In the first of Political Promise’s ‘Policy Pieces’, we explain the three main parties’ position on War and International Relations.
Labour: A future together is a safer, more prosperous future.
The second leaders’ debate on Sky News that focused on foreign affairs demanded one man to stand up for the interests of Britain. It demanded a sensible plan, where Britain could maintain an influence in the world whilst securing strong relationships with our European partners. At the end of the debate one man alone stood tall. That was Gordon Brown. Labour’s policy is very clear; that Britain should be a driving force in ensuring security, maximising the benefit of our EU membership and resisting any move to isolate ourselves in the international community.
Labour’s vision for Europe is very different than that of the Tories. Indeed, if he were not pro-Europe, Ken Clarke would have been leader of the Conservative Party long ago. If only his party had more like him… The challenge of climate change underpins the significance of cooperation with our European partners. Labour are committed to securing a European deal that aims to reduce carbon emissions by 30%. Of course, cooperation over isolation is essential in this regard. Would David Cameron’s alliance with the far right in Europe who largely dismiss climate change even exists help this endeavour? I doubt it somehow. The European Union provides the opportunity for cohesion on the international stage where we all have a part to play and all have rewards to reap. Arguments about British sovereignty are ultimately unconvincing. In a global age, our membership of the European Union is something to be valued.Security of our citizens has always been the main prerogative of the state. It was at this hurdle where Nick Clegg’s position took a battering. The renewal of Trident is of course controversial. We are however in the age of strategy, in which we anticipate problems which may arise from rogue states. Iran’s development of nuclear capability has illustrated the acute nature of the threat of rogue states. “Deterrence” is the key phrase in this case. Britain must remain to be seen as in a position of military strength. Indeed, as we attempt to bring nations like Iran into the international community diplomatically, it is important to be very careful in this very delicate game of chess. Unilateralism is not an option in a dangerous world. Indeed David Cameron may want to re-assess his reckless comments about China in the first leaders’ debate. That is, if he can drag himself away from his dangerous isolationism.
Our international commitments in the next few years will be in Afghanistan. In the wake of a recession at home, it is important that we do not allow our financial problems to detract from our mission there. Although questioned in some circles, Labour has remained steadfast in its spending on what our troops need abroad. This is not something to chest-beat over. It is what is expected of a government who deploy a force to complete a military task. Afghanistan is an essential battleground on many levels; prevention of terrorism, to strive for democratic legitimacy in the country, and ensuring our security at home. Labour will continue to meet the financial requirements of our mission there. Our military in spending is matched by a pledge to bolster administration in the country and by making sure we can help rebuild infrastructure and mend the social fabric of the nation. Afghanistan is a battleground in a dangerous world. 100% commitment is required. Labour are well aware of that.
This is just a flavour of Labour’s stances on issues relating to foreign policy. In sum, we need Britain to have a strong place in Europe, Europe to have a strong place in the world to secure our security challenges that manifest themselves through terrorism, migration, environmental problems etc.
Labour who take a co-operative stance on such vital issues is a far better option than the isolated Conservative party. When you really look at it, change doesn’t look so appealing after all.
What would British foreign policy be like under a Tory government?
Current and possible future wars
Afghanistan is the Tory’s top defence priority, promising to double the operational costs of the 10,000 troops there. Cameron calls a reduction in troops “unlikely”, will buy two aircraft carriers, and insists defence procurement must be spared from the full burden of the financial squeeze. Aside from Afghanistan, Iran is the “single most important issue facing the West” according to Liam Fox. The Tories would support an arms ban, and a gas and oil investment ban. Defence sources, too, spoke of a cruise missile attack against uranium enrichment sites in Iran, should nuclear weapons be developed in Iran.
To defend Britain from what Liam Fox describes as the “era of nuclear terrorism”, the Tories would renew Britain’s system of nuclear submarines, Trident. Yet questions of costs have arisen, with Trident costing tens of billions, not including the cost of keeping more operational weapons available, especially during an economic downturn. The Tories promise to cut the MOD’s operating costs by 25%. But with the news of the MOD’s estimated£36 billion funding shortfall, the Tories could end up wishing they could use the Liberal Democrat policy of not replacing Trident with a like-for-like deterrent, a policy the Tories have successfully attacked.
The Conservatives are set to hold referendums on future European treaties, pledge to never join the Euro, and to opt-out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (which gives rights regarding EU law) and the Working Time Directive (which sets the maximum working week at 48 hours).
These opt-outs are perhaps only cosmetic: the UK already has an opt-out of the Working Time Directive and the largely symbolic Charter of Fundamental Rights, too. The Tories do pledge, however, to opt-out of the European Public Prosecutor, which would investigate cross-border crime.
Cameron’s commitment to referendums, also, seems to be an attempt to prevent European issues tearing his party apart, with veteran MEP Edward Macmillian Scott the most recent victim: he defected to the Liberals after the Tories stayed in the European Parliament’s extremist right-wing grouping. (Employing a referendum is, incidentally, the same tactic Labour employed in the 1970s, when a sizable section of the Labour party were calling the EU a “capitalist club” which they wanted no part of)
Although defence usually plays an electorally minor role, the Tories do have some appealing policies (if not just for themselves in regard to EU referendums), including their policy of restoring the Military Covenant, and perhaps their policy of X-Factoresq decisions on aid.
Yet they remain somewhat silent on long-term strategic issues, particularly on Israel/Palestine and the Pakistan/Afghanistan region, which they claim is a launch pad for potential terrorists attacks. But with the mood against military action, and with the Liberal’s Iraq war card lurking, this may well be purposeful.
Liberal Democrats: I hold some pretty maverick views when it comes to foreign policy. I tend not to bring them up because people give me funny looks; World Federalism, Social Liberalism and Feminist Humanism – all coming from a posh talking white boy from Surrey – doesn’t make ideal dinner conversation. So it is all the more impressive, I think, that the Liberal Democrats have managed to persuade me on foreign affairs and defence. What follows is my explanation of their policies and attitudes on a few key issues in this debate, and why I think they’ve got it right.
The “Special Relationship”
The Labservative approach to the Special Relationship in the last 30 years of their government seems to have been to wait patiently for Washington to say jump…and then jump. I think it’s time we took a serious look at what we get out of our relationship with the US and what we have to put in to buy it.
Nick Clegg agrees. At Chatham House in March, he set out a new approach to the US. “Of course our relationship with the US is of immense importance, but that should not mean that Britain unquestionably does what America wants… On Iraq, on Russia, on the Middle East, on the interrogation of torture suspects and many other issues our strategic interests have differed.” The openness regarding to how closely the UK secret service have been involved with the illegal torture of prisoners is what impresses me here.
The Liberal Democrats are calling for a full and independent enquiry into the allegations made by former detainees at Guantanamo Bay, so we can get to the bottom of what this government have really been willing to do to stay in Americas good books. While I understand that Obama reintroduced the US Army’s field manual for the CIA when he became president, I think there should still be proper investigation; Justice requires that those who do wrong are punished, not let off because they have stopped misbehaving.
I am not suggesting cutting all ties with the nation that accounts for one quarter of the worlds economic activity, and I write this article on a machine “Designed by Apple in California,” but I like the Lib Dems fresh approach, which seems to involve actually thinking about this relationship from an objective point of view.
Real Support for our Service Personnel
The Liberal Democrats are also proposing a shake up of pay scales in the army. They want to bring entry rank pay scales in line with the starting salaries of Police constables, and double the rate of renovation of service families accommodation, paid for by cutting the number of civil servants at the Ministry of Defence and reducing the number of highly paid top brass. When I was out in Hackney on the Bank Holiday, I spoke to a gentleman who felt that during their opposition to the invasion of Iraq the third party had not shown strong enough support for the soldiers on the ground. I think that their opposition to an illegal invasion (remember that soldiers who participate in illegal acts of war are just as culpable as generals in an international court,) and their stated commitment to pay and house our troops as they deserve and equip them properly shows a much deeper respect than either of the established parties. Think back to all those pictures of Joanna Lumley and David Cameron outside the commons. It was a Liberal Democrat opposition day debate that brought justice for the Ghurkas, so not only are they standing on a platform of clear support they have also already made a difference to the lives of many retired soldiers who served in Her Majesty’s armed forces.
AfghanistanThe NATO mission in Afghanistan is a noble, if flawed one. They are trying to help the formation of a stable central government, so that the Afghans can govern themselves from the middle. Sadly, if this is their final objective they will never leave.
The Liberal Democrats passed a novel strategy in Afghanistan at their party conference in September, and it was preceded by a very interesting debate. My thoughts on the motion are already in the public domain, but here I want to refer to Ed Davey’s conference speech.Time for tea with the Taliban, as coined by the veteran Lib Dem front bencher, sounds like a rather terrifying afternoon meal, but belies a serious suggestion. “Not all the Orcs come from Mordor,” as Terry Pratchett once said on Question Time, and the insurgent fighters in Afghanistan are no different. No army has ever conquered Afghanistan by force – only by persuasion and defections. If we are to win the war there by stabilising the region (which is in our, the US’ and Pakistan’s National Security interests, and most importantly in the interests of the Afghan People) we need to start talking to the less extreme commanders, getting them to align with the national army (which will mean giving them a certain level of autonomy, grizzly as they are.)
Let us not forget what we have to loose by leaving Afghanistan to the wolves – not only would the deaths of many British soldiers have been partly in vain, but also the massive strides that Kharzi’s government (for all it’s many faults) has made – hundreds of thousands of girls attending school – would be at risk again. This war is not a face saving exercise; it has a genuine and worthwhile purpose.
Graeme Morrison, Aaron Newell and Joe Jordan