Posts Tagged ‘foreign policy’

It’s not too late for Cameron to learn from his shambolic foreign policy failures

10/03/2011, 11:30:55 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

Over the last fortnight, David Cameron’s approach to foreign policy has suddenly come into sharp and unforgiving focus. Not all his problems have been of his own doing, and veterans of previous crises will have felt sympathy at times. But the public, our armed forces and diplomats, our allies, and even our enemies have been left confused by contradictory messages.

A long-planned trip to the Middle East to promote trade and defence exports was hastily re-branded as a pro-democracy tour. A sluggish and uncoordinated response over Libya was suddenly replaced by unilateral sabre-rattling about no-fly-zones and arming rebels, only to be replaced in turn by another retreat to a more conventional multilateral approach. Even the SAS’s involvement – over-briefed by government sources the weekend before – turned into another fiasco, whether through bad planning or bad luck. And in the background, the government’s handling of defence cuts and military redundancies has continued to look botched as well as badly timed.

Some of the lessons here are about basic competence, both in pulling the levers of government, and in communicating the message. Cameron had already accepted the need to overhaul his Downing Street operation; it must be worrying that much of the new team was already in place, and must therefore share responsibility for the recent shambles. Perhaps he will also heed recent advice that he apply himself a bit harder, rather than trying to get by on intelligence and instinct. But there are more substantial lessons too.

Underneath the inconsistent messages, there has been a real shift in policy – indeed, yet another U-turn. Previously, Cameron had signalled a new approach, arguing that we should “think through much more carefully whether Britain should get involved in foreign conflicts”. Sympathetic commentators were encouraged to interpret this as a rejection of Labour’s “wide-eyed interventionism” in favour of a “new Tory realism”. The foreign office was told to focus on trade rather than geopolitics, and bilateral relationships rather than multilateral organisations. (more…)

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Ed’s not going to take down Gaddafi with a sustained blast of the Reith lectures

01/03/2011, 07:00:52 AM

by Dan Hodges

Libya has turned into the first international crisis of David Cameron’s premiership. And he’s flunked it. When an ash cloud stranded thousands of British holidaymakers, the previous government deployed the Royal Navy. With the Middle East aflame, and hundreds of British workers in peril, this government turned to the heavy metal band, Iron Maiden.  Bruce Dickinson, the group’s lead singer, is also marketing director and chief pilot of charter airline, Astraeus, one of the first to land at Tripoli to begin a belated evacuation. The RAF heroes of 633 squadron have been pensioned off for the heroes of flight 666.

At times like this, there is frequently a populist rush to judgment. “Something must be done”, goes the cry, even though operational and political realities make the situation far more difficult and complex. This is not one of those times. Ministers had sufficient warning of the spreading unrest in the region in general, and Libya in particular, yet they clearly had no coherent strategy in place for the evacuation of British nationals.

In fact, it is amazing that there appear to be no settled contingency plans for the rapid deployment of military or other assets to remove our citizens from areas of potential instability. It doesn’t need a doctorate in international relations to tell you that Colonel Gaddafi is a fruit cake with the potential to tip his country into chaos at the drop of a pair of his designer shades. Surely one of our chaps in the FCO should have twigged that a guy who calls himself “the Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” is worth keeping a wary eye on. (more…)

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Bilateralism is a neat policy, which doesn’t actually work

26/11/2010, 11:45:01 AM

by Nick Keehan

We live in an uncertain and dangerous world. Look at North Korea. It is a world of international terrorism, nuclear proliferation and cyber attack, as well as of good old-fashioned state-versus-state conflict. A world in which threats in one region can quickly spread to others.

As David Cameron noted in his foreign policy speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet last week, such a world requires that Britain adopt a strategic approach to its national security. To this end, the government, immediately on entering office, established a national security council. This would bring together defence, development, diplomacy and domestic policy, “to consider Britain’s strategic interest in the round and to ensure that foreign policy runs through the veins of the whole of government”. Which would be all well and good, had not foreign policy ceased to run through the veins of the foreign office. (more…)

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A popular alternative to the Tories’ seedy foreign policy, by Nick Keehan

21/10/2010, 04:28:28 PM

The spending review leaves no doubt about the government’s priorities when it comes to foreign policy: those diplomats and civil servants remaining at the foreign office after it has undergone budget cuts of 24 per cent will focus on championing British companies abroad and increasing business links and market information for UK exporters. The foreign office will become, in effect, a consultancy and PR firm for business, underwritten by the UK taxpayer.

In this, the spending review simply reaffirms what the foreign secretary has been saying since entering the job in May. In his speech to a Tokyo audience in July, “Britain’s prosperity in a networked world”’, William Hague made it clear that promoting trade and commercial interests would be at the heart of Britain’s foreign policy. The government would “inject a new commercialism into the work of the foreign office and into the definition of our international objectives”; it would give “significant new emphasis to helping British business secure new opportunities”; and it would use its political influence “to help unblock obstacles to commercial success”.

Not any old obstacles, obviously. There would be some red lines which the government would “never, ever cross” in pursuit of British interests, as David Cameron told the Conservative party conference. Under the Tories, a devolved Scottish government would never again exercise its constitutional right to release a convicted foreign terrorist on compassionate grounds, for example. Cameron said this in a very stern voice, lest it seem like a cynical platitude which he doesn’t have the power to deliver.

If the obstacles to your commercial success include only an indictment for genocide, however, you are in luck. (more…)

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