Wednesday, October 31, 2007

David Cameron unveils grown-up foreign policy

At long last, the Conservatives are groping towards a serious foreign policy. In most countries, international relations are "owned" by the Right: conservatives are seen as more trustworthy when it comes to dealing with foreigners.

Yet, since the end of the Cold War, Britain's Tories have lost that advantage. They were usually broadly pro-Washington and are now broadly anti-Brussels, but have lacked what Germans call a Weltanschauung: a coherent view of the world.

It was, appropriately, in Germany that David Cameron sought to recalibrate foreign policy after the starry-eyed internationalism that led Tony Blair into so many foreign quarrels. For the second time in as many weeks, he delivered that unusual thing, an interesting speech by a party leader.

The tension between national self-interest and international moralism – between Disraeli and Gladstone, so to speak – is the oldest in foreign policy.

Tony Blair was a Gladstonian, committing troops to feel-good causes where Britain had no strategic interest, including Sierra Leone and Kosovo.

Labour's "moral foreign policy" initially enjoyed huge support – this newspaper was virtually alone in warning against it – but, 10 years on, people have grown weary of the whole business.

Where Mr Cameron's call for Realpolitik might once have seemed cynical, it now sounds grown-up. "To help protect international security, any state must put its own security first", said the Tory leader. True.

Our security – and, indeed, our prosperity, as a country uniquely dependent on exports – is best advanced by the spread of a stable world order.

If terrorists are training in the Hindu Kush, their bombs may one day detonate in Bradford. Projecting our power to counter such a threat, as we have done in Afghanistan, has the incidental effect of making that country freer, happier and more democratic.

But we should be in no doubt that it is this way around.

We are the fourth military power on the planet, one of the few countries capable of deploying globally. But that doesn't always mean that we should deploy globally. We need to pick our targets.

Iran, for example, is our business: it has sponsored terrorist attacks in our territory and seized our sailors. But – to take a random example – the decline of Venezuela into autocracy is chiefly someone else's problem.

There is no contradiction between having strong defence and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Mr Cameron talks of "liberal conservatism", perhaps unconsciously invoking the "liberal Tory" foreign policy of Canning, which secured the national interest by judiciously nudging ahead the cause of freedom in countries that mattered strategically.

It worked very well for us 200 years ago: it may work equally today.

David Cameron unveils grown-up foreign policy - Telegraph