Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Narrower still and narrower

Christopher Montgomery's latest article is mentioned on Stephen Chapman's Daddy Warblogs. He doesn't like it:

My problem with his position generally is that, in the grand scheme of things - and I am, unashamedly, interested in the 'grand scheme of things' - British foreign policy by itself isn't worth dick.

A rather odd observation considering that the world's fourth richest country has not had its own foreign policy on anything important since Suez.

Now, OK - if you want the UK to be another Switzerland, existing in a state of near-perfect isolated sovereignty, then fine. I don't agree with you, but then I'm more interested in what nations represent and what they stand for than any purely nationalistic sentiment. I am most definitely not a 'my country right or wrong' kind of guy.

This is one area where in fact Mr Montgomery and I disagree. Mr Montgomery is a "die hard" of the Churchill or Powell tradition who believes in an imperial and independent Britain. Myself I am more of a Little Englander, who while aware of Britain's ability to project power think that it is simply not worth the cost.

So I suspect that the question is aimed at myself. What is the point of a foreign policy that doesn't have a moral tone to it? What are we doing with an army when all they do is defend us?

You could take it a bit further and ask what is the point of a police force when all it does is to protect our life, liberty and property? Shouldn't there be a moral tone to policing, improving people's morality by outlawing rum, Romanism and sodomy? You can insert three of your own vices of choice (for all my alcoholic Catholic readers, I have nothing against Rum and Romanism). Of course some of us may say, and indeed I do, that the police should merely concentrate on protecting us from others and letting us look after our own morality.

This idea of a core competancy also applies to foreign and defence policy. If you want morality in the Middle East you can always send money to the Israeli embassy, or even go over there yourself - just don't spend my tax money or propose to put me at a greater risk for your morality. The sole aim of British foreign policy should be to provide security for British subjects on British soil, the morality we can look after ourselves.

What I want to know is this: suppose we had complete control of our own foreign policy. What would we do?

Perhaps we wouldn't get in the history books, but Britain could be more secure for less money. The prosperity and safety of her citizens may not be a grand goal, but it is a worthy one.

And then there would be the ability to run our own domestic politics. To take a small example, we used to have a negligible heroin problem, because we allowed Doctor's to prescribe it. However, to fit in with the American war on drugs (it wasn't called that then) we clamped down on doctor prescription. A nation that had some pride in itself would not have sacrificed all those young men and women. Similarly we don't have those wonderfully batty debates on the death penalty because we are not allowed to reintroduce it under the stipulations of the European Convention of Human Rights, a condition of our membership of the EU.

Many of my readers may not think legalising drugs or reintroducing the rope are good things, however they are domestic issues. Yet foreigners are telling us what we may and may not do.

What are our compromises with Europe and the US preventing us from doing off our own bat?

There are plenty, but let's start with the European Union, NATO, ECHR, the UN, OECD, the Dublin Convention...

Or is this splendid sovereignty to be an end in itself?

No, the national interest is the end. Sovereignty is simply the only way of attaining it.

I simply don't see this happening. We are already in psychological 'decline' mode, not quite as decadent as the Continent, but heading that way. Sovereign foreign policy is for nations that believe in themselves and believe in the things they say they stand for - in other words, it's for nations like the US and Israel, nations psychologically different from ourselves.

China and Iran believe in themselves. Should we follow them in the same way as we follow the US and Israel?

Britain has a secure perch in the North Atlantic and a surprisingly rich economy. She has the infrastructure for an independent foreign policy, the mentality will follow of its own accord.


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