Britain In The World – Hague’s foreign policy vision

Hague made his first speech as Foreign Minister an opportunity to tell Britain, and the rest of the world, what role he believed the county should play on the world stage, and to state just how different his vision is from that which went previously.

The most important statement in the whole speech was the following:

“our approach to foreign affairs cannot be, to borrow the arguments of a former Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury, to ‘Float lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a diplomatic boat hook to avoid collisions.’”

Why is this so important to a medium sized nation of diminishing consequence? It is important because Britain remains the worlds sixth largest economy, and its third largest military spender, and its fifth largest creative economy, and the worlds tenth largest exporter. In addition to this Britain sits at the head of the Commonwealth, is at the forefront of the worlds most important economic language, a pivotal link in a collective security alliance that joins the worlds two most powerful economic blocks, and we retain a permanent veto wielding seat at the UN Security Council.

It is perceived security of the last that most clearly articulates the nature of the problem confronting Britain’s foreign policy posture, for in all of the metrics listed above our relative weight is declining, and will continue to do so, due to a combination of ageing demographics and the rapid advancement of the developing world. We are in the midst of a world-wide shake-up in the ranking of nations and the weight their word is deemed to carry, and Britain is at the point where it could quite reasonably ask itself if it is worth the expenditure in blood and treasure to achieve by reputation that which could not be achieved by good will alone. We should be in no doubt, there are a lot of medium sized nations and they seem to accommodate themselves to this ‘misfortune’ quite happily, accepting that they wield little influence in world affairs and choosing to make the best of it, that option is open to Britain too.

Hague has decided that Britain should continue to shape the world in its image, rather than moulding ourselves to fit the image of others, and if the test for validity of this ambition is that we must be able to justify it over the course of the next quarter century then truly the choice remains, for the English language in addition to a business friendly culture and a highly creative economy makes it very likely that our position will slip only moderately in this coming generation. According to the Carnegie Endowment Fund, by 2030 Britain will be the biggest economy in Europe, and even in the year 2050 we will still have the seventh largest economy in the world. Why is Britain different from the rest of the EU nations? It is different because even the most export oriented of the continental nations, Germany, conducts only 40% of its exports outside of the EU, whereas in Britain 50% of the value in the trade in goods and services is conducted outside of the EU according to ONS figures.

The determination to pursue this ambition, and the confidence in its success was underlined by the the following statement:

“We are at war in Afghanistan, our top foreign priority in Foreign Affairs and the scene of extraordinary and humbling sacrifices and heroism by our Armed Forces and we face a serious set of challenges in supporting Pakistan.”

This was a message to all that no-one should expect strategic retreat or retrenchment from Britain, and a warning to unfriendly nations that his commitment to Britain’s security would not falter no matter how the threat evolves.

How is this grand ambition to be achieved?

First and foremost through bilateral relations. Hague will seek to create new partnerships with the BRIC nations in particular, and while they will not have the same methods or desired outcomes they are all crucial.

Russia must become a partner in europe rather than a rival for dominance of europe, for NATO has other ambitions for the 21st century than maintaining tank divisions in the Fulda gap, and antisubmarine forces in the G-I-UK gap. As Hague made clear Britain’s foreign policy is intimately tied up with NATO’s future:

“We are working with NATO Allies to fashion a new Strategic Concept and to modernise the Alliance, understanding that in a world of interconnected threats, alliances and partnership must be flexible and networked as possible”

Brazil represents an enormous economic opportunity for Britain for it has a developing economy of 190m people and a GDP growth rate of ~6%, and a Defence budget that is approaching half of our own and rising far faster. Truly Brazil is a partner for the 21st century. What we lack however is a mutual visibility and appreciation of each others culture, and this is no doubt what Hague was aiming at when he talked of joined-up-government to promote a comprehensive foreign policy:

“It ought to be the case that a decision to elevate links with a particular country will lead to a whole series of tangible developments: the establishment of a British higher education campus there or new education initiatives, diversified sporting and cultural links, new forms of exchange between Parliament and civil society to fit the circumstances of that particular country, cooperation on military training and exercises, a visa regime that reflects the totality of UK interests including the importance of the relationship, and British Ministers working with British businesses on aspects of that relationship.”

India again is another fantastic opportunity for Britain, with a quarter of a billion people in education learning English as their second language, an economy projected to overtake the US sometime early in the second half of the century, and an aspiring military superpower with whom we have a relationship that spans centuries:

“We are a member of one of the world’s long-standing global networks – the Commonwealth  –  which spans continents and world religions, contains six of the fastest growing economies and is underpinned by an agreed framework of common values. We are fully committed to working with our Commonwealth partners to reinvigorate that organisation and help it develop a clearer agenda for the future.”

China represents the problem, for while its economy is enormous and its continued growth prodigious it has proven to be very difficult for western economies to successfully break into the Chinese market, and as such presents itself as more of a threat than an opportunity to the rest of the world with its mercantilist protectionism. This is no doubt what was in Hague’s mind when he referred to the following, economic access will be considered integral to foreign policy from now on:

“to use our global diplomatic network to support UK business in an interventionist and active manner, encouraging small businesses to take their products into international markets, prising open doors and barriers to engagement on behalf of the whole of Government.

…that works through strengthened international institutions as well as reinvigorated foreign relationships, that is consciously focussed on securing our economic prosperity for the future, and that unashamedly pursues our enlightened national interest of seeking the best for our own citizens while living up to our responsibilities towards others.”

This bilateralism will also be applied to the EU, or more specifically to EU member nations, where Britain will enhance cooperation to advance a common agenda, with those specific nations who share that common agenda. Look to the early death of the European Defence Agency as evidence of this. Hague was plain in his desire to have an friendly relationship with Brussels but this blog suspects that his enthusiasm for the EU is limited to its ability to break down trade barriers by dint of its own economic weight, especially given his continued enthusiasm for seeing Turkey within the EU:

“We have put early efforts into our role in multilateral organisations, setting out to be highly active and activist in our approach to the European Union and the exercise of its collective weight in the world.”

That we have value to the EU and its constituent nations is beyond doubt, and likewise that we will continue to maintain the unparalleled intelligence and security arrangements with the US, but how do we intend to influence the BRIC nations, the key planks in growing Britain’s foreign policy?

Russia will be influenced by British membership of NATO and the EU, and China will be forced to become more accommodating by dint of the EU’s weight in a potential WTO dispute, but the clue to India and Brazil lies in the following statement:

“Second, the circle of international decision-making has become wider and more multilateral. Decisions made previously in the G8 are now negotiated within the G20, and this Government will be at the forefront of those arguing for the expansion of the United Nations Security Council. While this trend is hugely positive and indeed overdue it poses a challenge to our diplomacy, increasing the number of countries we need to understand and to seek to influence through our Ambassadors and network of Embassies overseas.”

Britain will seek to reform the UNSC now rather than put the moment off as long as possible, as it will ensure that reform happens on this governments watch, retaining Britain as an independent member of the Security Council for the foreseeable future, rather then being tackled by a future government more deeply entangled in the EU and thus more pliant to the idea of joint EU representation. It also provides useful bargaining power amongst nations we desire to influence, such as Germany & Japan over China trade policy, or favour from those nations whom we desire to build long-term partnerships such as India and Brazil.

How is this new vision different from that of the previous government? The most telling statement from Hague’s speech was the following:

“The UK represents 12% of the EU population. Despite that, at entry-level policy grades in the Commission, the UK represents just 1.8% of the staff, well under the level of other major EU member states. So the idea that the last government was serious about advancing Britain’s influence in Europe turns out to be an unsustainable fiction.”

The previous government put itself in the ridiculous situation of being publicly pro-EU and thus letting endless competences be assumed by Brussels, and yet effecting to be sceptical to the electorate, a duality that achieved the worst of both worlds by failing to make the most of the EU institutions that we were already committed to.

Likewise with the US, it put itself in the ridiculous situation of effecting to be pro-US and thus going along with all American initiatives unquestioningly, but unable to be sceptical to the electorate, a duality that again achieved the worst of both worlds by not achieving anything the electorate could recognise as a tangible benefit in return.

Hague’s “enlightened self interest” should contort itself into fewer self-imposed knots, as it will be clear that the Gov’t will seek influence where we desire results, and not as a result of being torn between the divergent expectations of its electorate and its allies.

But more importantly Britain’s foreign policy is no longer fixated myopically upon the US (in dull resentment) and the EU (in fearful hope), it is a truly bold and outward looking vision that respects the reality that nearly 60 percent of this $123 trillion dollar economic expansion of the world economy by 2050 will come from Brazil, Russia, India, China and Mexico, and by the same token the EU will shrink from more than twenty percent to somewhere approaching ten percent. Britain’s future is competing in the fast strengthening new world, not huddling behind the barricades of a fearful old world.

Update – 11/07/10

The other nation that Hague is rightly courting is of course Turkey, a country that will be among the strongest in ‘europe’ by 2050, a country that is rapidly cooling its desire to be part of an EU club that seeks to define itself as western-liberal political utopia, and a country whose growing strength gives its the self-confidence to pursue its own future. By 2025 it will be the EU that is courting Turkey to bolster its waning might, but Turkey will need powerful incentives to join a group that rejects Turkish culture as incompatible with its foolish political ambitions, and equally disregards Turkeys contribution to european security by manning NATO’s frontline for more than fifty years. Hague will keep Turkey looking westward, and do so by using Britain’s diplomatic muscle to persuade France and Germany to admit the EU should be an economic club of cooperation, not a post-christian/post-democratic liberal regime.

31 responses to “Britain In The World – Hague’s foreign policy vision

  1. Haha, you should never read articles so quickly after I publish them, usually the succeeding 24 hours consist of a billion edits and rewrites, but yes, our continued future prosperity lies outside the EU.

  2. Hmmm, 7th largest economy and the largest in Europe in 2050? Will the Germans have been fiddling their thumbs in the 40 years between now and then.

    Didn’t a Hague speech recently indicate we could be out of the top 10 by as soon as 2015?

    Anyway, a heartening speech I thought. A world away from the ‘managed decline’ of the foreign office in the early 80’s.

    • according to the Carnegie Endowment Fund link above:

      “Currently, Germany, the UK, France, and Italy are the fourth through seventh largest economies in the world. By 2050, the UK, helped by demographic trends, will be the largest of the four, ranking seventh in the world.”

  3. So RUSI strategic raiding is it then :-) Once again we should turn to the RN and make the Army a weapon carried and fired by the Navy in order to protect our interests in the wider world !

  4. Thanks for this, JBT. There’s an almost disturbing amount of sense coming out of HMG these days, at least on these areas of concern to the likes of us (foreign relations/defence). Good to see recognition that geography matters, especially as the days of cheap petrol and roses fade away, and that several centuries of maritime economic geography made lots of sense for a reason.

    My one concern about this bewildering rush of fresh air is the potential for these new connections — especially with such strong young industrial engines as Brazil and India — to keep propping up what’s wrong with Britain’s own economy, a new way to feed the Britain-as-Bank consensus of the last several decades. Much better to have sterling and the financial-services “sector” propped up by dynamic, diversified industiral economies than the personal accounts of Sheikh Thus-and-such in return for security guarantees that drain the exchequer. In fairness that’s real progress. But it still has the potential to neglect needed changes, to ignore the fact that a nation that lacks a broadly balanced economy, with a fair amount of self-sufficiency in basic energy inputs (energy as industrial “juice” and energy as food), and even a bit of inefficient redundancy in a few security-sensitive areas, is not really secure. On the other hand, if this is pursued with a sense that Britain is not only stronger but a more useful friend to the new big players if those past mistakes are redressed, then this speech marked a very big day.

    Andy,
    I share some of the skepticism, not that the UK won’t be a major player (steady demographic trend towards being the second biggest EU population behind Germany) but if too much of that economy’s value lies in paper devices for playing with other peoples’ wealth it’s not very well-founded. One can even see it in football; turns out leagues that still restrict inflated financials based on bad valuation and rigorously develops indigenous resources do pretty well nation-v-nation. (Yes I’m finally past the related hangover ;-)

    Jed,
    This. Sir Edward Grey owes you a pint.

    • P.S. Still working on a thoughtful response to your very thoughtful questions in the “call for papers” thread.

    • If you include product design/IP as an intangible service (one that does not show as on the Treasuries export ledger) then Britain has a lot to off in this area too, examples abound, notable of which is that every single smartphone contains ARM cpu IP, and most contain PowerVR gpu IP, all of which is licensed out to companies like Texas Instruments and Samsung, and then sold on as System-on-Chips (SoC) to the Apples and Nokia’s of the world.

      We still design, and there is real money in that future.

      • The Ipod is a good example of this.

        The US is the biggest earner from iPods
        The UK is second – sound chips
        Japan is third – screen
        China is about 8th, despite iPods being “made in China”

        Edmund Conway at The Telegraph blogged about it ages ago, worth a readif you can find it.

  5. “China represents the problem, for while its economy is enormous and its continued growth prodigious it has proven to be very difficult for western economies to successfully break into the Chinese market, and as such presents itself as more of a threat than an opportunity to the rest of the world with its mercantilist protectionism.”

    Chinas actions are no different than Japans, and the outcome will be different only in scale as well.
    People at least waited till Japan imploded before they started work on the size of zombie banks.
    China has already had to declare the State Investment Banks P&L’s and Balance Sheets State Secrets

    But apart from that, sounds like sense, lets just see if its implemented.

    • protectionism has always been a problem, and yet the scale of Chinese purchase of strategic european industries is quite unparalleled, but as long as europe is the largest market for chinese goods there is leverage that can be applied. a WTO judgement against China could give europe the political backbone china believes it lacks necessary to threaten retaliation in the hope of compromise.

  6. Pingback: ‘Hague of the FCO…Goes to Asia!’ | Thinking Strategically

  7. Good analysis of the FS’s speech; rebalancing of Churchill’s three circles of influence – just as long as the Indians are willing to play ball and we get the right level of insurence protection (2x Carriers as part of a strenghened RN and the RAF and Army cut to size accordingly).

  8. Thank you, was unaware of Churchill’s “three circles”, much obliged.

    It will be interesting to see if Fox get’s a Defence structure to support Hague’s foreign policy, or whether the two are antagonistic…..

  9. WH has stated that he is prepared to accept that we have to provide the mil means to maintain geo-strat credibility; our optimum option is HMAF formed to meet RUSI ‘Strategic Raiding’ conops. The RAF is definately in the firing line; cut to one HQ and a good clear-out of the fast jet dead wood, no GR4 force, rationalised Typhoon force, Harrier purely as a bridge to JSF, enhanced SH, UAV/ISTAR, and Strat Transport – pers down to 20 -30,000 max. Army with massively reduced ‘heavy’ forces and probable reduction in inf post 2014. Money saved on RAF/Army pay and procurement pays for completion of RN carriers and future surface/littoral/escort combatants. RAF the big looser – but not quite the end to the 100 year experiment, RN the big winner and all with relatively ‘neutral’ pitbull Dave Richards overseeing the carnage. It could work out well.

    • Deiter,

      Your lips to God’s ears. I fear it will degenerate into the usual “salami” exercise as Cabinet- and permanent-level officials are nobbled by constituency MPs’ demands (rather than developing a defence industrial strategy that chooses to rebuild out of the wreck rather than divvy up the rubble.) What you’ve laid out is sensible — the “experiment” in question depended on 1) the golden age of cheap jet fuel and 2) the front end of the aircraft industry’s technological development when it was still profitable or at least run at a strategically acceptable loss. Those are larger secular pressures beyond purely strategic or political questions that will dog the RAF in future. As for the Army, I’d rather see them save more of the “legacy” armour (at least in the TA) and shrink a bit elsewhere (again I’ll plug the model of single-battalion regiments to preserve lineage and recruiting geography.) Of course Richards, rather like a career man back from Waziristan or Orange Free State around 1902, thinks conventional warfare is vanishingly unlikely (bad sign), and that long-term COIN in other peoples’ fractured countries without substantial friendly infrastructure is either necessary to keep the regimental flags flying or strategically advisable (worse sign.) What you’ve laid out (reworking the Army component) is sanity. Whether sanity should be expected amid the “bounded rationality” of people who have come to positions of political or military authority in the last dysfunctional decade, that gives me pause. But I definitely wwant to believe.

      • JS,

        Unfortunately, I am forced to fully acknowledge your rather more pessimistic/realist reading of the runes. I don’t have the depth of knowledge to call your Richards punt. However, the mood music indicates he’s had his head in a relatively small goldfish bowl for a little too long and could prove a little too partisan. A single-battalion solution would also seem sensible (can’t see the Riflemen not kicking back tho’). As for the RAF, despite the Alice in Wonderland feel to the edifice that is High Wycombe – I do believe that some people there do ‘get it’ and understand what needs to be done – despite the prevalence of self serving 20 Minuters. The RN (less the RM) need a kick up the slats if they are to get the Carriers; they appear to becoming worryingly politically correct and frankly a bit ‘soft’ – perhaps we need to shoot another Byng as a example to the others? As for the politicos, I’m sure it will be depressingly familiar stuff leading to your ‘divvying up of the rubble’. It will be interesting to see if DC, WH and LF maintain their credibility with the punditry post SDR 10.

      • I’m not to worried by Richards, the SDSR is the realm of the Defence Minister and Fox will make that all too clear to any Defence Chief who decides to step on his toes.

      • This appears to be how one carries on the thread — if this appears in an odd place it’s intended in reply to Dieter and JBT ref: my last comment. Interesting too that, like a number of those old Victorian/Edwardian-era commanders who were engineers or gunners, Richards is the latter. He’s spent a very successful career (including the unexpected and largely quite genuine success of Sierra Leone) in “Queen Victoria’s little wars” for a latter day and that’s a dangerously narrow focus. Even the officers who came up through Malaya, Aden, early days in Ulster, etc. knew the North German Plain was still out there, and that surprises like the Falklands or Iraq-v-Kuwait were possible. While he seems in some ways an able and empathetic OC, Richards has vast blinders on.

        I’d like to see the latest round of regimental “consolidation” largely nixed, let’s have RGJ and Light Infantry back, and some of the old country regiments (Lancashires, Glosters, Green Howards, et al.) at least given new life in the TA for when they’re needed. Or at least a more rational consolidation system. I don’t think RN is as far gone as perhaps you do — the whole business wrt the yacht off Somalia was leaked for a reason, a lot of angry blue-water personnel who found their hands tied by poor ROE and rotten logistics. The big problem with the soon-to-be-carrier RN is that they seem, doctrinally, to be prisoners of their recent past, ie the last thirty-odd years as the world’s largest frigate-based navy with a world-class submarine branch. Running carriers (and, in a just world, selling the Albions to good homes, plus Ocean, and getting three LHDs of the new Spanish/Australian type) means different structures, different doctrine, different layering of commitments. Go around the Trident-replacement cost nightmare and build SSGNs modified from Astute (some conventional bristling with cruise, some nuclear with SLBMs), group your heavy surface elements in three carrier battlegroups, get more 45s and fit them all for general-purpose (the Dukes did a gallant job as workhorses but they’re too small to survive “brushfire” crises on their own), and get on with a good “constabulary” C3 with sonar to spot-check mines and subs for the low-end work. Then stop “sending a frigate” and dreaming of Nelson, and start sending CBGs that can anchor for smaller allied nations and coalitions of equals.
        /rant over

        Hope you’re right about the chaps at High Wycombe. Even if the RAF’s future role has more to do with long-distance logistics and conventional defence of UK/northern Europe through “strategic depth” that’s still very valuable. No matter what the “it’s all guerrillas and haX0rs now” crowd says.

        Not convinced CallMeDave will do so well from SDR, as you suggest yourself. A pity in some ways because outside their bailiwicks WH and LF are much too “right” for me — they just seem to be doing a remarkably good job with those portfoliios and I wish them well of it.

        JBT,
        Fox does seem to like his officers on a tight leash. I just hope that doesn’t make him too many enemies. Stirrup needed to go for a variety of reasons, but this will take a deftness that will either make or break Fox’s tenure in the ministry.

      • I am led to believe by the Warships1 crowd that combined amphibious ships make most sense when you only intend to have one or two, and that the RN’s larger amphibious fleet is better served by a specialised LPD/LSD/LPH’s.

        I have to say that I like Fox and Hague just the way they are doctrinally, I just hope Fox is as serious about Defence as he appears, and that Hague is willing to back him up to ensure he gets the requisite muscle to make his foreign policy work in times of need.

  10. …groovy, then let’s just hope LF and WH get it right and there is not too much budgetry solutioneering from HM Tresury!

  11. JS/JBT,

    I look forward to the post-mortem – fingers crossed and lets hope we all get what we want for Christmas.

  12. It is not just the size of the economy, but per capita, and we will be up level with the US by 2050. Many of these Countries will be far behind us, and this is a true measure of a Country’s power. A superpower with half the nation poor or in poverty, does not one make. When they catch up, our competitiveness catches up, there’s deminishes in terms of wages alone, let alone with more computurised automated mechanised manufacturing, it will not be so easy to predict. Britain talks itself down more than most, which is strange, but perhaps reflects the self-deprecating, general lackluster negative nation we have become. Much is to do with attitude, a can do, and get on with it outlook is lacking, at the moment. Nothing is certain in this world. People are certain about Britain’s decline though. Maybe this is what people seek in this apologetic about everything Country.

    • agreed, but we’ll get nowhere an invention (as opposed to innovation) friendly business culture, but there is indeed a disparity in the trend difference between GDP/capita of Britain France and Germany.

    • Val

      ‘People are certain about Britain’s decline though’ – I expect certain people are; the socialist-liberals, old cold-war warriors, EU fedralists, Heathist luddites, mainly old, grey, tired baby-boom ex hippie retirees that were born in another epoch. However, may I suggest that there are plenty (of us) that, having reached a certain age and seen something of the world, thoroughly reject such a negeative prognosis. I have seen enough of life and the world to convince me that given the right conditions and opportunities, this country has fantastic potential. So, please quit with the negative vibes dude – our Victorian great great grandfathers never knew the meaning of the word ‘Cannot’ and it is a rule to which we all should try to aspire.

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