The new - and weak - UK foreign policy

This article was published in Tribune
Driving down Britain with diplomatic impunity -

Foreign policy is exposing divisions in the British Government

10 July 2010

William Hague’s first big speech as Foreign Secretary failed to address key questions, most ­important of which is Britain’s policy on Afghanistan. David Cameron has said he expects British troops to be out by 2015, with Number 10 briefing that there would be a significant reduction in our forces next year. Working-class British soldiers can no longer be Taliban target practice in order to satisfy the desire of generals to fight a war without strategic or political coherence. Britain should continue nation-building and promoting human rights, but not send our soldiers to die for no ­purpose.

But then up popped Defence Secretary Liam Fox, now known as “13th Century Fox”, after his notorious description of Afghanistan as a 13th century country. Fox went to the Heritage Foundation, the neo-cons’ favourite Washington think tank, and said British ­soldiers would keep fighting and dying even if they were the last ones on the ground in years to come.

Fox is now the London voice of the Pentagon, whose constant briefing against President Barack Obama produced the Stanley McChrystal crisis and led to the ­general’s dismissal. Obama does not want his presidency to be haunted by a new Vietnam. Thus Britain’s Defence Secretary openly ­contradicted the Prime Minister.  However, in his first keynote speech on foreign policy, William Hague ignored the contradictions and political rivalries now coming into the open in this uneasy coalition.

Hague said he wanted more influence for Britain in Europe. Who can object?  But Hague is indulging in wishful thinking if he thinks British influence in Europe will increase as a result of one speech.

He forged the Tory alliance with those Clegg described as “nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes” in eastern Europe. This has left this country isolated politically – even if due courtesy is paid by the EU to our new Prime Minister. Hague did not mention the £500 million Foreign Office budget cuts for diplomats.

Unable to defend his department’s modest spending, Hague’s will be a Primark foreign service with everything done on the cheap. He also called for more work to be done in Latin America. I went with Tony Blair to Brazil, Argentina and Mexico on the first ever visit by a serving British Prime Minister to Latin America. Britain does need a greater presence there, but the swingeing cuts in the Foreign Office budget will make this more ­difficult to deliver.

Cameron has not been to Latin America in his five years as Tory leader. Hague’s only visit to the region was with Lord Ashcroft. In Cuba, he broke British and EU policy rules when he met Communist apparatchiks in Havana while Orlando Zapata, a pro-democracy campaigner in Cuba, was dying in prison under the orders of the Castro brothers’ dictatorship. Given Ashcroft’s financial interests in the region, perhaps his relationship with Hague deserves closer scrutiny.

Of course, it would be good to improve relations with the Chinese – but soon it may not be the democracy-deniers of Beijing in the driving seat, but the workers of China as they forge independent trade unions.
Britain also needs a new India policy, as Tory MP Jo Johnson, brother of London Mayor Boris, has pointed out. We has given more than £1 billion in international development aid to India and got nothing in return. India has more billionaires than Britain, a nuclear arsenal and the capacity to send rockets to the moon. Yet it cannot find the political will to have a dialogue with Pakistan over Kashmir.

Forthcoming Foreign Office budget cuts, which Hague is meekly accepting, will see British embassies in Europe effectively reduced to one man, an electric kettle and an email address. The BBC is looking at shutting down all its foreign language broadcasts, which began when General de Gaulle made his famous appeal to resist Nazism in June 1940 on BBC radio.

Robin Cook started his term as Labour Foreign Secretary by referring to an “ethical dimension” to foreign policy. This jarred somewhat, as foreign policy – rightly or wrongly – has to blend realpolitik and moralpolitik. William Hague will not be taken seriously in Europe unless the Tories realign with serious politicians in the EU. And if Britain is not taken seriously in Europe, it will have little clout elsewhere in the world.