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.