I should start with an apology, as this piece is wildly long, repetitive in purpose (check out Emmanuel Goldstein’s much more concise alternative), and dubious in form as an exercise in English prose. However, my moral qualms aren’t sufficient to spare you, for what I’m going to do and even I don’t want to get there that fast is examine, pretty much line by line, Iain Duncan Smith’s self-proclaimed effort to define what a Conservative foreign policy should amount to. I don’t agree with him. Believe me, you’ll save yourself the online equivalent of having a fork stuck in your eye if you stop here. A blunt fork, clean at the tips, but with bits of dried gunk in between the prongs. Honestly, stop reading now…
Well, you’re still here, so you probably deserve this. The speech was assiduously spun as being a great essay in, holy of holies, realism and thus a signal rebuke to the fantasy politics of the Prime Minister. Now, I’ve never been one for thinking that Tony Blair is anything other than realistic: he favours a rather actorly approach to public rhetoric (and that perhaps goes some way to explaining why he does so well in democratic politics), but he’s nothing if not a proven realist about the cold stuff of power. From doing over his best mate to become leader of the Labour party, to casually letting former girlfriends go their way when their time is up, Mr Blair could, and really should, teach the ninnies of the British Right a lesson in how to lead.
On the specific issue of whether this government’s foreign policy is realistic’ or not, surely that depends upon its goals? If those goals aren’t ones with which we’d agree, then it’s pointless then to assess them with a view to handing out a failing grade, kidding ourselves we’re doing so because some realism quotient hasn’t been met, when in fact it’s because the end result has nothing to do with Tory goals. To put that another way, realism, despite what some of its more fervid academic avatars froth, is not, and never can be, an end in itself. Rather, it is, so much more simply, a particular means of achieving one’s goals. By that standard, I think there’s a fair case to be made, that, by its own ludicrous lights, this has been fairly successful government. That is, however, a case for them to make, and us to examine, some other time. Our purpose here is to assess whether the current leader of the Tory party has set forward congenially Conservative ambitions. And as a sort of sweet pudding to follow this thin gruel, we’ll then cheer ourselves up by asking whether there’s much likelihood of him pursuing these in sacerdotally realistic fashion.
As his principal tool for securing these goals, in the chamber of the House of Commons at any rate, Iain Duncan Smith has chosen Michael Ancram for the job of shadow Foreign Secretary. This cannot be called a good or especially realistic start. To begin with, Michael Anram isn’t even Michael Anram’s real name it’s actually Michael Kerr or, if you prefer, the Earl of Ancram, since he’s heir to the Marquessate of Lothian and thus gets that as his courtesy title. His father, the current, and 12th, Marquess, succeeded his cousin, the 11th Marquess, upon his death in 1940. He was then British Ambassador to Washington (and a devout Christian Scientist indeed, his death was due to his refusal to accept conventional medical treatment), and this death, as well as robbing Britain of an effective diplomat, provided Churchill with the opportunity to remove Lord Halifax as foreign secretary, packing him off to D.C. instead. The late ambassador, Phillip Kerr, had been in his youth a member of Lord Milner’s kindergarten, a coterie of self-selecting politicians-, journalists- and proconsuls-to-be, who set their adult lives towards the maintenance of the empire. A considerable talent, and a sore loss, and, as is the way with families, thereafter the genetic stuff, like an under-rotated field, grew that bit weaker.
Michael Ancram’, in his choice of name, drips his wetness all over us. This ungodly compound is adopted by peers who, on the one hand want to use their title, but on the other hand, want to be all blokey about it, so rather than citizen Kerr (the family name), or milord Ancram (the title), they weld the two together. In a phrase which seldom spells anything other than trouble, Mister Ancram was one of those first since the reformation’ events that have happened so often of late in Britain. In his case, he was the first Roman Catholic (the family, after the experience of the 11th Marquess, dispensed with Christian Science) to be elected as a Tory MP in Scotland since the you-know-what. A left-of-centre Tory under Mrs Thatcher, he struggled to obtain ministerial office, even as the number of MPs the party returned from Scotland collapsed, and the gaping maw of the Scottish Office cried out for parliamentary peons to serve as ministers. In due course he lost his own seat, and returned to parliament (for an English constituency) this time under the more, to him, agreeable leadership of John Major.
Our worst Prime Minister since Lord North saw talents where others had seen only an aptitude for jumper wearing and guitar-based folk music (think Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but without the in-your-face pizzazz), and made Mr. Ancram a minister of state, at the Northern Ireland Office. It’s funny to think that today’s Lion of Gibraltar, roaring defiance at the Spaniard once had a very different attitude to sharing, over the heads of unwilling British subjects, sovereignty with foreign governments. This, presumably, represents what I believe Americans on the west coast call personal growth’. When the Conservatives went into opposition in 1997, William Hague eventually ended up with Michael Ancram as his most senior adviser. Specifically, he was Chairman of the Tory party, and responsible for its general election campaign. This we lost. Off the back of that, the party chairman decided to stand for the leadership of the Tory party, such vacancy being occasioned by Mr. Hague’s resignation in the wake of Mr. Ancram’s, uh, work.
Although Westminster giggled itself silly at his candidature, the press underestimated how far personal geniality (for he’s nothing if not a nice man) still counts amongst Tory MPs. More important still, a vote for him was seen by many MPs who were Hague loyalists, as being one last way of expressing their sympathy for their fallen leader. In consequence, he came joint last. However, he did so with a quantity of votes that surprised all who watched the contest (and reflected the paucity of decent candidates). He also tied with David Davis, who, along with Duncan Smith, was seen as the candidate of the party’s right. The net effect of all this was to take out both Ancram and Davis out of the race. They swung behind Duncan Smith, and were, after his victory, rewarded for this with the posts of party chairman (Davis) and, obviously enough, foreign affairs for Ancram. It is thus that the Tory party has come to enjoy an affable, wet, and defeatist-as-they-come fellow as their putative practitioner of realism.
The shadow foreign secretary recently delivered himself of a great oration on foreign policy as well. It’s as bad as a speech can be. And now I can finally summon up the courage to turn to Iain Duncan Smith’s effort. Almost. For a venue, the Tory leader chose that most hallowed of foreign policy fora, Chatham House. A fine eighteenth century mansion on St. James’s Square, the building’s name serves as the more popular term by which the Royal Institute of International Affairs is known. This, in essence, was the first foreign policy think tank, and, with the members of the Kindergarten, once so active in its deliberations, the goal it brought to the twentieth century was the preservation of British power. Passing swiftly on, the RIIA was badly mismanaged in the postwar period, and fell on such lean times that by the late 1970s much of the building itself was leased off to commercial tenants, and the continued existence of the Institute was only secured by a fairly whorish move into writing reports for the oil industry. Today the place is riddled with PC-riddled to the extent that when a Tory MP and former defence minister applied for membership, they turned him down in favour of their normal complement of whey-faced international relations academics.
Whether microcosm or metaphor, then, Chatham House serves well as a place in which to start thinking about how to arrest Britain’s diplomatic decline. Hereafter follows what Duncan Smith would do in office, and why I hold that he wouldn’t do a damn thing to make Britain master of her own destiny again.
PART II, OR THE PART THAT IS ACTUALLY ABOUT THE SPEECH
[Duncan Smith] Henry Kissinger’s most recent book, published before the outrages of 11th September, was provocatively entitled "Does America Need a Foreign Policy?" His answer, of course, was "yes". Dr Kissinger argues that (I quote) "in the 1990s, American preeminence evolved less from any strategic design than a series of ad hoc decisions designed to satisfy domestic constituencies" which had "given rise to the temptation of acting as if the United States needed no long-range foreign policy at all".
[CDM] You can see why Harvard’s in the state it’s in today when you realise that the Golden Age saw a faculty comprised of people like Henry. Kissinger’s A World Restored, for instance, although a competent enough history of the operation of the Concert of Europe after Napoleon, is shot through with an anachronistic proto-Cold War schema. That Duncan Smith’s office turned to his latest, and sadly, far less well written tome, for inspiration is commentary both on their reading habits, and the sad truth that nobody on this side of the Atlantic even rises to Kissinger’s level of badness.
What’s so typically useless, however, in current Tory thinking on foreign affairs, is the fact that anyone with basic neural functions can give credence to the lack of a plan’ approach to understanding American foreign policy. There has been a plan indeed there have been quite a few and as I have argued in this spot before, they haven’t even been especially sensible from the point of view of American imperialism. So to say that there hasn’t been a whole industry in Washington and New York, devoted to working out how American global influence will be sustained, is to betray a truly heroic ignorance of the United States. As to the sage nodding at Henry’s great insight that foreign policy has a habit of responding to domestic considerations, we shall, in kindness, move on as quickly as we can.
Under President George W. Bush as I learned for myself when I talked to him and senior members of his Administration America does indeed now have such a policy. It is strong, focused, self-confident, realistic and governed by an intelligent perception of America’s national interest.
The exact sequencing of Duncan Smith’s visit to the White House was that, nominally, he went to present his compliments to Ms. Rice, and, whadya know, Dubya just happened to pass by while this tête-à-tête was taking place. The last time a British politician received this treatment from the Americans admittedly, when he wasn’t as popular with either your government or mine as he is today was when Gerry Adams visited the same office to, supposedly, meet Tony Lake, President Clinton’s meddler-in-chief for Ulster. In both cases, however, the point and outcome, from the US presidents’ point of view, was the same: not to provide the visitor, whomever he had really come to see, with a photo he could show to the press. Perhaps one day Mr Duncan Smith will rise to the dizzy heights where the US president is willing to be seen with him in public.
In this, as in other respects, the Americans have much to remind us of.
Dr Kissinger’s question about America was obviously asked tongue-in-cheek: a super-power does clearly need a long-range foreign policy. But Britain needs one just as much. We are the fourth largest economy, a power with global interests but limited resources to defend them. We have to be focused in our analysis, realistic in our objectives, staunch in our alliances, ingenious in our methods and resolute in our actions.
And, to quote Kissinger again, our leaders need "the intuitive ability to sense the future and thereby master it". It is a tall order. But, then, whoever said statesmanship was easy?
Can you imagine reading this stuff out? I mean, honestly . . .
Tuesday 11th September brought home to many the domestic imperative of foreign affairs. The terrorist outrages committed against New York and Washington transformed public perceptions throughout the West. Suddenly, people of all political persuasions and none were compelled to take stock of the dangers and the complexities of the world beyond our shores.
This is the hulking great elison, or, as they say down at the docks, lie that the neo-cons keep putting over about the war: they start with the assumption that we were awakened to the threat only with September 11th (whereas in fact, although we disagreed about the wheres and whys, neo-con and actual-con alike were as one in screaming that the pre-911 world was a pretty dangerous place). They then move on to explain how we have to understand the Bin Laden bombings. What no one must ever say is that America deserved it’. To say this is to place oneself beyond conventional morality, to apply for a job with the French Foreign Ministry even. Our neo-con chums, however, have taken the truism that claiming America deserved it’ is abhorrent, and used it to squash any discussion of why Bin Laden staged this obscene attack.
That Mr Bin Laden was reacting to the foreign policy that the likes of Henry would have us believe wasn’t happening during the 90s is obvious; that he was able to carry it out is, worse still for the Bill Kristols and Robert Kagans, the most damning thing of all. For the indictment that must never be read out in public is this: what sort of lousily managed empire allows this to happen to itself? What, for pity’s sake, is the point in spending umpteen billions more on the armed forces, when the gold plated ones in existence before 911 comprehensively failed to prevent it from happening?
It is essential, however, not to fall into the trap of believing that the world itself along with perceptions of it changed fundamentally on that fateful Tuesday.
Most obviously, al-Qaeda was planning these attacks for a number of years beforehand. Indeed, arguably, if different decisions had been taken by the US authorities in the wake of earlier outrages the horrors of last September might have been avoided.
As the title of this address [Britain’s Place in a Changing World] suggests, Britain does indeed have to make its way in a "changing world". But it is important to distinguish what changes from what stays the same.
11th September was not, after all, the first time even in modern recollection when the world appeared to be undergoing fundamental change. It happened at the end of the Cold War. Freedom was extended to millions who had never known it. And geopolitics was all at once turned up-side-down. The world became uni-polar, with the United States as the only global superpower. The international system was more open but less predictable. It was one where the globalisation of both economics and culture were promoted by a communications revolution.
The banality of globalisation’ is something a right wing British politician should be horsewhipped for mouthing: the idea that anyone, with any sense of history, thinks there’s something new about an English speaking hegemon superintending the world economy, with a view of promoting its own interests through the application of Manchesterist economics, is, well, something we ought from the sound of things, to beat rigorously into every twelve year-old in the country.
More laughable still is the idea that the world, as expressed though the forms of British foreign policy, was changed after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. It was, of course, transformed, but anyone looking at the British response adhering to an integrationist European project (see foreign policy passim), binding herself ever more tightly into NATO and preserving an obsolete continental military commitment (ditto), and loyally backing every American foreign policy initiative on offer (ditto, bar Bosnia, for a bit) would be hard-placed to say what we did to react to this "renewed" world.
But there also grew up a dangerously false view of realities. The Cold War had lasted so long that many people assumed that a stand-off between great powers was the usual state of affairs. And now that there was no such stand off, it was tacitly assumed that there was also no serious threat to peace.
In fact, the end of the Cold War meant no such thing. It marked in many respects a return to earlier conditions ones where a number of powers jostled for advantage, and where both alliances and tensions shifted in line with the circumstances of the day.
Within this more fluid world NATO’s role retained its importance. And so did America’s leadership. But the old disciplines disappeared along with the old rigidities. Hence the rise of the rogue state. Hence also Saddam Hussein and the Gulf War.
If you want a phrase which, more than any other, demonstrates why there is no conceivable chance that the Tory party, as presently constituted, will ever advocate, let alone, advance, the cause of British independence, feast your eyes upon that terrible phrase, American leadership’. Even in squalid satrapies like Peru, the dictates of domestic chauvinism entail a sturdy rhetorical insistence upon national independence. Can there be any other country that lines up so tamely behind the follies of American foreign policy as Britain does? This, remember, is the leader of the patriot’s party warbling away, and this is what he offers us.
And then again the world seemed fundamentally to change on 11th September. Old rivalries have given way to at least one new partnership that emerging between the West and Russia, whose strategic importance has been emphasised by the demands of the War Against Terrorism. So too, the rivalry between the US and China, which had grown sharply in recent years, has suddenly been put on hold. These, then, are some of the ways in which the world today has changed.
And yet equally important is the extent to which the underlying realities have not changed at all either with the end of the Cold War or with the start of the War on Terrorism. We have clearly not reached anything like the "End of History", when swords are forged into ploughshares or perhaps laptops as the lure of prosperity transforms yesterday’s warrior into today’s entrepreneur.
Yet these particular instances fail to get to the heart of the matter. Even before we analyse the risks that surround us we should at least always assume that they exist. For that is the way the world is. Human nature has made it so.
The insight I have described here is at the heart of the Conservative view of foreign policy. Conservatives with a big and a small "c" are interested in the world as it is. We are realists; and we rejoice in the fact, because we know that it allows us to avoid succumbing to the distractions and descending into the cul-de-sacs that lure the unwary.
It’s enough to make you weep.
There is, though, another view. And it is frequently proclaimed by the Prime Minister.
The Conservative Party has supported, and will support, the Prime Minister whenever the national interest demands. But this does not detract from the fact that the present government has an approach to British foreign and security policy which is, at its very roots, misguided.
Just to clarify that, unlike William Hague’s tentative efforts at opposition and he came very close over the Kosovo war Iain Duncan Smith’s only complaint against Tony Blair’s conduct of foreign policy is that he doesn’t jump high enough when asked to by the Americans.
The problem is simple and fundamental. It is that the Prime Minister seems to believe that there are no limits to what Britain, acting as part of an all-embracing global coalition of the Righteous, can and should do to make the world a better place. To judge from a speech he made earlier this month in Bangalore, he does not even see any limits to foreign policy, saying (I quote): "In today’s globally interdependent world foreign and domestic policy are part of the same thing".
This, you moron, is precisely the insight’ that Henry, oh so many turgid paragraphs ago, tried to teach you foreign policy and domestic policy cannot be decoupled. To say it as slowly as possible: in each polity there is but one state, ergo, this one actor conducts both internal and external policy. Both policies determine the behaviour of the state, the state, in acting, is simultaneously subject to both.
If, of course, this means that you cannot have a successful foreign policy without also having a successful domestic policy, then there is a certain amount of truth in it. But, even then, it is not the whole truth. Countries which seek to pursue ambitious foreign policies which neither advance their interests nor match their resources are putting their standing and possibly their security at risk. And there is worse. An unfocused approach to foreign policy leads to, and is often devised in pursuit of, media grand-standing.
The truth is that high profile diplomacy always contains it own temptations. Before foreign leaders decide to offer their personal services in sorting out long-standing international disputes, they should be clear about the answer to three searching questions.
First: what do I expect to achieve?
In very limited defence of Blair, but absolutely contrary to the primitivism of Duncan Smith, the simple observation has to be made that, people don’t always do things for the reasons they claim they do. Hence when Tony Blair, for example, sends British troops to Bagram long before he had permission from Washington to do any such thing, he claims that he was trying to bring security to Kabul, and cure cancer amongst baby dolphins, but in fact . . . what he was actually doing was showing some limited autonomy and trying to advance the chances that nation-building’ would have some part in the post-war Anglo-American policy in Afghanistan, as opposed to the "bomb them, quickly, then go away again" route.
Second: what practical means are at my disposal?
Taken seriously, this would mean that foreign policy would be determined by the military kit that happened to be available, rather than foreign policy being formulated, and kit thereafter being provided consistent with that analysis. Sadly, or course, this is what happens most of the time, but it ought to make any realist’ ill.
And third: am I best placed to do it?
Without clarity on these points, the correct conclusion may be to stay at home.
So much of today’s Designer Diplomacy demonstrates a worrying lack of realism. What is at work is a delusion about the way the world actually works, one which consists (in T. S. Eliot’s words) of : "Dreaming a system so perfect that no-one will need to be good".
Today’s utopian internationalists, who only have to glance at an opportunity for multilateral intervention in order to jump at it, run the risk of weakening national support for those military engagements which are fundamental to our security. Moreover, they fail to recognise that it is only when nations consider that their vital interests are engaged that they will make those sacrifices and shoulder those commitments that lead to successful outcomes.
This, let it be said, from a man who was notable, in the 1992-97 parliament, for being that rara avis, a backbench Tory MP who dissented from the Hurd/Major line on keeping out of the Balkans, and instead promulgated the silliest, most hardline pro-American garbage about what the West could and should do to Bosnia, Serbia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia. A dodo for any reader who can tell me what, exactly, was in Britain’s interests about sending troops to Bosnia.
Let me take the War Against Terrorism as a decisive case in point.
The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon provoked such national, as well as international, outrage because no-one could fail to see that they were intended as attacks not just on America’s interests, policies, and actions but on America herself.
These attacks attracted such outrage as they did because they were an immensley telegenic slaughter of several thousand innocent people. Believe it or not, Iain, one of America’s signal interests, if not her foremost one, lies in preventing this sort of thing from happening to her own people. The fact that she failed to do this, despite all her vast pre 9/11 military expenditure, is terrible commentary upon her foreign policy, her military and intelligence chiefs, and a hell of a lot worse than failing to protect even a destroyer at anchor in Yemen, or an airbase in Saudi.
I said at the time that America’s war was and is our war. That is both because our people and our interests are so close to those of America and because we also had the will and the means to make America’s struggle ours as well. But the fact remains that America unambiguously led the war a sovereign power leading a coalition of sovereign powers.
Britain was not attacked. Her decision to participate in the US military response made no qualitative difference to that effort, whereas it has, by the open admission of government ministers, placed the United Kingdom at greater risk than was hitherto the case. A question for the likes of Iain Duncan Smith is this: if we had suffered a comparable attack, and the United States had not, would she have written us the blank cheque that we have written them?
America has now demonstrated decisively that its capacity for action is the best guarantee of the world’s security. But America has also demonstrated that, no matter how powerful the currents of globalism and internationalism, the decisive strike against international terrorism required mobilising national loyalty, national pride and national willingness for sacrifice. That remains the most reliable way of ensuring that grave wrongs are punished and that just wars are won.
This reflection leads to my first conclusion about the right priorities for British policy today. For me, as a Conservative, a successful foreign and security policy is one which always has a clear understanding of the national interest.
That is not an isolationist principle: quite the reverse it is precisely because our national interest is bound with the interests of other civilized nations that we must pursue a vigorous foreign policy. But we must always have a clear understanding of our mission.
But, naturally, the national interest has to be viewed in the round, with intelligence and perception.
I can see so many beautiful colours, my hands, they’re as big as the moon . . .
In today’s interdependent world, the national interest can be damaged or advanced by crises arising far away from our shores not unusually in the Middle East, home to most of the world’s hydrocarbon resources. But many other areas too, where international terrorism, or proliferation of weaponry, or destabilising ethnic tension, or human or ecological disaster threaten, will rightly concern us. The War Against Terrorism itself reinforces this truth. After all, when our troops were acting to smash the Taliban in Afghanistan they were also acting to cut off a deadly channel of heroin that kills young people in our cities at home.
For those of you who have made it this far, would you look at that? Do you actually see that? Heroin . . . heroin? We’re at war to stop terrorists from pushing dope to our ugly, fat children? Idly one wonders, if Duncan Smith were confronted with evidence that, far from falling faint at the thought of it, America and Britain had, over these last ten years, collaborated with drug dealing terrorists, what sort of popping noise would his head make as it exploded?
And as to the profundity contained within the statement that in today’s interdependent world, the national interest can be damaged or advanced by crises arising far away from our shores’, you can see that he made all the way to the end of Henry’s book. What happens overseas can have a bearing on foreign policy who’d have thought it?
Moreover, it can sometimes arise, as in Kosovo, that a failure to take military action to protect an endangered civilian population would be morally culpable. It may also be right to intervene in order to maintain a great principle whose infraction with impunity could set a fatal precedent for example, the principle that aggression shall not prosper, or that borders shall not be changed by force. And over and above all these security matters, the maintenance of global trade, promotion of global prosperity and enlargement of global freedom are real national concerns of Britain. But when we do, which was not the case in Kosovo at the outset, we must determine to put the right forces in place to force our plan.
Look, I’m as bored as you are, so let’s get through this as speedily as we can:
1.) imagine, failing to protect an endangered civilian population in Kosovo we’d never do anything like that, we’d never abandon the Serbs of Kosovo to the, uh, drug dealing, Bin Laden linked, terrorists of the KLA, no, not us;
2.) now, I know that not everyone reading falls asleep wearing their Hayek pyjamas, but Iain, global trade’? What are we trying to say here, that we’re arming up the cruise missiles because of Japanese import quotas? I only ask because, um, we’re members of the most evil zollverein on the planet in the form of the EU. Even Tony Blair, as he ponces about West Africa, talks about how morally repugnant it is that we are compelled by the EU’s tariff wall effectively to exclude African primary exports from the British economy.
The history of our nation has qualified us well to play a major strategic and humanitarian role. The fact that Britain bestrides three spheres of influence: its Commonwealth, its special relationship with America and its partnership with other European states enables it to have influence over the response of the international community to disasters both natural and man-made.
I worry about this man, and his idea of fun, if he thinks we bestride anything. Female pandas in the mating position come more readily to mind.
Other countries actually look to Britain to take a lead because of our heritage in international diplomacy and our reputation for getting things done.
British NGO s are highly regarded and it is no surprise that the United Nations has just picked Oxfam as an acknowledged world expert to restore water supplies in Goma. Providing international help on this scale is resource hungry that is why hard questions need to be asked about the effectiveness of aid, making sure it gets into the right hands. And as far as possible helping to make a country self-reliant and not dependent.
Hell, why not get a plug in for Amnesty while you’re at it?
Reform of international organisations through whom Britain channels its multi-lateral aid should not escape our attention. European Development assistance accounts for a third of all our giving and although there has been some progress in cutting red tape and speeding up EU relief efforts, much more needs to be done. Britain’s role on the international stage is an important part of our nation’s identity. Being respected for the quality of our help to others in trouble is something we can be rightly proud of.
I cannot deny a sneaking regard to the cosy paternalism, the soft colonialism to which competent overseas aid amounts. It is an inescapable truth that British-supervised aid is used three to four times more effectively than EU aid. Iain Duncan Smith leads a eurosceptic party in opposition, with no prospect of having to entertain the responsibilities’ of office for at least a decade, and he cannot even bring himself to say we’ll spend our own aid money, and Brussels can go boil its head’.
The second follows from a clear understanding of our priorities. It is that diplomacy is no substitute for strong defence, and foreign entanglements that leave British forces overstretched and vulnerable are to be avoided.
What overstretch’ would there be if we didn’t leave them, years after we claimed we’d have them out, in the Balkans, or the German central plain, or, any of the other places in which Duncan Smith has supported their deployment since he entered parliament?
Britain is not just another second order world power. We are unique, and our uniqueness lends our opinions weight. No other power enjoys the combination of far-flung links through the Commonwealth, or our special standing in the Gulf, or our place at the historic hub of the English speaking world or our long tradition of civil peace or our international reputation for decency and fair-dealing. These are all important advantages. But while trumpeting all these claims, let’s not forget something else: Jaw-Jaw is indeed preferable to War-War but investment in defence is also an investment in our international influence. We are listened to, above all, because we are permanent member of the UN Security Council, and a nuclear power with highly effective armed forces and because we benefit from a uniquely close relationship with the only global superpower. Each of these our defence preparedness and our alliance with America is vital to our national interest.
Britain is indeed well placed amongst the cabinet nations: this is what makes our supine posture so tragic. We could have a foreign policy of our own. We don’t have to follow the American line, word for word.
Happily, our relations with our great ally are in good repair, though I should like to see them stronger still, as I shall explain.
Our lack of defence preparedness, however, gives greater cause for concern. The size of our armed forces has been shrinking at the same time as they have been tasked with extra commitments the most recent being a new peacekeeping mission in Kabul which is much less well-defined than the original objective of removing the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
What any sensible British Government has to recognise, and then to act upon, is that we cannot hope to do more in the world and yet spend less on it. That’s called facing up to reality.
If only there was a (fiscally responsible) way to cut this Gordian knot . . .
In the US today, there is a drive towards further strengthening of military capabilities. In Europe, however, it is a very different picture. According to the latest figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, EU countries’ defence spending continues to fall. This is deeply disturbing, and there is no sign yet that the events of 11th September have shaken Europeans or the British Government out of their complacency.
There is only one way to read this: the leader of the Tory party thinks that continental Europeans should spend more money on armaments. What change a century has wrought!
That brings me to my third conclusion the vital strategic importance of our relationship with America. For it is upon our American friends’ cooperation that our effectiveness as a military power and our security as a nation depend. Not the least of the positive inheritance from the Conservative eighties and nineties is that Americans know that Britain is America’s most reliable ally. It is to the credit of the Prime Minister that he has reinforced that perception by his well-chosen words of support during recent months. In fact, at an emotional level the Trans-Atlantic relationship has rarely been closer.
If we can just revert to black being black and white being white for a moment: what neuters Britain as a foreign policy actor is the fact we have no other policy than that which the US deigns to provide for us. It is precisely this special relationship’ that undermines our independence.
This emotion also reflects a deep reality. People sometimes query the importance of the "special relationship" and suggest that it is just nostalgia. It isn’t. It reflects the fact that the British and Americans see the world in much the same way which itself reflects our shared history, language, culture, values and beliefs. And it is upon such foundations that international relationships are built. Yet while psychological closeness is important, it is not a substitute for decision-making.
Since September 11th something else has changed. We have all but seen the last of the attempts to induce America to abandon its plans for Ballistic Missile Defence. Russia has been constructive over the issue, recognizing that the ABM Treaty was based on a military doctrine which has substantially changed. The priority now is not so much to deter a massive nuclear strike: it is to protect ourselves, our forces and our allies from missile attack by rogue states or from the risk of accidental missile launches.
I believe that the British Government should have given stronger support to President Bush’s plans and led the debate here in Europe. Indeed, we should be doing all we can to take advantage of them. Just as we benefit from America’s nuclear umbrella, so we should also seek to benefit from its Ballistic Missile shield. Staying outside it by default would be to take an unforgivable risk with our nation’s security.
I’m going to return to the subject of NMD in the future, but can anyone spot the Waldo of British self-interest here? Apparently, despite those very sleek Vanguard class SSBNs we have, we shelter under an American nuclear umbrella. Quite what this shields us against, I cannot say, and, obviously, Iain doesn’t say. Maybe it’s more a Freudian defence, protecting us from a metaphysical sense of insecurity rather than any actual threat. Or then again, maybe it’s protecting us against aliens? We’d never have been able to beat them in Independence Day if it hadn’t been for the nukes…
As I say, I’ll come back to Star Wars in another piece. For now, though, all I ask of British apologists for this scheme a scheme on the part of a foreign government, which, in theory, would obviate our most powerful weapon is that they put forward some arguments explaining why it’s in our national interest. For God’s sake, stop telling us how it’s in America’s. Whether true or not, that’s utterly irrelevant to what we in Britain should think of it.
A further piece of confusion is also discernable on the political horizon. Labour’s position on Ballistic Missile Defence is explicable by the internal politics of the Labour Party.
Yet America is determined to see this enterprise through and rightly so. Washington clearly sees that the problem of rogue states and the problem of international terrorism are intimately connected.
The world cannot be safe while Saddam Hussein is free to develop weapons of mass destruction. Nor can we accept that, simply because they were hostile to the Taliban, other states which actively support terrorism should be treated as if they were upstanding members of the international community. Britain should give absolute support to the measures necessary to ensure that events like those of 11th September are never repeated.
We should always recognize that our ability to help shape the thinking of the USA is greatest if we retain the capacity to act. If all we have to offer is our wisdom, our influence is likely to be diminished.
A standard refrain on the eurosceptic right of the Tory party is our bitter laughter when europhiles like Chris Patten tell us that we have to be a part of, and more concretely, give in to, Europe’ if we want to have influence. The argument is absurd because the end in vitiated by the means. If we want to increase British power, how can that be done by removing the British element in the equation? That is the heart of the sceptic critique of our membership of the EU. Turn now to Duncan Smith’s arguments as to our relationship with the US. They are an exact copy of Patten’s vis-à-vis Brussels: to advance the British interest, we must surrender it, subsuming it in the interests of the more powerful player, and then proclaim that their actions entail our aims. It is fraudulent, inconsistent and unworthy of a sovereign state.
The confusions evident in this Government’s approach to foreign and security policy are also reflected in its confused approach to Europe. What is required is a clear, consistent strategy to promote Britain’s national interests in all our dealings with the European Union and that is my fourth conclusion. This is a larger topic than can conveniently be covered here. But the main components of the Conservative Party’s policy are well known and enjoy very widespread support.
. . . except at general elections.
They are, first, that we believe that the European Union continues to have great potential to help bring stability and prosperity to what should be a growing number of member states. To deliver that the EU needs radical reform, and that reform should be built from the bottom up rather than from the top down in other words from the nation states and their parliamentary and political systems. A Conservative government would lead that process of reform, rather than pursue the Government’s policy of continual drift.
Just like all those previous Conservative governments did, right from the moment Edward Heath’s took us in.
The statements of both the present Right-of-Centre Italian Government and of the Conservative Candidate for the German Chancellorship demonstrate that the kind of concerns we have about over-centralisation are widely shared even within countries which have been at the forefront of closer European integration.
Second, and in keeping with this, we continue to oppose Sterling’s abolition in favour of the Euro. Our view is that there will never be a single interest rate and a single monetary policy which are right for all European countries. We remember the effects of the ERM. We also note the disastrous consequences of a fixed exchange rate in Argentina. We shall strongly, and I believe successfully, argue for retention of the Pound in any referendum which is called.
Duncan Smith says that there will never’ be an interest rate right for all EU members (though, it goes without saying, if you have a state monopoly currency Sterling, for instance the interest rate it attracts, will never be right’, whatever that means, for each and every part of the country it is subject to). Yet since becoming Tory leader, Duncan Smith has also told a bemused party that, if we lose any referendum on introducing the Euro into Britain, well, that’s it we’ll give up on the pound, and we won’t ever campaign to have it reintroduced.
Third, we believe that the proposed European Rapid Reaction Force is an exercise in politics not in serious security policy. It is and has been intended as an alternative to NATO, the most successful defence organisation that the world has ever seen. It will involve duplication. It will lack credibility. It will create confusion about Western aims. It risks decoupling Europe from America. It will add nothing to European defence capabilities, which as I have already noted are actually declining. In short, the European Army is a venture which only makes sense if it is regarded as a necessary part of creating a European superstate something which the Prime Minister denies is his intention.
And yet, and yet…our continental consorts were chided for not spending enough on defence an hour or two ago. Evidently, the Europeans ought to spend more on defence, but only as and where directed by Washington.
The fifth element of our Conservative foreign policy concerns supranational organisations more widely. International cooperation between sovereign states is and always will be necessary to achieve practical objectives which would be beyond countries acting alone. That is why we have always been supportive of international bodies including the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation. The danger today, however, is that some supranational organisations are being invested with more powers than they are suited to wield.
For example, we expressed our concerns in the last parliament about how the blueprint for an International Criminal Court would work in practice. It may, as in the cases of Yugoslavia and Rwanda, be necessary to set up special courts to deal with altogether unique circumstances. But we must avoid at all costs creating a situation which makes it more difficult for law-abiding nations to pursue just action, because it is their officials or soldiers which will find themselves having to answer to such a political body, not those from countries which scorn all law.
At last, a point of agreement. Though, if I’d written the speech (and we may be touching upon deeper issues here), I’d have tried something along the lines of: we are against the ICC; when we return to office, we will withdraw from it’.
There are parallel issues in economic affairs. We need to find and retain the right balance between global and national decision-making. The World Trade Organisation, as successor to the GATT, does sterling work in helping integrate the global market place. Removing obstacles to trade is the single most important task international economic decision makers have for trade is the driving force of prosperity. But at the same time we should be cautious about more ambitious plans that have been mooted to create a "New Economic Order".
We should, in fact, remember: supranational organisations never of themselves kept the peace that has been left to well-armed nation states. And supranational organisations never of themselves made nations rich that was the work of countless individuals producing and consuming in the market place, in the context of fair and democratic institutions.
I have tried to cover a wide canvas today, and some details will need to be filled in on other occasions. But the five axioms I have set out and the philosophy which underpins them are, I believe, clear, consistent and coherent. They stem from a view of the world, a world seen through Conservative eyes. The great Macaulay was not, of course, a Conservative though I fancy he would be today. I warm to his observation, all the same, that "an acre in Middlesex is worth a principality in Utopia". Our historian would doubtless be extremely surprised at the cost of land in Middlesex. But I am sure he would not be at all surprised to find preoccupations with Utopia still generating political folly. The next Conservative Government will try to change that."
And here endeth my relationship with the Oxford Book of Political Quotations. Incidentally, on a topographical note, did you know that Utopia and ThenextConservativegovernment lie on exactly the same latitude?
IN CONCLUSION, OR, THE ARTICLE IT WAS THAT DIED
This has all been very negative, but that’s the Tory way, we’re here to oppose. The credo of conservatism is, or ought to be, negativism. We’re a solvent of other people’s enthusiasms. If we have to try and put a gloss on that, we’re the scourging element in the political process that winnows the good ideas out from the bad ones. Anyway, I’ll have a go, a so much shorter go, at knocking the anti-British left, rather than fellow right wingers, soon…but Mark Steyn can wait till next week.
Even Iain Duncan Smith is better than Tony Blair; or, to be infinitely more honest, the former’s tribe still exerts more emotional pull on me than the latter’s, so if either of them has to be Prime Minister, better the man with Tory MPs sitting behind him. Knocking a man adjudged by Madame Tussaud’s to be unworthy of a wax dummy is not difficult. What is depressingly hard is seeing where on the political spectrum an independent foreign policy for Britain is ever going to come from.