A NEW BEGINNING FOR BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY?
This Government understands that foreign policy and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office primarily exist to serve and protect the interests and needs of the British people in the broadest sense and must be anchored in that way if they are to command public support and confidence. Yes, much of the day to day business of the Foreign Office is necessarily conducted overseas. Some of it is secret. Most of it is complex. But these things should not be an obstacle to our foreign policy being well understood, firmly grounded in the lives of British people and accountable to them. In seven weeks so far as Foreign Secretary I have seen innumerable instances of where our work delivers results and protects Britons abroad. I am convinced that the skills and expertise of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are more necessary than ever and that marshalled effectively they can play a leading role in supporting our economy and contributing to a safer and more equitable world.
I returned to frontbench politics five years ago expressly to shadow Foreign Affairs and obviously hoping to occupy the office I now hold. During that time in Opposition it became increasingly apparent to me that the previous Government had neglected to lift its eyes to the wider strategic needs of this country, to take stock of British interests, and to determine in a systematic fashion what we must do as a nation if we are to secure our international influence and earn our living in a world that is rapidly changing. My coalition colleagues and I are utterly determined to supply that leadership. The Prime Minister has signalled our intention to chart a clear way forward by launching a strategic review of our defence and security needs, led by the requirements of foreign policy as well inevitable financial constraints, and that review will conclude by the autumn. It will be a fundamental reappraisal of Britain’s place in the world and how we operate within it as well as of the capabilities we need to protect our security....
For although the world has become more multilateral as I have described, it has also become more bilateral. Relations between individual countries matter, starting for us with our unbreakable alliance with the United States which is our most important relationship and will remain so. Our shared history, value and interests, our tightly linked economies and strong habits of working together at all levels will ensure that the US will remain our biggest single partner for achieving our international goals. But other bilateral ties matter too, whether they are longstanding ties which have been allowed to wither or stagnate or the new relations that we believe we must seek to forge for the 21st century. Regional groups are certainly strengthening across the world, but these groups are not rigid or immutable. Nor have they diminished the role of individual states as some predicted. Today, influence increasingly lies with networks of states with fluid and dynamic patterns of allegiance, alliance and connections, including the informal, which act as vital channels of influence and decision-making and require new forms of engagement from Britain....
In the world I have described our approach to foreign affairs cannot be, to borrow the arguments of a former Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury, to “float lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a diplomatic boat hook to avoid collisions.” The country that is purely reactive in foreign affairs is in decline. So we must understand these changes around us and adapt to meet them.
Our new Government’s vision of foreign affairs therefore is this: a distinctive British foreign policy that is active in Europe and across the world; that builds up British engagement in the parts of the globe where opportunities as well as threats increasingly lie; that is at ease within a networked world and harnesses the full potential of our cultural links, and that promotes our national interest while recognising that this cannot be narrowly or selfishly defined. What I call instead our enlightened national interest requires a foreign policy that is ambitious in what it can achieve for others as well as ourselves, that is inspired by and seeks to inspire others with our values of political freedom and economic liberalism, that is resolute in its support for those around the world who are striving to free themselves through their own efforts from poverty or political fetters. It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience or to repudiate our obligation to help those less fortunate. Our foreign policy should always have consistent support for human rights and poverty reduction at its irreducible core and we should always strive to act with moral authority, recognising that once that is damaged it is hard to restore....
Third, we believe that we must achieve a stronger focus on using our national strengths and advantages across the board to help build these strong bilateral relations for the United Kingdom as well as complement the efforts of our allies, whether it is the appeal of our world class education system, the standing of our Armed Forces and defence diplomacy or the quality of our Intelligence Services and GCHQ which are unique in the world and of inestimable value to the UK....
It must be a Foreign Office that is astute at prioritising effort, seeking out opportunities , negotiating on behalf of the UK, so that we can continue to lead through the power of our ideas and our ability to contribute to solutions to global challenges such as climate change and nuclear proliferation for which there can only be a collective response. It will have a crucial role in helping to maintain the UK’s economic reputation and restore our economic competitiveness, working with UKTI, for which I have joint responsibility with my colleague Vince Cable, to use our global diplomatic network even more to support UK business in an interventionist and active manner, encouraging small businesses to take their products into international markets, prising open doors and barriers to engagement on behalf of the whole of Government and acting as the essential infrastructure of Britain in the world.
Under this Government, the job of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be to provide the connections and ideas that allow the whole of the British state and British society to exercise maximum influence in the world and to give the lead that allows foreign policy to be supported actively by other government departments. And fifth, we are determined as a Government to give due weight to Britain’s membership of the EU and other multilateral institutions. It is mystifying to us that the previous Government failed to give due weight to the development of British influence in the EU. They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions, and so we are now facing a generation gap developing in the British presence in parts of the EU where early decisions and early drafting take place. Since 2007, the number of British officials at Director level in the European Commission has fallen by a third and we have 205 fewer British officials in the Commission overall. The UK represents 12% of the EU population. Despite that, at entry-level policy grades in the European Commission, the UK represents 1.8% of the staff, well under the level of other major EU member states. So the idea that the last government was serious about advancing Britain’s influence in Europe turns out to be an unsustainable fiction. Consoling themselves with the illusion that agreeing to institutional changes desired by others gave an appearance of British centrality in the EU, they neglected to launch any new initiative to work with smaller nations and presided over a decline in the holding of key European positions by British personnel. As a new Government we are determined to put this right. Some will argue that our constrained national resources cannot possibly support such an ambitious approach to Foreign Policy or to the Foreign Office. It is true that like other Departments the Foreign Office will on many occasions have to do more with less and find savings wherever possible and that because of the economic situation we inherited from the previous Government the resources Britain has available for the projection of its influence overseas are constrained. But we will not secure our recovery or our future security and prosperity without looking beyond our shores for new opportunities and new partners. No country or groups of countries will increase the level of support or protection they offer to us and no-one else will champion the economic opportunity of the British citizen if we do not. We must recognise the virtuous circle between foreign policy and prosperity. Our foreign policy helps create our prosperity and our prosperity underwrites our diplomacy, our security, our defence and our ability to give to others less fortunate than ourselves....
William Hague, "British Foreign Policy in a Networked World," 1st July 2010 in www.fco.gov/uk
Britain’s diplomats have taken to William Hague. As officials across Whitehall compare private scorecards on their new political masters, Mr Hague has emerged with pretty much top marks. Some speculate he could turn out to be the most powerful foreign secretary in recent memory – just as the UK’s voice in world affairs grows weaker.
The word among the mandarins is that Mr Hague knows his mind, is quick on the uptake and does the work. He is comfortable making decisions – not something that can be said of all his cabinet colleagues. Most importantly, he has David Cameron’s confidence.
The Conservative prime minister has promised to restore the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s command of foreign policymaking. Mr Cameron, who seems uninterested in most things abroad, intends to concentrate his attention on domestic policy. As time passes this may well change – the global stage is a seductive place even, or perhaps especially, for the leaders of middle-ranking powers. For now, though, Mr Hague is writing the international script. Behind the scenes he is fighting to expand his department’s influence. Co-ordination of the UK’s European Union policy has long belonged to the Cabinet Office. Mr Hague wants to run it from his own department.
In other circumstances this power grab would be cause for serious concern among those who want Britain to remain enthusiastically engaged on its own continent. But Mr Cameron’s coalition agreement with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats has tempered Mr Hague’s deep-rooted Euroscepticism....
Doubts about Britain’s capacity to do good in the world, the foreign secretary says, are not synonymous with retreat. Mr Hague insists that the Conservatives have not returned to office to preside over the decline of the UK’s international role. This is easier said than done. Reorganising the way Whitehall formulates foreign policy, concentrating resources on building relationships with rising powers such as India and Turkey, and better exploiting Britain’s diplomatic and soft power advantages all sound sensible enough. But they are unlikely to counter the big economic and geopolitical shifts in the world.
Realism comes with a price tag. If Mr Blair’s premiership saw Britain overreach itself, the new pragmatism carries uncomfortable echoes of the Conservative government’s reluctance to intervene against the slaughter in the Balkans during the 1990s. Touring the foreign policy establishment in Washington last week my sense was that Barack Obama’s administration already views Britain as a diminished player. There is some sympathy with Mr Cameron’s focus on domestic economics, not least because the US has its own deficit to worry about. But the underlying perception is that Britain is unwilling to pay the price for international influence. My guess is that similar calculations are being made in Delhi, Beijing and Ankara.
The strategic defence review, with its anticipated deep cuts to the armed forces, reinforces this impression. So too does Mr Cameron’s obvious anxiety to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as soon as it is decently possible. Even in these financially straitened times there are things to be done to deploy better Britain’s strengths in the world. A useful new report written by Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House think-tank, suggests the country’s diplomacy could be reinvigorated by a sharper focus on core strategic objectives. Some of these are as much economic – sustaining an open trading system – as political.
The paradox for Mr Hague is that a powerful foreign secretary is ultimately not much use without a strong British contribution to global security. Sometimes this demands deployment of military force – to keep open the sea lanes, for peace-keeping missions and, occasionally, to confront threats from hostile or failing states. Britain’s over-riding national interest lies in a rules-based international system. To preserve those rules it has to show it is ready to help police them.
Philip Stephens, "Realism grabs hold of British Foreign Policy," 5 July 2010, in www.ft.com.
“It must be our objective to maintain our position as a great power, and this has, been our main purpose since 1900, when British power was at its zenith. It can be argued, and it was so argued before the last war, that our resources are no longer equal to this task, and that we ought to content ourselves with a more modest role….If we accepted a lesser role, it would be so modest as to be intolerable. We have plenty of enemies and if we relaxed our grip scarcely a British interest outside of the United Kingdom would survive”.
Sir Roger Makins, “Some Notes on British Foreign Policy,” 11 August 1951 in British Documents on the End of Empire. Series A. Volume II. (1992), pp. 373-379.
With the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in Washington, DC to clean-up the BP mess among other things, it is I believe worthwhile to focus a bit on British foreign policy in the contemporary world. Fortunately or unfortunately (I believe very much the latter), we are no longer in a world that it can be taken as a given, that in the words of the most influential and perhaps brilliant and wise British Ambassador to the United States in the 20th Century (there being some rather fierce competition), Sir Oliver Franks in his Reith Lectures of 1954:
"It can be stated very simply. Britain is going to continue to be what she has been, a Great Power. This is something that the British people assume and act upon."
Sir Oliver Franks,Britain and the Tide of World Affairs, 1955, p. 5.
A state of mind, which while not disappearing immediately in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis, did commence at that time if not earlier to gradually dissipate. The upshot being not only the wholesale 'retreat from Empire,' in the late 1950's and 1960's, but the gradual dismantling of British power positions in places like Singapore ('East of Suez') and the Persian Gulf. Currently, according to recent figures, the United Kingdom has barely more than 240,000 total personnel. Which admittedly is a far cry from the 600,000 of the late fifties and even the close to 400,000 of the mid to late sixties. On the other hand, it is well to remember that the United Kingdom has the largest defence expenditure in the world after the USA and the PRC (see the relevant figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in www.milexdata.sipri). And, it probably has the second greatest 'power projection' capability in the world after the USA. Admittedly, the comparisons between the two powers on this level are rather stark by differential. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that the UK, while a diminished player, nay perhaps even a 'very diminished player', is still deemable as one of the 'Great Powers', in the military and even the economic sense (depending upon whose numbers one accepts the sixth largest economy in the world). Now, if one were to read some of the commentary of people like our ever bien-pensant, Mr. Stephens, or from a more conservative viewpoint, David Blackburn of the London Spectator (see: www.spectator.co.uk), one would get the impression that as far as the UK's ability to carry on as a great power, the 'game is up', and the new age of austerity will wipe away any claims to such a power position. Well, perhaps that is the case, but, per se there is nothing intrinsic about the UK's current economic state which mandates that it must become another Holland or Spain on a larger scale. And, indeed the mots uttered by the Premier Cameron, reinforcing those enunciated elsewhere by his clever and first-rate, Foreign Secretary William Hague, in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, while in some ways banal, do show that he does seem to realize that the Anglo-American relationship, is still one of the bedrocks of the UK's power position in the world, and indeed as a Great Power:
"The US-UK relationship is simple: It’s strong because it delivers for both of us. The alliance is not sustained by our historical ties or blind loyalty. This is a partnership of choice that serves our national interests....
I am hard-headed and realistic about US-UK relations. I understand that we are the junior partner—just as we were in the 1940s and, indeed, in the 1980s. But we are a strong, self-confident country clear in our views and values, and we should behave that way.
The US is a global power, with shorelines facing the Pacific and Atlantic, so of course it must cultivate relations with Indonesia, China and others, just as it has to with Europe. We’re living in a new world where the balance of power in different regions is shifting, and the US is strengthening its ties with rising powers. Britain is doing the same thing. That’s why I’m off to Turkey and India shortly and why we have a strategic relationship with China. In a world of fast-growing, emerging economies, we have a responsibility to engage more widely and bring new countries to the top table of the international community. To do so is pro-American and pro-British, because it’s the only way we will maintain our influence in a changing world".
"PM's article in the Wall Street Journal: UK-US relations," 19 July 2010, in www.number10.gov.uk.
Which is not to argue that the UK government, either the current one, or any other one for that matter, should throw all of its eggs in the Anglo-American basket. But, the fact of the matter, is that the European Union is as far as machtpolitk goes, merely a eunuchpure et simple. Something which the recent German discussions about in essence disbanding (or close to it) their army just reinforces. As does the unwillingness of much of the European Union powers, both inside and outside of NATO, to willingly fight, much less win military conflicts outside of their immediate borders. To repeat: failing the UK's willingness to stay up to the mark, in terms of militay force and force projection, and, the value of the United Kingdom as both an ally to the USA, and, as a Great Power, fall to practically nothing. Rien plus.The ultimate denouement being the realization of a situation which the American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles warned of in his last days on earth:
"We must now accept the fact that something has happened, not just to British politicians of both parties, but to the British people. The British no longer can be one of the foundation stones of our alliance, of our security, of our habits of the conduct of our diplomacy."
John Foster Dulles, circa April-May 1959, as quoted by Livingston Merchant, in the Livingston Merchant Papers, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.