James was Conservative candidate for Hyndburn at the last General Election and he is a founder with Ben Rogers of New Ground – a Conservative campaign for "a bold, principled and imaginative foreign policy."
British foreign policy needs radical change. Never in history have the daily lives of all British people been so affected by events and forces external to our country. Most movements abroad we cannot control. But where we do have influence, an inescapable law pertains: as we sow, we reap.
For over two hundred years the organising principle of British foreign policy has been to seek a balance of power between (foreign) nation states. We believed that in such stability lay our security and prosperity. But this model is no longer adequate. Today more than ever Britain’s true interest lies in seeking a balance of power between the person and the institution, that is, between individuals abroad and the administrations and corporations which govern and employ them (or too often, oppress and enslave them).
Success in this policy will bear unprecedented fruit for Britain in terms of security, prosperity and quality of life. Neglecting it will invite upon us economic strain, disease, pollution and war. The reason for this lies in the common good, namely, that the true good of the individual coincides with the true good of the wider community. This has always held, but globalisation makes it an urgent reality for foreign policy to assimilate. If modern thought rejects claims of the “true good”, perhaps agreement can be found on specific examples.
Owners of small British businesses may not worry whether Russia is wealthier than Indonesia, but unless the poor of all nations can hold local employers to account, then British businesses will struggle to compete with corrupt businesses abroad which disregard environmental and labour norms. A farmer in Cumbria need not care whether India or Pakistan has the better equipped military; but he may hope that the societies of both these nuclear powers can hold their generals in check. A stewardess for British Airways who flies to China need not be concerned that it is a burgeoning power; but she and her family might worry that if doctors in China are locked up for speaking to the media, then diseases more virulent than SARS could gain momentum. In each case, what is a vital good for foreign individuals is also good for Britain.
Is it realistic to expect our foreign policy to be predicated on defending the dignity of the person and promoting equality before the law? How could this policy be advanced? Perhaps through education: our government could support a massive programme for volunteer service overseas (note, this educates in both directions); or through information flow: financing vernacular radio services broadcast by émigrés into the world’s most closed countries; or advocacy: offering legal advice to dissidents who have a just cause, supporting their families and their lawyers, whether directly or through NGOs. There are a million creative, personal and non-violent paths to small successes, which accumulated will deliver positive outcomes beyond even the capacities of our current (fearful, grasping) foreign policy. These methods cannot easily backfire, cannot easily come to catastrophe. And they cost little when compared with war (the inevitable consequence of a short-termist foreign policy).
This approach has allies in every country of the world, great numbers of people hungry to collaborate. The chief obstacles are also in every country. They are particular people with power – I do not mean those in the public eye – who are spiritual cripples, who have an impoverished view of man, a pathetic vision for mankind. Their highest hope is personal dominion over others. These are the people who will actively obstruct what to the rest of the world is desirable. Our enemies are not foreign nations; they are the individuals who aim their sights beneath the good of their neighbour. To overcome them our foreign policy, like charity, must begin at home.
In Burma the bulk of the world’s teak forests are being destroyed. But it should distress us much more that the indigenous peoples who for centuries have stewarded the forests are themselves being crushed. It worries some that North Korea is stockpiling chemical weapons. But it should be unbearable to us that they are developing these weapons through lethal tests on human beings – whole families being gassed. This is the crux. If British people have an opportunity to bring relief to those who are being savaged, be our opportunity ever so slight, be it just the chance to protest, yet we fail to take it, then we are losing our own humanity.
Our consciences scream when first we hear that our family abroad is impoverished, or enslaved, or gassed. There are only two ways to silence this voice within. We can deny that foreigners, others, are our brothers and sisters, deny that they matter, deny that we share a common destiny. In doing this we lose everything, and we lose it for an illusion of geo-political stability. Alternatively we can respond in love – small, creative, personal steps. This way will bring peace within and without. A wise government will facilitate and harness all this goodwill to great effect. It will not ignore it. It will hate to obstruct it.
But a foreign policy which plays the world like a chess board is repulsive. If Britain manipulates the destinies of poor nations, this might make our generation richer, but it will make our grandchildren poorer. If Britain is a shameless partner of resource rich nations, or a blind ally to powerful nations, this might make us more comfortable, but our grandchildren will be despised and endangered. We care about generations yet to be born. Though we are separated from them by time, we are all of the same family. And so it is for those who are separated from us not by time, but by oceans and borders. Populations abroad who are our family too.
Britain is (by happy accident) an island. But no man is an island. Our foreign policy must recognize that reality, or it cannot work.