Trump's America - beyond the era of neoliberal interventon, good intentions aren't enough

Foreign Affairs & Security
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Ben Harris-Quinney


Ben Harris-Quinney argues for a new way of thinking about foreign affairs

There is a common assumption that policy makers today have a more enlightened, more insightful understanding of the world than their predecessors.

It is seen as backward, if not dangerous, to view the world through any other lens than that of neo-liberalism, and in foreign policy terms the panacea of neoliberal interventionism.

There are, however, clear signs that this approach, and the foreign policy that has manifested from it, has failed to deliver either its stated aims or the will of the British people.

The age of Empire cost Britain dearly in blood and treasure, at the height of imperial expansionism public anger at loss of British life in foreign fields prompted a shift in policy towards colonial governorships and British trained foreign soldiers to keep the peace.

Even in consideration of our great investment, the Empire subsequently paid its dues in hard and soft power terms, propelling the United Kingdom to preeminence on the world stage.

British Foreign policy in the post-cold war era has sought no such balance to its considerable investment. The United Kingdom over the last 25 years has intervened in conflicts in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq again, and Libya - we have little to show for it but gravestones, budget deficits and enemies.

Parliament's rejection of intervention in Syria (on the side of ISIS rebels) in September 2013 underlined that the paradigm of intervention without British security being at stake or without tangible benefit to our interests is no longer acceptable to the British people.

Even today, as the looming threat of ISIS grows at home and abroad, there is markedly weak public support for a third Iraqi incursion, or any form of significant overseas intervention, with the backdrop of 25 years of promise and failure.

A bill was quietly passed through Parliament this month, committing 0.7% of UK GDP to international aid, without adequate public debate or support, and no clear demonstration of how the policy would benefit Britain.

Many of the neo-liberal school, against which the more recent doctrine of neoconservatism has failed to define itself, see understanding foreign policy in terms of national interest and interstate relations as having been replaced by a communitarian approach towards a "global community".

The majority of British citizens do not subscribe to this analysis, and yet still have to pay for those foreign policies, and die for them.

This approach can no longer be justified democratically, neither can we any longer afford international follies with great cost and no benefit.

A new paradigm is therefore required, with a much greater focus on our government's responsibility to its own people and their resources.

International intervention, whether it may be in a diplomatic, aid or military context, will always occur, but it would be unacceptable for any future intervention to not make a clear case for how Britain will benefit.

Let us imagine a scenario 10 years hence, where a beleaguered civilian population desire to throw off the yoke of a tyrannical dictator. They have the option to rise up alone, receive support from a ruthlessly mercantile China in return for open ended control of natural resources, or British and allied support in return for preferential trade agreements and a governor to guide the transition to a freer and safer society.

It may not be a realistic option immediately, when the world has become used to calling on the services of the west as global policemen without necessity of compensation. But the resulting reticence of western citizens to support such interventions will eventually force a realisation that a rebalancing of the British role on the world stage, as partner rather than saviour, is better than the alternative.

The future of British foreign policy should not only ask what the benefit to Britain will be, but it must be a priority.

The conservative philosopher Roger Scruton recently addressed the Bow Group in stating that "National loyalty is a far securer foundation for addressing international problems than any system of global institutions". It demonstrates a view of the future of British foreign policy that not only places British interests at its centre, but draws the foundation of those interests from our citizenry.

The Conservative Party pledged in the run up to the 2010 general election to enshrine the Military Covenant in law, a Covenant which first pledges to only commit British troops where British interests are demonstrably at stake. This sacred bond is paramount, but so is the realisation that a government is elected to act in the interests of all of the British people,  over and above those of any other nation, however deserving their cause.

This should be the basis and future of conservative foreign policy, but all other policy also.

Ben Harris-Quinney is Chairman of the Bow Group