Rt Hon David Miliband MP
David Miliband, Foreign Secretary, writes about the importance of foreign policy to the New Generation. He underlines the importance of harnessing the creativity of young people and maintaining idealism in our politics. Through this we can create an effective foreign policy to tackle problems of the New Generation.
One of the founding objectives of the New Generation Society is to engage those young people who may be passionate about politics but uncomfortable or uninterested in the traditional forms of political discourse. That is an important task. In the UK – and indeed across the world – it is young people who are the voice of creativity in business, in culture, in media and, yes, even in politics. As Foreign Secretary, I know that a successful foreign policy will need to be one that can draw upon and help harness that creativity. And as a member of the Government more broadly I know that a successful foreign policy has never been more integral to building success here at home.
We live in a rapidly changing world in which the domestic and the international agendas are entwined. Our prosperity relies on a more open Britain – open to new investment and trade, to new people and ideas. Our security relies on tackling injustice at home and abroad, and cooperating with countries on terrorism, migration and organised crime. Our mission to empower citizens depends on global agreements and institutions to tackle global problems alongside more local accountability for local issues.
Foreign policy should be a force for good for Britain, as well as a force for good in the world. The two are interconnected. But the new distribution of power requires a new diplomacy.
During most of the last century our security concerns were primarily about excessive and expansionist state power. Today, some of the greatest threats emerge in countries where state power is too weak not too strong, in failing or fragile states.
At the same time we have seen the re-emergence of China, India and Russia. Within twenty years political, economic and military power may be more geographically dispersed than it has been since the decline of the Chinese empire in the 19th Century.
Equally significant, however, is that the power to co-ordinate at scale is no longer dependent upon access to the hierarchies of bureaucracies; coordination can occur through networks. In benign forms, this can be seen with Linux challenging Microsoft Windows or political campaigns such as Make Poverty History, Stop Climate Chaos, or Move On. The malign counterpart to that is the increasing capacity of extremists and terrorists to co-ordinate their disparate activities without the vulnerability of a single point of control.
These shifts in power have implications for how we carry out foreign policy. Our influence in the world will depend on four key tools.
The first is intellectual leadership – winning the battle of ideas. This means being clear about questions of principle. For example, rejecting the false charge that our foreign policy is targeted against any one set of people or countries. We are right, for example, to argue for the urgency of a two state solution in the Middle East. But we do so because it is the right thing to do, not because we seek to placate Al Qaeda.
We also need to be clear about values. For example, the agreement at the World Summit in 2005 on the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ marked a vital new stage in the debate about the relationship between human rights and national sovereignty. And leadership means being clear about facts and evidence – such as the economic and national security implications of an unstable climate.
The second tool is influence within institutions and networks. Britain acting alone does not possess the power or legitimacy to effect change. Acting with others we can make a difference. Britain must use its strength as a global hub, financially, culturally, and politically.
Multilateral action is not a soft option. Just look at Afghanistan – a country that symbolises our dual goal of protecting our national security and promoting human rights. Our forces are deployed as part of a NATO operation, backed by a UN mandate. The military operation is backed by a comprehensive approach including EU and UN investment in development and humanitarian assistance.
Nor does multilateralism replace the need for bilateral relationships. In practice, multilateral action requires the participation of the major world powers. The US is our single most important bilateral partnership because of shared values but also because of political reality. The US is the world’s largest economy. Engaged – whether on the Middle East Peace Process or climate change or international development – it has the greatest capacity to do good of any country in the world.
Some people try to compare our relationship with the US with our position in the European Union. But the EU is not a bilateral relationship – we are members of the EU. That membership is an asset in economic terms – guaranteeing markets and setting standards. It is an asset in tackling crime. And it needs to be an asset in foreign policy – not substituting for nation states but giving better expression to the common commitments of nation states. But the EU was founded to tackle a threat that no longer exists – conflict within western Europe. If it is to renew is mandate, it needs to find a new raison’ d’être, including, I believe, a focus on addressing climate change. Creating an Environmental Union is as big a challenge in the 21st century as peace in Europe was in the 1950s.
The third tool – incentives and sanctions – represent harder power. History suggests that the attraction of becoming members of ‘clubs’ such as the EU, the WTO, or NATO is a powerful one.
The benefits of free-trade or military protection are linked to states playing by the rules. I am a strong supporter of Turkish accession talks with the EU. The prospect of EU membership has built a bridge to Turkey. In recent years it has abolished the death penalty, and improved the rights of women and minorities.
A balanced package of incentives and sanctions are also required to apply pressure to particular countries and regions. Iran has every right to be a secure, rich country. But it doesn’t have a right to set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and it doesn’t have the right to undermine the stability of its neighbours. That is why we are taking a dual track approach. We are continuing to discuss further sanctions with our international partners while, with those same partners, at the same time offering a comprehensive package of incentives including help with a civil nuclear power programme and measures to support Iran’s access to international markets and capital.
There are times when incentives and sanctions will need to be combined with, or replaced by, a fourth tool: direct intervention.
It was right in Kosovo in 1999 to deal with the terrible ethnic cleansing going on there. Almost a decade later, it is right that the UN and African Union are working together to put a strengthened force into Darfur, to protect vulnerable civilians there, and right too that under French leadership the EU is working on deploying a small military force along the Chad/Darfur border. In Iraq, the Prime Minister has made clear that we will fulfil our international obligations and our obligations to the Iraqi people and we are determined to do so.
This is where groups such as the New Generation Society come in. As we turn these ideas into action, we need to tap into the expertise and insight that lies in and beyond traditional diplomatic circles. So I have started a conversation about how we do business.
First, priorities. Given the levers I have just described, where should the UK concentrate its global effort: where are we most needed, and where can most effect change? My starter for ten would be that if we are to succeed at anything we must succeed at tackling radicalisation and terrorism, building a European Union that is a force for good within its borders and outside, and shaping the global drive for the transition to low carbon prosperity.
Second, cooperation across UK government. The Foreign Office is a unique global asset. But diplomacy has to be allied to other assets across government, in particular, aid, trade, financial institutions, and military intervention. How can we improve co-ordination across the FCO and other departments on particular countries and challenges?
Third, how can we engage beyond Whitehall, with faith groups, NGOs, business and universities. The new diplomacy is public as well as private, mass as well as elite, real-time as well as deliberative. And that needs to be reflected in the way we do our business.
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I know that the New Generation Society takes its name from a line in one of John F Kennedy’s most famous speeches. Let me quote another. JFK said foreign policy should be based on ‘idealism without illusions’. I am under no illusion as to the challenges and the difficulties. But the idealism is still there – above all about Britain’s ability to be a global hub for discussion and decision making about the great economic, social and political questions we face.