SOMETIMES lowering the volume is as arresting as turning it up. Tact can be as expressive as bombast. That is true of the coalition government’s diplomacy. It has been eloquently muted, with both old problems and the oozing challenge in the Gulf of Mexico: a British administration that some expected to be spikily assertive seems determined to get along with everyone.更多信息请访问:


Right-wing British newspapers are often every bit as shrill as the American media. Leaping on the chance to display some easy, knee-jerk patriotism, several urged David Cameron to stand up for “British Petroleum” and rebuke Barack Obama for demonising the company. Instead, the line has been that the government neither owns nor will disown BP—and quietly to point out that the firm has lots of American shareholders and employees too. Ministers saw Mr Obama’s rhetoric for what it was: the flailing of a politician in a desperate fix. By saying very little in public, they defused what threatened to become a juvenile spat.


It would have been foolish to do otherwise. More striking has been the emollient attitude to Britain’s friends in Europe. As The Economist went to press, Mr Cameron was making his debut at the European Council in Brussels. His reception is likely to be warmer than once seemed plausible. The impressively polyglot deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, has helped to soften up continental leaders who were troubled by the idea of a Conservative-led government. In David Lidington, Mr Cameron appointed a Europe minister who is much more palatable to the neighbours than Mark Francois, the Tory who held the brief in opposition. Even William Hague—unusually, in recent times, a foreign secretary who is both a big-hitter and an eager holder of that office—is sounding relatively Euro-friendly. It helps that, as part of their deal with the Liberal Democrats, the Tories ditched their quixotic bid to repatriate powers from the EU.

除此之外只会显得愚蠢。更引人注目的是来自欧洲友邦的安抚态度。正如《经济学家》杂志的报道,卡梅伦在布鲁塞尔欧洲理事会的首次亮相所受接待似乎比之前的预期热情很多。通晓多种语言的副首相尼克•克莱格给人留下深刻印象,也帮助缓解了欧洲大陆各国领导对保守党领导下英国政府的忧虑。David Lidington被任命为欧洲事务部长,较之为在野党辩护的保守党Mark Francois而言,更为邻国所接受。更为罕见的是,连总在部门内唱反调的外交大臣威廉•黑格近来的言论也出乎寻常地亲欧。作为与自民党协议的一部分,这不无帮助。保守党抛弃原来不切实际的目标已重拾在欧盟的权利。

The prime minister has already visited Afghanistan, where he embraced Britain’s fighting men more convincingly than his predecessor, Gordon Brown, ever managed to. He calls their fight a “war”, rather than the pussyfooting “conflict”. Yet for all Mr Cameron’s vows to stay the course, his underlying message was humble. The definition of victory in Helmand has been revised downward (a process that began under Mr Brown); simultaneously, the official view of how close British forces are to achieving their diminished goals is being revised upwards. The length and scale of the deployment still largely depend on decisions made in Washington. But Mr Cameron’s government seems increasingly keen to pull back as soon as it possibly can.


What explains this modest and conciliatory mood—the urge to ingratiate rather than swagger? The nature of the coalition is part of it. Foreign affairs were widely billed as a potential source of fractures in the Lib-Con double act. So far, they haven’t been. The mixed Foreign Office ministerial team, and the cabinet’s European-affairs committee, are said to be dreams of harmony. The less proactive foreign policy is, of course, the longer that unity can be made to last: it is generally easier to agree on not doing things than on doing them. More than that, though, the two parties’ world views may prove more reconcilable than they once seemed. The Tories harbour a neocon tendency; the Lib Dems have a pacifist wing. But there is also a realist strand in Tory thinking and a sane but quietist strain among Lib Dems. A cautious, status-quo mentality is where they overlap.


Another part of the story is money, or rather the lack of it. It doesn’t take the strategic-defence review, to be completed this autumn, to understand that very soon Britain will have less to spend on military kit and adventures, perhaps a lot less. And the impact of the country’s fiscal plight on its ability and inclination to project power is much wider than that. Even more than is the case already, political energy and capital will soon be overwhelmingly consumed by domestic woes. Moreover, Britain’s standing and esteem abroad have been punctured by the crashing end of its economic boom. The much-touted miracle of Anglo-Saxon capitalism turned out to be a mirage. At least, that is the widespread perception, in Europe and beyond.


In these political and economic circumstances, modesty and niceness are a sensible strategy. The understated tone suggests a government suitably aware of its limitations. How nice the world will be in return, however, is doubtful.


Less blood, no treasure
Even before the oil spill, some Britons worried that Mr Obama was predisposed by his Kenyan ancestry to dislike them. But he is most usefully thought of, not as a post-colonial president, but as a post-war one—the wars being the second world war and the cold war. For American politicians of his generation, the 20th-century experiences that bound America to Europe, and to Britain in particular, are history; the continent and Mr Cameron’s country are no longer priorities. Mr Obama is probably too rational to bear the grudge against Britain that some detect in his railing against BP—but also too rational to be sentimental about the place.


Meanwhile, enchanted as the Europeans may be by the British new boys, and however mature Mr Cameron plans to be in his EU dealings, there will, in the end, be rows: over financial-services regulation, oversight of national budgets, the British rebate, reform of the common agricultural policy…There always are.


Compared with other countries, it is notable how much cross-party consensus there tends to be on British foreign policy, not just within the coalition, but between it and the previous government too. As before, Europe is an opportunity but also an irritant; Britain is still locked into a gradual, half-willing decline, destined to be less loved by its closest ally than it would like. Those are the facts. No amount of ingratiation can change them.