Thursday, June 24, 2004

Learning from history can be tricky

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal Europe carried an article by Robin Harris, consultant director of the think-tank Politeia, that was based on its recently published pamphlet Why Britain Needs a Foreign Policy?. The article's title was a little more direct: What Would a British Foreign Policy Look Like?

Well, what would it look like? Not surprisingly, Mr Harris takes the view that a British foreign policy should be based on British interests. Its key strategic relationship would be with the United States and the cornerstone of its security would be NATO.

It is not Mr Harris's theme to discuss the role of NATO in the twenty-first century, so he assumes that within it Britain would continue enjoying "the twin benefits of being America's closest ally and of being Europe’s militarily strongest nation". (One wonders how long the second of those will remain true.)

There is a slight hint that, perhaps, the EU is not such a good bet from the point of view of defence but no indication that the it is actively undermining NATO. As far as Mr Harris is concerned these are two alternatives but the relationship between them is unclear. That being so, it is not clear why any choice needs to be made.

The article also has some dubious arguments. Apparently, it is not in Britain’s interests to promote democracy in the Middle East, as that upsets our allies. One cannot help wondering who these allies are and what use they are to us.

Oil? Surely, it would be better to buy oil from democratic countries that are less likely to be convulsed by coups, wars and assassinations. Not to mention the not unimportant fact that many of these countries arm, train and finance terrorists.

Then there is Europe. Mr Harris knows his history:

Rather than accept further integration, a realist foreign policy would seek to restore Britain's full freedom of action by disengaging from current restraints. But, recognizing that Britain has always needed to ensure that mainland Europe escapes complete domination by a hostile power, a British government would then set about seeking allies in Europe willing to stand up against the controlling Franco-German access.
How very nineteenth century. So sad that it is no longer realistic. For we are not simply allies with one or more continental countries – we are part of the a Union and our relationship with other member states is not really in the realms of foreign policy.

Besides, there is the small matter of the common foreign and security policy. Mr Harris may think that is a set of easily brushed aside restraints but adopting a common policy goes a long way beyond forming alliances. It means integrating much of our defence structure and, above all, "loyally supporting" the EU’s foreign policy.

Indeed, we must look to formulating a British foreign policy based on British interests. But the starting point will have to be a complete disengagement from the common foreign and security policy and the restoration of Britain's status as an independent country that has independent policies.

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