Seven principles for a Miliband foreign policy
What would the foreign policy of an Ed Miliband government look like? That was the challenge set for me as a contributor to The Shape of Things to Come: Labour’s New Thinking published by the Fabian Society this week.
Miliband himself has quite properly focussed on domestic priorities since becoming leader. But we can already tell quite a lot about the style of foreign policy he is likely to pursue from things he has said, his choice of priorities and the changing global environment.
First, Miliband has demonstrated very strong instincts on international issues. In declaring that the decision to go to war in Iraq was “wrong”, supporting recognition of a Palestinian state and making an ambitious humanitarian case for intervention in Libya, Miliband has been willing to take strong and controversial positions on grounds of principle.
Second, his defining project to remodel British capitalism to make it more responsible, productive and egalitarian implies significant reform of the global economy that can only be achieved through active diplomacy.
Third, we are entering a post-western world in which the economic, military and cultural dominance of the west is giving way to a multipolar world. There is going to be both greater competition in the realm of ideas and the need for more cooperation to resolve common global problems.
Taking these factors into consideration, I have set out seven principles that I think provide a broad outline of the kind of foreign policy we might expect from a Miliband-led administration.
1. Realism isn’t a realistic basis for Britain’s foreign policy.
Ed Miliband’s approach to foreign policy is values-based. This came across very clearly in his speech to the House of Commons in which he made an unashamedly moral case for intervention in Libya. That is not to say that he regards the national interest as being of secondary importance. The point is that he dismisses the distinction between interests and values as artificial and false to our instincts as a country. The idea of Britain as a force for good in the world is an essential part of our identity as a nation. We see it every time there is a major humanitarian crisis.
2. Our foreign alliances should be shaped by our values, not the other way round.
This was one of the main pitches of Miliband’s leadership campaign and sought to address perhaps the greatest source of concern about Labour’s foreign policy in the Blair era – the nature of our relationship with the United States. Miliband has spent a lot of time in the US and talks passionately in private about its politics, sport, culture and ideas. But he refuses to allow his admiration for the country to cloud his judgement about what is right and wrong. His willingness to support recognition of a Palestinian state, while the government baulked at the idea of breaking ranks with American policy, was a declaration of intent.
3. Government should be judicious and principled in the use of military power.
Miliband has been firm in his view that Labour took Britain into an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq. But he also knows there are times when the use of military power is necessary and legitimate. That was the position he took on Libya. All military interventions cost lives and involve risk, so the threshold for action must necessarily be high. A Miliband-led government would therefore be clear about the principles that ought to guide the responsible use of military force. It should not be used unilaterally, as first resort or to impose a preferred system of government. It should only be used under multilateral authority, as a last resort and for a just cause, such as self-defence or overwhelming humanitarian need.
4. National strength depends as much on soft power as on hard power.
Miliband recognises that our strength as a country will depend increasingly on business innovation, cultural creativity, educational prowess and the attractiveness of our ideas. Our great universities, our world class companies, the BBC and institutions like the British Council are national assets and should be valued and promoted as such. The World Service does more for Britain than Trident ever will. This doesn’t mean that a Miliband government would unilaterally renounce Britain’s status as a nuclear power. It does mean that options for Trident replacement would be considered alongside other, more pressing demands on national expenditure.
5. Multilateralism matters more than ever.
Miliband is a multilateralist by instinct, conviction and experience. He certainly recognises the importance of strong bilateral relationships, but only if they are anchored to a broader framework of multilateral institutions that can generate agreement and action at an international level. He rejects the idea that the narrow bilateralism of the current government will ever be enough for a country with Britain’s global vocation. The shift in relative wealth and power to the east and south means that an active multilateralism is becoming more important than ever. We need to work more closely with the countries that share our interests and values, to maintain diplomatic influence in a world in which countries of continental scale, like India, China, and Brazil, will join the top rank of world power.
6. Britain should be at the heart of Europe.
Having sat in the Council of Ministers, Miliband is more aware of the EU’s deficiencies than most people. But he is also convinced of its potential to enhance the strength, prosperity and wellbeing of its member states and believes that engagement in Europe must remain a central pillar of our foreign policy. Britain will stand little chance of remaining influential at a global level if it cannot be strong and influential in its own neighbourhood. He therefore takes the view that disengagement form Europe, whole or partial, would be an act of national defeatism.
7. Globalisation isn’t always good for you.
The market-led globalisation of the Washington consensus proved to be unstable and unsustainable. The division of the global economy into a west that consumes and an east that produces has fuelled the growth of crippling imbalances in trade and finance and changed the character of western societies by redistributing wealth and opportunity from the many to the few. A major plank of the next Labour government’s foreign policy ought to be an active economic diplomacy through the G20 and other international institutions to alter the terms of globalisation. Priority should be given to measures designed to correct trade imbalances, restrain speculative capital flows, stamp out tax havens and establish minimum social and environmental standards. Whatever the precise policy mix, a Miliband-led government would reject protectionism and laissez-faire and embrace the kind of managed openness that would enable it to achieve progressive domestic goals.
This post is based on ‘Labour’s next foreign policy’ which can be found in The Shape of Things to Come: Labour’s New Thinking edited by John Denham and published this week by the Fabian Society.