In an article for today’s Daily Telegraph, British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, sought to flesh out an ethical framework for a new approach British Foreign Policy. Reminiscent of the controversial 1997 Blairite drive for a so called “ethical foreign policy” that was swiftly and unequivocally abandoned, Hague’s vision contrasts somewhat with that of David Cameron, for whom trade and commerce appear to be at the core of any agenda. For Hague, the core emphasis is on the promotion of human rights as a value which helps define and drive British Foreign policy asserting that “We cannot have a foreign policy without a conscience. Foreign policy is domestic policy written in large”, and while human rights are not the only issue that inform policy, they are indivisible from it.
Hague points out that there is no single country that has the power to transform the human rights situation worldwide; the poverty and innumerable abuses being suffered from Somalia, Burma and North Korea to Congo, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Nevertheless, he makes a highly commendable and noble public commitment to “the persistent and painstaking mobilisation of our resources and diplomacy to make progress on this core value of UK foreign policy. For the right foreign policy for Britain is one that includes ambition for what we can achieve for others as well as ourselves, that seeks to inspire others with our values and that is resolute in its support for those around the world who are striving to free themselves from poverty or political repression.” A British initiative to bring the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the fore and help establish an international system based on true fairness, equality and justice would enhance global security and well-being and is to be welcomed, applauded and should of course be widely supported.
However, Hague should have no illusions about the difficulty of the task before him; the numerous potential hazards and areas where he will likely encounter huge opposition and come under tremendous pressure to make concessions to various groups and their vested interests. Moreover, we have been here before; Robin Cook’s vision of an “ethical foreign policy” ended in the human rights catastrophe that was the invasion and occupation of Iraq and is a stark warning of just how awry things can go. The task requires that Hague show backbone, independence and resolute determination if he is to avoid the pitfalls of his predecessors.
While Hague mentions quite a number of ways in which the new coalition government has already surpassed the previous one in terms of promoting human rights; from announcing an inquiry into British involvement in improper treatment of detainees, to speaking up for fair elections in Burma and pressing for more humanitarian aid to Gaza. In view of Hague’s pledge to “continue to raise human rights concerns wherever they arise, whether with our oldest and staunchest allies, authoritarian regimes or emerging democracies”, the litmus test of his commitment to human rights and global justice would be the position he takes on issues related to the conflict in the Middle East such as Universal Jurisdiction and the arrest of Israeli officials accused of war crimes, settlement building in the Occupied Palestinians Territories, the continued export of illegal settlement produce into European markets and the apartheid like policies practiced inside Israel that dehumanise an entire people, among others.
Moreover, for the government to pursue an independent and truly ethical foreign policy would require the Conservative Party must free itself of its dependence on funding and donations from Zionist lobby groups and individuals along with the influence they wield within decision making circles. Last year’s Dispatches programme into the influence of the Zionist lobby on British politics showed that 80% of Conservative MPs are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel, including both David Cameron and Hague himself who joined at the tender age of 15. Lobbyists played a significant role in downplaying the Lebanon and Gaza war, ensuring opposition to the Goldstone report and providing staunch backing for changing British Universal Jurisdiction laws.
Hague’s vision for an ethical British foreign policy will no doubt be widely welcomed. However, it will be interesting to see how he will balance membership to the CFI; “the largest organisation in western Europe dedicated to the cause of the people of Israel” with a commitment to human rights, justice and equality for all. Talking the talk is easier by far than walking the walk and unfolding events in both the Middle East and at home; from direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to the situation in Afghanistan, will test the extent of his commitment to these ideals over the next few months.