Tory failures signal we need a progressive, constructive foreign policy
By Mike Tapp
The United Kingdom is one of the richest nations on the planet in terms of wealth, defence capabilities and culture. We should be leading from the front, setting a strong, compassionate example to the rest of the world with our defence and foreign policies.
Continually evolving threats from Russia and China and the scourge of terrorism from extremist groups, that we must continue monitoring and countering as a top priority, mean it is vital that we present a constructive foreign policy that will see our positive influence extend and grow. Unfortunately, the Conservative government's coronavirus response, a G7 failure to set out a comprehensive plan for global vaccination and an integrated defence review that offers foreign aid cuts even the Tory benches can’t get behind, demonstrate that we are not heading in the positive, constructive direction we should be.
The Coronavirus crisis has shown the Conservatives' lack of intent for constructive progress, instead highlighting a populist government that has only looked inwards and failed to take seriously the need for international cooperation to combat this serious threat to our health, economy and society.
Our government, as well as others, has neglected the needs of developing nations, which in many cases have seen alarmingly low rates of vaccination - for example, India at only 11% and sub-Saharan Africa at around only 1%. The Conservatives have, quite alarmingly, cited the pandemic as the reason for slashing its international aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP. This is a devastating missed opportunity for a more constructive foreign policy; to lead from the front in saving lives and livelihoods, and preventing what could be harmful, potentially vaccine-resilient, mutations in the virus. As Gordon Brown recently suggested, “the one sure way of maximising vaccine production and immunising the world is for the richest countries to underwrite the costs incurred by the poorest”.
We are seemingly happy to spend billions of pounds on war, often citing the need to “keep Britain safe”, and yet investing more in foreign aid to help prevent mutations, which would undoubtedly keep Britain safe, is not taken seriously. A progressive, constructive foreign policy would see our Government leading calls for a G7 agreement on this issue, to pave a way forward for funding to bring this virus under control, everywhere.
The recent Integrated Defence Review, conducted by this government, was a good idea and an important step to bringing together several complex issues under one sensible strategic umbrella. However, this review failed to achieve its objectives for a number of important reasons, with numerous contradictions and some regressive policies.
First, the review talks about Britain upholding international law, but in order to exert this influence with any credibility, our country must uphold these values itself, not “treading the line” as we have seen with some legal aspects of our leaving the European Union.
Second, the review describes a Britain involved in peacekeeping operations, whilst also cutting aid to areas that require it to help maintain security and stability.
Third, the review talks about a “constructive and productive” relationship with the EU but neglects to set out our defence and foreign policy relationship with it.
Tragically, the review sets out cuts to our diplomatic service, therefore reducing our influence and ability to engage positively across the world.
It describes the need for Britain to lead on the issue of nuclear disarmament, whilst also increasing our nuclear warhead numbers, costing £10 billion, with no reasoning or strategic explanation as to why it is doing so. Whilst we must maintain our deterrent, such growth is not constructive and sends us in the wrong direction.
Yet again, there is a glaring misalignment between Conservative rhetoric on the one hand, and actual policy on the other. As a nation, we deserve better than this.
What we need
In the short term, we should not slash our foreign aid budget but instead temporarily increase it to help contribute to ensuring that all nations are able to vaccinate their people. This investment will speed up global economic recovery, whilst also, as I mentioned above, help keep the people of the UK safe from mutations. Beyond the pandemic crisis, it is essential that we, as a world leader, invest in developing nations around the world.
Investing in foreign aid is just that – an investment. The collective success – social and economic – of all nations, is beneficial to ours. Economically secure nations are less politically volatile, better equipped to participate in global trade, and less likely to experience the kind of humanitarian crises that we have seen lead to recent surges in migration. By reducing this investment, the Conservatives have taken a stance that is both isolationist and short-sighted. It only serves to limit the global prosperity in which our nation is a key participant.
Cutting our diplomatic service to its lowest levels in 20 years will, as Hilary Benn MP quite rightly states, “cause irreversible damage to the UK’s diplomatic capacity at a time when the country can least afford it”. We should be increasing our diplomatic reach, which will in turn bring us increased capability and influence in trade, intelligence, defence, and vitally in fighting climate change. More links means more progressive influence in more nations across the world, and that should be our aim.
Instead of wasting £10 billion on nuclear warheads, we need a government that will spend on defence in the right places. We should invest in our traditional armed forces, ensuring that we have a functioning, well equipped expeditionary force. It is also essential that significant funding be directed to our intelligence, special forces and cyber capabilities, which this defence review quite rightly lays out. Importantly, we need an armed forces not only capable of deploying in conventional warfare and on small specialist operations, but one that can deploy, at short notice, to assist nations in need and during crises such as natural disasters, famine and disease. This is where our world-class forces should be increasingly used as part of a more constructive foreign policy.
We need a Labour government that will increase foreign assistance, increase our diplomatic links, and properly fund our armed forces in the right places to do the right things instead of buying more weapons of mass destruction. Then, the United Kingdom can stand proudly, as a progressive, constructive force for good.
Mike Tapp is a Labour activist. He has worked in foreign affairs within the military, where he served in Afghanistan and Iraq and as a civil servant where he specialised in counter terrorism. He tweets @MikeTappTweets