Saturday, October 25, 2003

I've just discovered what looks like a relatively new blog devoted to British foreign policy. Airstrip One has a number of interesting posts including this one which links to an article about the development of British and French foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

I've said this before, but I'm amazed at how little discussion there is of British foreign policy by the elites that shape it. In particular, I'm thinking of its direction and strategic aims. Apart from a fuzzy commitment to the 'Special Relationship' and a certain scepticism of Europe there doesn't really seem to be any guiding philosophy. You can say what you like about Bush's foreign policy (I happen to be quite sympathetic to many aspects) but at least the neo-cons claim to be guided by a desire to restore democracy to formerly undemocratic parts of the world. British foreign policy and its practitioners, on the other hand, appear, at times, to be entirely re-active. This would be understandable if Britain were a small country on the periphery somewhere but it is not. It has one of the worlds largest economies and a very capable military and it could quite easily play a more pro-active and independent role on the world stage. In particular I'm thinking of Africa and the possible role that Britain could play in stabilising areas of West and Central Africa that are falling apart. Britain played a major role in bringing peace to Sierra Leone several years ago and there is no reason why it couldn't have done the same in Liberia and the Great Lakes region of the Congo. This is out of the question now, of course. The UKs invovement in Iraq means that it lacks both the troops and the popular will to get involved in more adventures in far off lands. Yet, this bears out my contention. There was no reason why the UK needed to get involved in Uncle Sam's war. The needs of the special relationship would have been satisfied by supporting the US's diplomatic efforts in the UN and by providing financial support in the wars aftermath. The US did not require Britain's assistance to win the war and, if anything, I suspect that US military planners resented having to work with their British counterparts. If Britain had remained aloof of Iraq it would have been in a position to go to the assistance of Liberia as that country imploded and it would probably have been in a position to provide the muscle to back up South Africa's diplomatic efforts in the Congo. There is a presumption in Britain that involvement in Africa will invite accusations of neo-colonialism, as indeed it might, from some quarters. But that is not sufficient reason to refrain from involvement. There is plenty of scope for Britain to work with Africa's more responsible powers and even where there is no local involvement there is usually a compelling moral case for intervention in countries which are being ravaged by civil war and tribalism. But Britain can only do this if it picks its wars carefully. Leave the heavy lifting to the US, it is quite capable, and focus on restoring peace to countries whose importance is perhaps only marginal. If the 'special relationship' was rational as opposed to emotional this is how things would work. And yet, there is so little debate about British foreign policy that the UK has found itself involved in a major campaign which, as recently as, two years ago anyone would scarecly have contemplated. Mr Blair, where is the direction? The 'special relationship' is not a sufficient basis from which to conduct such an important aspect of the nations life.

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