Magazine article The Spectator

In Times Such as These, a Government Need S a Proper Strategic Foreign Policy

Magazine article The Spectator

In Times Such as These, a Government Need S a Proper Strategic Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

The coalition's approach to foreign policy is not to have a foreign policy. There is no Cameron doctrine.

As events unfold in Egypt, the government does not even know what it wants to hap - pen. Alistair Burt, the Middle East minister, summed up this position rather brilliantly when he said 'the tide is turning very strongly.

It's not for us to sit here in London and work out where that tide is going to go.'

History had reached a turning point but the coalition wasn't sure which way it wanted it to turn.

It is strange to think that in 2005 David Cameron ran for the Tory leadership as the neoconservative candidate. In late August, with his campaign stuttering, Cameron delivered an unapologetically hawkish speech:

jihadism was equivalent to Nazism and weakness was provocative. Whether he ever believed what he was saying is debatable.

This sight of Michael Gove standing at the back of the auditorium mouthing the words rather suggested that these were not Cameron's own thoughts.

Once elected, Cameron ploughed a different foreign furrow. On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Cameron said that he was not a neoconservative. Since then, Tory foreign policy has been all about moving the country on from the ideological certainties of the Blair years. But in doing so, the Tories have left themselves without a way of under - standing the world.

Some Conservatives are happy with this intellectual vacuum. For them, Hippocrates is a better guide to foreign policy than Thucydides. First do no harm they say, pointing to Iraq.

Those within the party machine plead mitigation. They claim that 'Blair inherited a very different Britain'. The fiscal crisis and the public's scepticism of foreign entanglements post-Afghanistan and Iraq, they say, makes an ambitious foreign policy impossible. 'When your home base is shaky, you have to pick your fights more carefully, ' says one Tory.

Add to this list of impediments Barack Obama and the Liberal Democrats. Britain's grand strategy tends to follow that of the United States. But the Obama administration lacks any coherent approach to foreign policy. Rather, its aim is to exit conflicts started by the Bush administration as gracefully as possible. But even if Obama did have plans for a new world order, the Conservatives would probably find their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, reluctant to go along with them.

At the moment, the coalition's foreign policy consists of little more than trying to flog things to foreigners. Cameron has made great play of being a 'salesman' for Britain abroad. He has taken businessmen on high profile visits to India and China and appointed a slew of trade ambassadors.

The Prime Minister himself talks about the need to 'reorientate British foreign policy and make the Foreign Office more commercially minded'. As part of this process, Simon Fraser, the permanent secretary at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, has been made head of the diplomatic service. …

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