The British people's decision to leave the European Union—also known as Brexit—will mark the end of Britain as a world power, Fareed Zakaria argued in a March 14 Washington Post column. The United Kingdom will become a modern "Banana Republic," Zakaria argues, falling from heights of power to a stunning low "for Britain, Europe and the West." This fact-free assertion is dangerously wrong.
Contrary to Zakaria's account of British history, from the time of Cromwell until 1914, British national military strategy was guided by a prudent foreign policy that saw little strategic value in permanent alliances with continental European states. In numerous wars with France and Spain, Britain relied on German-speaking powers and, in 1812, on its Russian allies to carry the burden of war on the continent. Meanwhile, British sea power supplied Britain's friends and blockaded Britain's enemies.
The lesson was clear: unless Britain herself was directly attacked or her vital interests were threatened, London avoided war on the continent. The raising and commitment of massive armies to Europe's continental wars contributed nothing to the defense of the British Isles, let alone to the security of Britain's all-important overseas empire.