In recent commentaries on British foreign policy, the New Labour and coalition governments have been criticized for lacking strategic thinking. Academics describe a ‘strategy gap’ and note that old ideas about Britain's role in the world, such as Churchill's 1948 reference to ‘three circles’, continue to be recycled. Parliamentarians bemoan the ‘uncritical acceptance of these assumptions’ that has led to ‘a waning of our interests in, and ability to make, National Strategy’. This article argues that a primary problem has been the lack of consideration of how identity, strategy and action interrelate in foreign policy. Using the insights of role theory, the article seeks to address this by outlining six ideal-type role orientations that the UK might fulfil in world politics, namely: isolate, influential (rule of law state), regional partner, thought leader, opportunist–interventionist power and Great Power. By considering how variations in a state's disposition towards the external environment translate into different policy directions, the article aims both to highlight the range of roles available to policy-makers and to emphasize that policy often involves making a choice between them. Failure to recognize this has resulted in role conflicts and policy confusion. In setting out a variety of different role orientations, the author offers a route to introducing a genuine strategic sensibility to policy-making, one that links identity with policy goals and outcomes.