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Speech by The Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, MP

The Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, MP

Shadow Foreign Secretary

On: Current Foreign Policy Issues

30th October 2000 


“It is a notable achievement that this Group is approaching its fiftieth anniversary. Within that time similar organisations have appeared and disappeared, so it has been a pleasure this evening to see, in such a large attendance, the outward signs of inner vigour and health. Long may you continue to provide a broad forum for the discussion of the issues which affect us all. 

1. Shape of the world – goodbye blocs, hello networks 

During the last ten of those fifty years, the shape of the world has changed dramatically.States have disappeared, the Berlin Wall, which was put up overnight, was demolished just as suddenly.

It was as if it could no longer withstand the pressure of the forces it had tried to dam, the great ideas, of freedom, enterprise, the defeat of socialism.

These same potent forces also unleashed a swirling tide of discovery, market-driven innovation and enterprise which has given us today’s astounding globalisation.

To some that tide seems threatening.

In truth it has already revealed itself as the most potent force for progress.

The biggest issue in foreign policy is getting to grips with this change. What is clear is that the world of the Cold War, the world dominated by blocs (and superpowers) has ended, and a new, much more complicated web of networks has taken its place.

My case tonight is that in this world the nation state is more, not less, important than before: this is a world in which this unique nation state, this United Kingdom, if we understand our strengths and develop them, can be an extraordinarily powerful force for good. And it is a world in many ways designed for a country like our own, as our global outlook and networks come into their own.Just look at Britain’s international assets: 

The EU, 

  • The transatlantic relationship
  • The Commonwealth.
  • NATO.
  • The G8.
  • The fourth largest economy and the second biggest international investor.
  • Superb armed forces and a highly professional Diplomatic Service giving Britain real global reach.

 In this new world, in which physical geography matters less and less, we should not think of Britain as being on the periphery of anything -not on the edge of some core Europe, not the fifty-first state of the USA, and not just an offshore island.

On the contrary the network world places us -as never before -at the heart of the global system. We can be at the centre of everything.

The rigid stability of the world of blocs has given way to greater instability, yes, but also greater opportunities.

Through technology and detente, networks between nations and individuals have flourished- forming and dissolving daily.

It has been a good decade for the customer. Helped by the EU and the WTO, international trade has grown significantly, and intense competition has provided customers with greater choice.

And not surprisingly, consumers have got more choosy. As in commerce, so in politics.

Political attitudes are changing. Growing international trade has provided people with greater choice. Voters will increasingly demand greater political choices. Voters, like those in Denmark, are increasingly unwilling to accept that one size fits all model of European Union.

National politicians find electorates much less easily satisfied, and the EU’s working assumption to date, that one size must fit all must have to change. It is every bit as out of date as Henry Ford’s saying that ‘you can have any colour you like so long as it’s black’.

Instead of the need there used to be in foreign policy, impelled on us by the need to keep closed ranks, we will be able to take greater choices.

Our greatest choice exists in how we respond to the developments outlined.

The unfamiliarity of this new landscape tends to produce two responses. One is that we should shape the new landscape to fit our existing thinking and habits. The other demands new thinking and a new vision to fit the new landscape. 

2. Self-government is our priority 

I have no doubt that the second is right.

In this new world, nations and groups of nations can choose whether succeed or fail. No longer first, second or third world.

Today every country is by choice in the fast world or the slow; future or past.

Countries that choose the rule of law and the open economy will succeed. Those that eschew either will fail to thrive.

But that implies having the ability to choose; the ability of a nation to govern itself.

In this new network age, control and agility are everything.

Our ability to shape our future, to ensure this necessary flexibility matters more than ever.

That is why a Conservative Government would keep the pound.

Control of monetary and fiscal policies, regulation and taxation are the keys to success in the business of winning business and investment, and thereby earning success.

In the world of globalisation the nation state matters more, not less, than before.Boutros Boutros Ghali, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, put it well:

“The globalisation now taking place requires a profoundly renewed concept of the State. Between the isolated individual and the world there must be an intermediate element. This element is the State and national sovereignty. They respond to the needs of all human beings for identification. In a world both impersonal and fragmented such a need is greater than it has ever been in history”. 

3. The British contribution to global stability Not only is the world more competitive today. It is also far less stable.

The pressures of the Cold War suppressed deep-seated ethnic disputes across the world.

You have only to look at the Balkans and the Caucasus to see how, when the Soviet Union had disintegrated, ancient hatreds returned from the grave.

These regional conflicts are deeply destabilising.

Free trade

Where we can help to resolve them, we should.We have a deep vested interest in stability, as all trading nations do.

As a country with a long history of global trade and investment, we must continue, in the face of ever better co-ordinated opposition, to put the arguments for free trade. We cannot let the scenes at Seattle or in Prague to halt the free trade impetus which is all countries’ best hope for the future.

That is not just because free trade brings prosperity but because the mutual interest in peace it generates ensures that nations which trade together tend to stay together.

William Hague has already said that he wants this country to lead the call for global free trade. And he has set a target date of2020. A Conservative Government will reinforce that commitment by tailoring our foreign and aid policies to help those countries willing to help themselves by committing to the rule of law, free trade and the open economy.

Consistency in our diplomacy abroad

And we should be clear that there is a real relationship between freedom and prosperity. The rule of law that stands between the state and the citizen to protect civil liberties is the same rule of law that protects private property and enforces commercial contracts. Its absence not only compromises human rights; it deters the investment that is essential for economic growth.

So it is not just ethical, it is in our interest to promote these values.

It is our duty to make our concerns known, day in day out, about the practices which go on in these countries. A Conservative Government would restore the annual motion at the UN’s Convention on Human Rights drawing attention to China’s miserable record in human rights and we would back this up with constant pressure. It was a bad day for Britain’s influence for good when the Metropolitan Police were encouraged to arrest lawful protestors during President Jiang Zemin’ s state visit to London. Of course we owe a duty of courtesy to our distinguished visitors. But we do no favours to anyone when we convey the impression that these matters are as stage-managed here as they would be in Beijing. 

The test of an ethical foreign policy is not how you treat small countries, is how you treat the large and strong ones.

Intervention when?

And of course there are today endless demands and opportunities for Britain to intervene around the world.

Inevitably, the networks we belong to, the historic links we share, make us sensitive to developments all over the world.

The more global the media network becomes, the more we can expect the pressures to act to increase.

As a highly responsible power we will always be sensitive to concerns about human rights and their abuse.

But the doctrine of the ‘humanitarian war’ is novel and ambiguous, even contradictory.

We can, and will continue, to play our full role in the new global order but this role must always be tempered with profound caution and humility about what in practice can be achieved by the outside intervention of the international community.

The remedies for the ills of most nations and most societies have throughout history, and always will in the future, come from within. There will sometimes be a role for international intervention to establish the conditions in which those nations can take control of their own destiny. But that role will be limited and generally temporary.

When it arises, it raises a fourth issue: the extent to which we should exercise our foreign policy alone. Splendid isolation never has been Britain’s path. I guarantee that under the Conservatives it never will.

I utterly reject the notion that Britain maximises its global influence by subsuming itself in a single European foreign policy. Of course there will be many occasions, even perhaps most, when we want to act jointly with our partners, whether European, transatlantic or Commonwealth. Half way through this year we set up a Commission on the Commonwealth to look at ways in which this network can be of greater benefit to all its members in the future.

But the idea that we gain influence by giving up power is inherently absurd.

Defence Policy

Before I finish, I would like to say a few words about this issue which is very pertinent to this gathering tonight.

When we have acted in concert with other countries in the recent past, we have done so most effectively through NATO.

In three weeks’ time European Union governments will meet to discuss what forces they can commit to the Common European Security and Defence Policy. What is, in short, the beginning of an EU army?

I say at the outset that I am and have always been for a greater European contribution to our own defence.F or too long we have expected the United States to foot the lion’s share of the bill for keeping the peace first in central Europe during the Cold War, and now in South Eastern Europe in the successive tragedies which have wrecked the peace in the Balkans.

I also favour an intensification of defence co-operation between the nations of Europe.But I am highly sceptical about this latest move.

There is a crying need for European nations to share more of the burden of ensuring our security. But this doesn’t do that. Defence spending on the continent is falling, not rising. All this does is to construct new institutional architectures, autonomous from NATO and within the EU, which threaten to encase European defence in committees, bureaucracy and the creeping embrace of the EU institutions.

There is absolutely no military case for giving the EU a role in Europe’s defence. The case is purely political -a challenge to supposed American dominance of NATO, the establishment of rival power bloc, and the move towards what Romano Prodi habitually calls a European army.

It is designed by people who are concerned first with endowing the EU with another of the trappings of statehood. Earlier this year M. Jospin talked of a “single European defence structure”, of the “pooling” of Europe’s armies. If this were done the EU would have “crossed a milestone towards the creation of a united political Europe”.

Even Mr Blair seems to be echoing this rhetoric with his speech in Warsaw in which he proclaimed his wish to see the EU become a ‘superpower’It would be folly to lock Europe’s defence forces into a single structure when it is inconceivable that Europe will have a single foreign policy.

NATO already provide the ideal flexible structure for different combinations of European nations to move together on a particular mission. Look at KFOR, in Kosovo. A NATO force, but including contingents from several non-NATO countries.Supporters of the single currency already look forward to the day when it becomes a rival to the dollar – a somewhat remote contingency just now. I am concerned that the supporters want this separate common defence policy for a similar and just as unwelcome reason.

At its worst ESDP is a visible expression of a chilling, and growing, anti- Americanism from some parts of Europe.This mindset is worse than simply being unrealistic and vain. It is actively harmful not least to those countries inside NATO, but for the time being outside the EU, whose security is compromised by this arrangement. If it encourages America to turn its eyes further westward to the powerful allure of Asia, we will have inflicted a devastating blow at the basis of our security, the Atlantic Alliance. Yes we should take on more responsibility for our defence, but not through the overtly political process of creating competing bureaucracies. It is exactly this sort of pointless response which has lost the EU the faith of the people who pay for it -the taxpayers and voters.

If only for this reason it is essential that Britain should lead Europe in making the case for National Missile Defence. There may be resistance to it, but that is what leadership is about. Just as in the eighties the Conservative Government took on the one-sided disarmers of CND, and won theargument with the public, Mr Blair today must be prepared to do the same. It shouldn’t be too unfamiliar; after all in the eighties he and all his colleagues were all engaged in the argument, albeit on the other side.A Conservative Government’s foreign policy

This Government came to office claiming that its foreign policy would be ethical -contrasting presumably with the unbending commitment to the national interest that had gone before. It was a simple contrast, though a false one.A British Government, if confident in itself, can wield considerable moral force.

When we promote democracy and the rule of law, when we promote prosperity abroad, we act ethically and honourably, for sure. But we also act in our own national interest.To elevate this approach into a grand, gesture-ridden, and simplistic strategy is absurd and dangerous. It raises expectations only to dash them down. It can make us misjudge world situations and can lead others to misjudge us – as in the past they have done with fatal consequences. The forthright adoption of the national interest, honourably espoused and ethically discharged, is the nest course, not just for Britain, but for the world. I hope it may not be too long before I have the chance to put it into practice.”