Great Britain, the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th
century, played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and
in advancing literature and science. At its zenith, the British Empire
stretched over one-fourth of the earth's surface. The first half of the
20th century saw the UK's strength seriously depleted in two World Wars.
The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK
rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation. As one of
five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a founding member of
NATO, and of the Commonwealth, the UK pursues a global approach to foreign
policy; it currently is weighing the degree of its integration with
continental Europe. A member of the EU, it chose to remain outside the
Economic and Monetary Union for the time being. Constitutional reform is
also a significant issue in the UK. The Scottish Parliament, the National
Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established in
1999, but the latter is suspended due to bickering over the peace process.