Let’s be honest, quitting the EU would harm our foreign policy

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Aaron Ellis

Speaking at Chatham House the other day, Senator Marco Rubio declared that it ought to be up to Britain to decide its relationship with the European Union regardless of transatlantic considerations. “[Y]our American partners should respect whatever decision you make. Our alliance, our partnership, and our affection for your nation will continue regardless of the road you choose.” The reaction of many ‘Europhobes’ highlighted again why I would probably vote for us to stay in the EU if the referendum was held today – the better-off-out position exists in a foreign policy vacuum.

Typically, whenever Europhobes stray outside the national sovereignty vs. supranational governance debate into the wider world, it is to try to outflank the Europhiles. For example, the claim that the Commonwealth can be an alternative trading bloc is an attempt to undermine the economic case for staying in the EU. Yet the hysterical reaction to critical comments made by U.S. officials, amongst many others, shows just how isolated they are from foreign affairs.

Many seized on the words of Mr. Rubio, contrasting them with those of Obama officials. When Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary for European affairs, said that he wanted to see “a strong United Kingdom in a strong European Union”, it was part of a pattern of ‘bullying’ according to Tim Stanley. John Redwood wrote that the United States wanted us to be ‘subservient’ to Brussels, betraying the values that underpin their hard-won republic. Nile Gardiner, who advised the Romney campaign, claimed that this would never have happened had his candidate won the White House last year – even arguing that ‘Britain’s policy on Europe is none of President Obama’s business.’ If increasing tension between close U.S. allies is none of Mr. Obama’s business, then, by implication, he shouldn’t involve himself in the Falklands dispute – a regular bugbear of Mr. Gardiner’s…

Rather than simply a restatement of a position that the United States has held for decades, all this is a further manifestation of the visceral hatred that Mr. Obama supposedly feels for our country.

Yet had Tim and others looked more closely, they would have seen that both Gordon and Rubio more or less said the same thing. Like the former, the senator emphasised that he wanted a strong EU, which he sees as both “a stabilizing force on the continent” and “an effective [American] partner on key international issues”. Like Mr. Rubio, Mr. Gordon emphasised that Britain’s relationship with Brussels was ultimately a matter for us to decide. He is a Democrat, of course, whereas the senator is a Republican, which for some on the right makes a world of difference.  

Europhobes’ hysterical reaction to the foreign policy implications of withdrawal makes me reluctant to buy into the Better Off Out campaign. They have no real alternative for the influence that Britain currently enjoys due to its dominance of the European External Action Service (EAS).

Our diplomats were instrumental in drafting the 2010 declaration that made the Service subservient to the foreign policies of the Member States – effectively, the foreign policies of Britain and France. As of last year, six of the most senior positions in the EAS are held by British diplomats on temporary secondment. Given our large foreign policy apparatus and expertise in a wide range of international issues, Britain is best placed to occupy the one-third of EAS positions that are reserved for the officials of Member States and use them to push the EU in directions we want it to go.

This will be important to Mr. Rubio should he become either President or Vice-President after 2016. EAS currently controls the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which tries to bring those on the continent’s periphery into the EU’s orbit – like Ukraine. In his speech, the senator argued that both Brussels and Washington needed to “ensure that those on Europe’s periphery who still desire to join the Western community of democracies retain the option if they meet the entry requirements.” Yet if it was not for Britain, the union might not be as large as it is today, and a Christie-Rubio administration would want us to stay in it in order to continue pushing back Russian influence.

In his speech, Mr. Rubio also emphasised the importance of NATO and yet without Britain to keep the EU committed to the Alliance, then it might, as David Cameron once warned, just “fade away.” With Britain gone, there would be renewed effort on a specifically EU security arrangement, which would duplicate the work of NATO and dissipate the energies of both organisations. In my mind’s eye, I can see a very serious-looking Vice-President Rubio standing next to Deputy Prime Minister Ed Davey, telling the assembled journalists that Britain in the EU was vital to American interests.

Leaving the European Union would negatively affect our foreign policy, but rather than offering any alternatives or explaining why taking this hit to our influence is a necessary price for our freedom, the better-off-outers act like Scottish nationalists and attack anyone who criticises them. They attack not only namby-pamby Europhiles, but also the likes of Sir Geoffrey Howe and Radoslaw Sikorski – neither of whom are Britain-hating, probably Kenyan socialists.

The greatest historian of our Party, Lord Blake, once wrote that a characteristic feature of successful Tory governments is ‘a “patriotic” foreign policy…judiciously tempered by liberal internationalism.’ Perhaps trying to emulate our Republican cousins, some Conservatives have spurned international institutions like the EU and the UN; seeing them as threats to be countered, not tools to be used. Rather than emulating the Austrian statesman Metternich – reforming the EU from the inside, as Mr. Sikorski argues – they would rather we left it entirely. That is a reasonable position for them to take, but if Europhobes are going to push for our withdrawal then they need to man up and smarten up on foreign affairs.

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A restless, ambitious China needs careful handling

Jenny He

Visible military presence in China is not unusual; but in my experience it has been limited to fairly disorganised lines of privates carrying milking stools from one end of the street to the other for some sort of daily briefing.  Nanjing has been awash with soldiers these past two weeks, however, as college and university students embark on a pre-term course of military training akin to national service. All day long the choruses of nationalist lyrics can be heard; an easy method of advertising the same values to the wider community, who also received a barrage of recruitment text messages before the summer. 

But this instilling of patriotism is at odds with the mentality of the current government. Many young people in China perceive the contemporary Party to be weak compared to the ideal established by Chairman Mao.  The posturing and threats against Japan and the Philippines in reaction to territorial disputes in the South China Sea are seen by many as not going far enough. “I would like action to secure Chinese territories such as the fishing island”, says university student Michael, who like many of his age group would also be in favour of expanding the military to protect these interests. 

The government make threatening statements – most recently against perceived British interference in Hong Kong where the UK intelligence agencies are accused of widening infiltration and strengthening surveillance since it became a special autonomous region in 1997 –  but young people see the outcome as mute: “I don’t think Chinese military is as strong as the US”. The actual ability to mobilise against opponents, who would quickly find strong allies, makes military action more of a wish than a policy. The friendship between the USA and Japan is seen as unfair to China and a barrier to dealing with the territorial disputes. This is reflected in British policy also. William Hague’s visits to Asia in 2010 featured discussions on regional security in Japan, whilst China was the scene for discussions on business, climate change, and cultural exchanges. The same year did, however, see a meeting of senior military officials in Beijing.

Public desire for China’s involvement in international campaigns is mixed. The USA is often described by young people as ‘wanting to be the world policeman’ with France currently branded as ‘[Obama’s] small dog’ for supporting the campaign in Syria. Many people, infact, are unaware of the large numbers of Chinese engaged in UN missions and continue to see their country as isolated from a very foreign community.  Meanwhile others see it as a welcome and inevitable progression for China to become the new world policeman.

The FCO website lists four military areas in which the British and Chinese governments are cooperating. The first is to ‘counter the proliferation of conventional and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons’ in which China’s influence in North Korea has been useful. The second ‘is to reduce regional tensions by working for openness and understanding across borders’ – that fishing island is a diplomatic minefield. Thirdly ‘contribute to conflict prevention and supporting conflict resolution in fragile states’ which China has upheld by committing 21,000 people to 30 UN peacekeeping operations – the figures stated by Cai Yong, Chinese Defence Attache, as evidence of China’s efforts to maintain “world peace”. The fourth mission statement is to ‘deal with non-traditional security issues such as cyber crime, international terrorism, disaster relief, water and food security, and resource scarcity’ where it becomes difficult to assess the impact of the current cooperation. 

The main problem of forging closer links with China is that we don’t want to be too closely associated with a government known for human rights abuses and rife corruption. Although China is an economic powerhouse vast swathes of the country remain undeveloped and inhabited by peasant farmers; the border regions are hazardous; and cultural norms can be very different to what we consider ‘civilised’. We’re more comfortable in a relationship with a culturally similar state where we can trade off any dodgy practices with more common ground.

Premier Li called for closer ties between the UK and China on international and regional affairs at the Davos economic forum last week in Dalian. His statement that it is “in both countries’ interests to deepen bilateral cooperation and to strengthen communication and coordination on international affairs” is a positive sign for the UK after David Cameron’s ill-advised May meeting with the Dalai Lama provoked outrage in China and resulted in Cameron being banned from future visits to Beijing.

Increasing numbers of Chinese nationals go overseas to work and study (many in Britain whilst their European counterparts are living the expat lifestyle all over China), Chinese investors are buying foreign homes (including prime London real estate), and Chinese companies are expanding all over the world (China’s largest company, Sinopec, has offices in Paris).  China needs to protect all these newfound interests, whilst the UK needs to maintain a good working relationship with a government to whom we are already bound.

Media trivialisation of North Korea masks the horrific extent of its crimes against humanity

Jack Hands 10.25am

The North Korean state is responsible for systematically carrying out some of the darkest crimes against humanity this world has ever seen. Yet media and political reaction to the latest diplomatic tensions has predictably focused very little on the regime’s horrific human rights record.

The trivialisation of the North Korean problem is characterised by the media focusing on the quasi-religious cult of Kim Jong Un, its mythical propaganda induced tales and the enormous, grandiose public gatherings and predictable rhetorical flares of staged hatred against the United States. Recently, the escalating tensions and the restoration of its nuclear weapons programme have seen the eyes of the world focus on North Korea’s potential threat to peace.

North Korea relishes this of course. If the regime has proven anything since the end of the Korean War in 1953 – a war which never officially ended, it has shown it is adept at strategically turning up the tension to help consolidate its own power.

North Korea’s shadowy elite are fully aware that with its military-first policy backed up with a nuclear threat, it would be foolish for its enemies and indeed the world’s media not to take any such threat seriously - however unlikely and self-defeating of its own interests launching an all out war would be.

It does so because it knows it is an effective tactic in diverting attention away from its domestic failings, human rights abuses and crucially in consolidating the position of the insecure leadership of the young Kim Jong Un. Therefore, North Korean aggression acts as the perfect smokescreen and diversion tactic for the regime’s real aim, self-preservation.

This is shown by the regime’s extreme sensitivity to the discussion of its horrific human rights record. In our own Parliament, as at the United Nations, any attempts to raise human rights abuses have been met with emphatic, aggressive responses. The UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have tabled several resolutions on the matter and on 21 March announced they will be setting up an official UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea Human Rights abuses, a significant move.  

It is estimated there are five political prison camps called “Kwan-Li-So” in which an estimated 200,000-300,000 prisoners are today incarcerated. That figure is growing.

While many people are aware of the political prison camps there is a lack of coverage about their extremity. These are no ordinary state-driven crimes against its people; these camps are quite possibly the worst state-led systematic abuse of human rights anywhere in the world.

A report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide tracking known prisoners show some of the horrors, these people face. Take, Keum Joo Huh, a 29-year-old female Taekwando teacher who was sent to a camp for ‘collective punishment’ over her mother’s illegal job of brokering for those searching for family members that had been separated by the war. Keum Joo died from malnutrition in May 2002.

The horrors detailed by Shin Dong-hyuk, the only ever escapee from such a camp, in his sobering book Escape from Camp 14, is living testimony to these unimaginable horrors.

Shin who was born in the camp, and like Keum Joo Huh his only crime was being born into a family seen as politically dangerous. Crime by association is an effective tool in suppressing enemies which helps to explain how the North Korean regime has lasted for so long in comparison to other authoritarian rules. Mass torture, starvation, rape, killings, slave labour are a daily experience for prisoners. Nor is there any discrimination between the old, young, healthy or sick. These are crimes against humanity, yet still coverage focuses predominantly on the trivialisation of Kim Jong Un.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, rightly said in January that the huge issue of North Korea’s nuclear program should not be allowed to completely overshadow the horrendous human rights situation, which “has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” and where “self-imposed isolation has allowed the government to mistreat it citizens to a degree that should be unthinkable in the 21st century.”

George Orwell once observed, “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance“.

In isolationist North Korea, people are forced to believe this but in the West we have the freedom to see beyond. We have the power to make the world’s people and governments to deplore these crimes and place this issue at the top of the agenda in future diplomatic talks. Put simply, we need to provide the voice for the voiceless.

Margaret Thatcher’s message for the TRG’s inaugural conference in 1975

Nik Darlington 9.00am

The morning’s newspapers are devoted to the death of Baroness Thatcher. The TRG made a statement yesterday and I made my own comments later.

While millions around the world mourn her passing, we remember her words at this organisation’s birth, in September 1975.

"I am pleased to learn of the formation of this new and vigorous group, and thank you for your good wishes to me as Leader of the Conservative Party.

As a nation, we face three problems:

First, we must beat inflation, or it will destroy the basis of our society.

Second, we must secure the future of economic and political liberty by genuinely distributing power and property among our people—a policy which is the reverse of that which the present Government is pursuing.

Third, we must play an active and influential part in world affairs, showing concern both for the western democratic ideal and for those nations whose primary task is to overcome poverty.

It is good to know that the Conservative Party can look to the Tory Reform Group for creative and practical ideas on these matters and for the will to see them through. We face the future with a sense of hope, and confidence in the capacity of our people to cope with whatever lies ahead.”

Peter Walker, the founder of the Tory Reform Group, who served under Mrs Thatcher as Energy Secretary in the pivotal period of the miners’ strike, responded with the following words:

"The members of the Tory Reform Group are holding their inaugural conference in London today and have asked me to convey to you their good wishes and to express to you their determination to do all in their power to see the early return of a Conservative Government and the defeat of the Socialist Government that is doing so much harm to our country.

They have also asked me to tell you that besides your being able to rely upon their fullest support in bringing victory to our Party they hope they will be able to make a creative and constructive contribution to the preparation of our Party’s policies for the years that lie ahead.”

The “Socialist Government” was indeed defeated in 1979. Margaret Thatcher went on to revolutionise British politics, and change the course of not one but two political parties as even her Labour opponents under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown comprehended the sea change before them.

For our part, the Tory Reform Group remains wholly committed to continuing that “creative and constructive contribution” as we all work towards the return of a Conservative Government in 2015.

What is Britain’s place in the world?

Nik Darlington 12.45pm

The world is a dangerous place and it is only going to become more dangerous still, said William Hague over the weekend.

While sometimes it does not seem it, David Cameron’s tenure in Downing Street has been riven with foreign conflict. The mission in Afghanistan continues, though is winding down. Our resident foreign policy expert Aaron Ellis has blogged on several occasions about the difficult situation there and elsewhere.

The latest contentious involvement is in Mali, which Aaron contrasted with Afghanistan recently for the Spectator (they all grow up so fast these days).

Meanwhile, we witnessed from afar the Arab Spring; and we watch on uncomfortably (yet ultimately powerless?) as Syria plumbs the depths of despair.

Unpicking these and other issues tonight is Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border and a past contributor to these pages, at the Tory Reform Group’s International Lecture.

Rory Stewart will be speaking about Britain’s role in the world at 7.00pm in Parliament. For more details, please see the event page.

The situation in Syria is appalling, but it truly isn’t in Britain’s interests to intervene

Aaron Ellis 10.38amimage

Britain should help topple brutal regimes only where it is in our interests to help and our help ought to be proportionate to those interests.

I thought up the 'Ellis Doctrine' for humanitarian intervention in response to David Cameron’s justification for intervening in Libya, oft repeated by the war’s supporters.

“Just because you can’t do the right thing everywhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing somewhere”, argued the Prime Minister.

But by what criteria had he judged Libya to be “somewhere”? Why was intervention the “right thing” for us to do, as opposed to other forms of help? For years, the Conservatives had said that British foreign policy under them would be “strategic”, yet Mr Cameron’s justification for the Libyan campaign was extraordinarily non-strategic. The Ellis Doctrine offered a framework with which to think about a future crisis.

Given the crisis in Syria is far more complex than the one that confronted us in Libya, British policy needs to be appropriately nuanced. There are many reasons why Britain should help the Syrian people topple Bashar al-Assad, but we ought to limit our involvement as much as possible. The risks of too big an investment outweigh the rewards. We must limit ourselves to containing the spillover from the conflict into neighbouring countries.

Yet our policy is trending in the other direction. The Prime Minister has suggested arming the rebels. The Chief of the Defence Staff warned recently that troops may intervene if the humanitarian crisis worsened. And the ‘National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces’ (NCSROF) has been prematurely recognised as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.

If Britain is to surmount the challenges of the twenty-first century and re-climb the greasy pole of international affairs, we need a prudent foreign policy. The country must sort out its finances, build up its resources, and think carefully about where in the world it gets involved in and how.

David Cameron used to recognise this, and, in recent months, seems to have rediscovered his ‘grand strategic’ ambitions. At the Conservative party conference, he declared that “[e]very battle we fight, every plan we make, every decision we take” was designed to help the United Kingdom “rise” amidst the decline and fall of other Great Powers. “I am not going to stand here as Prime Minister and allow [us] to join the slide.”

As welcome as his rediscovery of ‘the vision thing’ is, he has also consistently fallen short of realising it whenever put to the test. Unless Mr Cameron wants Britain to become a hegemonic power in the eastern Mediterranean, then our deepening involvement in Syria is part of this disappointing trend. Involving us in a fourth conflict in a decade – with little at stake and with no coherent political-military strategy – will hasten our fall, not reverse it.

British policy must focus on stopping the civil war from spreading into the lands of close allies like Jordan. There are nearly 200,000 refugees there. Speaking in August, when the number was around 140,000, King Abdullah said: “We can’t afford anymore Syrians coming through because of the load it is on the system here.”

In October, the New York Times reported that the United States had sent military personnel to the country to help the Jordanians handle the crisis. Given our long history with the Hashemite dynasty, this is what we ought to be doing.

Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronHEllis

Arab politicians continue to use distant British history as an excuse for their own mistakes

Aaron Ellis 2.31pm

For many in the Arab world, the Sykes-Picot Agreement is what the Yalta conference was for many conservatives in the United States during the Cold War. It is a betrayal of people seeking freedom; a damning indictment of Great Power politics; and the source of all problems in the Middle East.

As with Yalta, all kinds of things are attributed to Sykes-Picot years after the event. For instance, the veteran Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt has said the Syria crisis is “unravelling” a deal that created the countries of the region. This lazy understanding was reinforced by the Guardian’s Martin Chulov writing that the Agreement was adopted by Britain and France in 1919, not 1916

The Sykes-Picot Agreement divided up the Middle East between the two Great Powers and the Arabs; it did not create the nation states we know today.

France got modern Lebanon and southern Turkey, as well as a sphere of influence over an Arab kingdom in Syria. Britain acquired most of Mesopotamia and exercised influence over a Y-shaped Arab kingdom that stretched from the Egyptian border to northern Iraq and down into the Arabian Peninsula. Though the post-war carve-up vaguely resembled the deal, it actually began to unravel almost as soon as it had been negotiated by Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot.

British officials in Cairo hated the Agreement and worked to undermine it: they wanted Syria to be part of a Greater Egyptian viceroyalty that would rival the Indian Raj.

"I am afraid that swine Monsieur P[icot] has let M. S. badly down," wrote the Tory politician and diplomat Aubrey Herbert, an intelligence officer in Cairo. “This is what comes of disregarding the ABC of Diplomacy and letting Amateurs have a shy at delicate and important negotiations.”

In 1917, the deal unravelled further when the Bolsheviks leaked its details to embarrass the Allies, prompting a fierce reaction to what was viewed as outdated imperialist thinking, especially in the United States. The Russian Revolution had also removed Britain’s geopolitical reasoning for giving the French such a huge chunk of the Middle East: creating a buffer zone between them and the Russian Empire, which had been promised land in Turkey. Sykes wrote that the sooner the Agreement was scrapped the better, as the world had “marched so far” since it had been negotiated a year before and it could “now only be considered as a reactionary measure”.

His about-turn coincided with one higher up in government when David Lloyd George became Prime Minister in December 1917. Lloyd George wanted to increase Britain’s sphere of influence beyond that which Sykes had negotiated just a few years before. In his book A Line in the Sand, James Baar reports a conversation between Lloyd George and French premiere Georges Clemenceau in which the latter conceded to British demands. “Tell me what you want,” Clemenceau is supposed to have asked him.

“I want Mosul.”

“You shall have it. Anything else?”

“Yes, I want Jerusalem too.”

“You shall have it,” said Clemenceau. These concessions were recognised in the many peace conferences after the First World War, thus by 1922 the Sykes-Picot Agreement had completely unravelled.

The Middle Eastern order that people like Mr Jumblatt fear is disintegrating was created long after this much-maligned deal was a dead letter, and centuries-old problems in the region cannot be blamed on what was even then considered to be old-fashioned thinking about Great Power politics.

Britain can be rightly blamed for many things, but too often Arab politicians use our decades-old faults as an excuse for their own mistakes.

Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronHEllis

Book review: ‘The Godfather Doctrine’

Aaron Ellis 10.12am

There is nothing wrong with using popular culture to enliven international relations. I once argued that The Magnificent Seven can be viewed as an analogy for Afghanistan, while this article explains why outdated warfare methods and institutional group-think made the Jedi a poor choice to lead the Grand Army of the Republic.

Undoubtedly there are those who will scoff at such things, yet if it is the job of an expert to communicate complex issues to the layman in a way he understands then popular culture is an important resource.

In The Godfather Doctrine, two experts try to use the best film of all time (yes, I said it…) as a parable for American foreign policy in the early 21st Century.

John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell argue that the world is changing at the expense of the United States and that it has been ill-served by both the liberal institutionalism of Tom Hagen and the neoconservatism of Sonny. If the country is to maintain its position in the world, it must adopt the realpolitik of Michael Corleone.

Unfortunately, the book’s premise is undermined by bad analogies – and as I have said in these pages before, bad analogies are fatal in foreign policy analysis.

Michael Corleone did not merely preserve his family’s power in the criminal underworld; he made it even more powerful and hegemonic than it was under his father Don Vito. He did not do it through ‘smart power’, as the authors of the book believe, but by murdering his rivals. If the United States literally tried to follow Michael’s example, it’d wipe out Brazil, Russia, India, and China in a pre-emptive nuclear strike and then become rulers of the galaxy…

This bad analogy, which undermines the premise of the book, is followed by many others which makes one wonder whether the authors have actually seen The Godfather. For example, they blame the “neocon” Sonny for the gangland war that followed after the murder of the drug-dealer Virgil Sollozzo – just as happened in Iraq. Yet it was Michael who triggered the conflict, first suggesting the hit to a reluctant Tom and Sonny and then carrying it out himself.

An analogy is also made between Sollozzo and Iran. Messrs’ Hulsman and Mitchell rhapsodise about Michael’s use of diplomacy and limited force and say that he would talk to Iran, as well as apply economic sanctions ‘to bring them to their knees’. Of course, in the film, Michael actually puts a bullet in Sollozzo’s head and then weathered the ensuing storm, just as the Israeli strategist Ron Tira argued his country could do a couple of years ago.

If I had to recommend a gangster film that would best explain American foreign policy to the layman, it would be the Coen Brothers’ Millers Crossing: the erratic, headstrong boss Leo whose temper is just about controlled by his realist right-hand man, Tom.

Not to mention being awesome with a firearm…


Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronHEllis