Friday, November 16, 2007

Power and engagement in foreign policy

The Independent once again demonstrates that it’s unable to think about foreign affairs expect through the medium of protesting about the Iraq war.

Its editorial sneers at David Miliband’s speech yesterday on the future of the EU as “strangely belligerent”, and harrumphs: “do we really want to export European values through ‘the hard power of troops’, as he implied? Have our leaders learnt nothing from the disaster in Iraq?”

This is asinine and dishonest. Miliband’s speech was wide-ranging, with much discussion of issues such as trade, enlargement, climate change, international development and cultural diplomacy. The overarching theme was the need for the EU to become more outward-facing than it has been. The passage from which the Independent selectively (mis)quotes actually reads:

We can use the power of the EU – the size of our single market, our ability to set global standards, the negotiating clout of 27 members, the attractions of membership, the hard power of sanctions and troops, the power of Europe as an idea and a model – not to substitute for nation states but to do those things to provide security and prosperity for the next generation.

He does indeed address the EU’s limited military capability, and argues – in the context of multilateral peacekeeping missions – that “we must… strengthen our ability to respond to crises in a more comprehensive way”.

He mentioned the EU-NATO work in Macedonia and EU peacekeepers in DR Congo (and could have added the deployment of UK troops to Sierra Leone) as examples of how military power can have beneficial humanitarian uses rather than being a tool of ‘neocon’ imperialism. The Independent does not – will not – see this.

The speech sits well alongside Gordon Brown’s earlier in the week, discussing failed states and massive human rights abuses:

With the systematic use of earlier Security Council action, proper funding of peacekeepers, targeted sanctions - and their ratcheting up to include the real threat of international criminal court actions - we must now set in place the first internationally agreed procedures to prevent breakdowns of states and societies.
But where breakdowns occur, the UN - and regional bodies such as the EU and African Union - must now also agree to systematically combine traditional emergency aid and peacekeeping with stabilisation, reconstruction and development.

Prevention is much better than cure. And he’s utterly right that “the international community should be ready to act with a standby civilian force including police and judiciary who can be deployed to rebuild civic societies”.

And even the shrillest of Blairophobes should detect a readiness to learn from, and move on from, the last few years in this (from Miliband):

There is limited value in securing a town if law and order breaks down as soon as the troops move on. There is limited gain in detaining terrorists and criminals if there is no courthouse to try them in or jailhouse to hold them in.

But there’s another objection. The Times’s Bronwen Maddox judged that Milband had moved “beyond ambition to delusion” in portraying “the EU as a tool waiting to be deployed in the service of his own favourite causes of climate change and the righting of distant injustice”.

This soars, majestically, past the point: Britain has long been unable to shape the world by whim. Both speeches are therefore wholly infused with the understanding that British foreign policy has to be pursued in partnership with like-minded allies. Splendid isolationism will allow us to have full control over our aims, but usually too little power to achieve them. But if we form alliances and are active in international organisations, we can move things – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot – in the direction we want.

Engagement and cooperation – whether Britain’s in the EU and other institutions, or the EU’s across the world – are the only way to get things done.

Update: There’s another entertaining misrepresentation in the Indy editorial. It concludes:

But most disappointing of all was Mr Miliband's desire to diminish the EU. The Foreign Secretary predicted that "Europe will be less important in the world of 2050 than it was in the world of 1950". It certainly will be if all our future foreign secretaries are as lacking in ambition as the present one seems to be.

What Miliband said was that “economically and demographically Europe will be less important…” And given GDP and population growth rates, it’s hard to argue otherwise – and it’s hard to argue that his speech will contribute to this. Or is it?

Perhaps if too many of us spend our time reading and blogging about Milibandian speechifying, the European economy will collapse. And, if too many of us go around talking about the need to develop a new EU geostrategy, procreation opportunities may be lost to us…

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