He argued in his Bloomberg speech of January 2013, in which he announced his decision to organise a referendum about the continuation of British membership of the EU, that the EU was an undemocratic organisation. Paradoxically enough, he continued his argument with the proposition that he only wanted to remain in the EU on condition that it would return to the Westphalian concept of a mere union of states. As unions of states are by definition undemocratic, he more or less wanted to exorcise the devil with Beelzebub.
Celebrating ‘Independence Day’
Cameron’s argument was not lost on his rival and eventual successor Boris Johnson. After he had switched to the Vote Leave campaign, he entirely lost his sense of international perspective. In an unwarranted feeling of euphoria, Johnson and his fellow-Brexiteers portrayed the 31st of January as ‘Liberation’ or ‘Independence Day’ as if to celebrate that the UK had been freed from an occupying foreign power. History, however, has proven him wrong. Today, the beleaguered Ukrainian nation is applying for membership of the European Union precisely because the EU is founded on the values which they are fighting for!
Out of joint
The justification which Vladimir Putin is giving for his war against Ukraine is that he wants to ‘denazify’ the country. Although Putin’s aggression against the sovereign State of Ukraine is by no means comparable to the war of words which Johnson waged against the European Union, the similarity of terms is too obviously to be overlooked or washed away. In this context, it doesn’t need to be recalled that the Russian dictator interfered in the internal British affairs by reminding Theresa May as Prime-Minister of her “duty” to implement Brexit. It may be superfluous too to point at the eagerness of the euro-sceptic right on the Continent to support both Brexit and Putin. The point is that, seen from the perspective of international relations, both Putin and Johnson are out of joint. They long for the restoration of a 19th century world order, which is bound to be replaced with a post-imperial system of world governance, in which challenges such as climate change can be addressed from a global perspective.
Global Summit for Democracy
The paradoxicality of British foreign policy under Brexit is also highlighted by the relation between the USA and the EU in the post-Trump era. While Trump favoured Brexit and supported Farage, the Biden administration is keen to restore American standing in the world as an ally for democracy. In December 2021, President Biden even convened a Global Democracy Summit, which is to culminate in December 2022 in a gathering of leaders of democratic countries. While well over one hundred sovereign states have been invited to participate in the Summit, the European Union is the only international organisation to have been asked to contribute to this unprecedented exercise. The irony of the British position under Brexit is that the American President Biden welcomes the European Union as a democratic international organisation, Johnson still dismisses the EU’s democratic credentials! Hardly ever in the history of mankind has a politician been standing so nakedly on the wrong side of the tide. So, time has come for British politicians and voters to change the course of their country and to start preparations for rejoining the EU as the first democratic international organisation in the world. Brexit has been a mistake, but it is not a destiny!