First 100 Days Series.
International Network: regaining credibility on the international stage.
It is extremely difficult to predict what foreign affairs matters will be crossing the desk of the next Prime Minister in his first 100 days. Much of foreign policy is reactive and most crises, even epoch-defining ones, are unforeseen. Who would have predicted the War on Terror on 8th September 2001? Any number of currently under-the-radar conflicts could flare up, such as the situation in Darfur, or the Rohingyas in Myanmar.
There are a few things which we know will arise. One is the future of the Euro, as the three month deal negotiated by Greece that kicked the debt can down the road will be up for renewal in those first 100 days. Also happening over the summer is the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review, including a recommendation on the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. This could be extremely complicated if the government is a Labour one acting with a supply and confidence agreement from the Scottish National Party, given their oft-stated opposition to the nuclear fleet based on the Clyde.
However, on the assumption that it is a Labour government in power following the election, the first action will need to be restoring some form of confidence in our actions on the international stage. The non-Western world is still distrustful of the UK for its avid support of the Iraq war in 2003. The Western world meanwhile is utterly frustrated with the UK as the current government treats our decades old relationships with our closest international allies purely as a method of internal party discipline. It is also extremely difficult for us to maintain a global voice if we have no influence in our own continent through acting like a petulant, passive-aggressive teenager.
There are two smouldering conflicts which the UK could take a lead in trying to resolve in order to try and restore some credibility. One is Syria, the other Ukraine.
Syria is a nightmare situation for the UK. Whether the ultimate victory goes to the Islamic State or Bashir Al-Assad there are no good outcomes for the West in the hell going on in Syria and in those areas of Iraq also under the control of ISIS. There are no other groups likely to have a significant influence on the outcome of the conflict, with the possible exception of the Kurdish Peshmerga, support for whom would be anathema to Turkey. It is also a conflict with higher intensity than the Ukraine, making it exceedingly difficult to resolve using diplomatic solutions without any form of military intervention. Having gone through lengthy wars in Afghanistan and in particular Iraq there is no appetite whatsoever amongst the British public for any further involvement in the Middle East. It is also an area of the world in which the United States takes a deep interest, limiting the space for British action other than in support of the Americans. Finally of course the British Parliament has already voted to take no military action in Syria. All in all then the situation in Syria is one which an incoming government of whatever hue will run a mile from.
Ukraine however is, at least potentially, very different. The conflict there has de-escalated to some extent following the agreement reached at Minsk. Whilst it is beyond reasonable doubt that Russia is providing a high level of backing for the separatists in the Donbass, the level of command and control over the rebels that the Kremlin enjoys is more in doubt. Nevertheless Putin does seem to be able to exert influence over them. So far the lead in negotiating on the issue has been taken by Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande. The UK, as the other major international player in the EU, certainly has the clout to be involved with framing the EUs response to Russia, should the British government so choose.
If it is Douglas Alexander at the head of the FCO come June then we can expect to see the UK operating more through international organisations such as the EU, in line with his speech given to Chatham House last month. Joining with Germany and France to format a combined European response to counter Russian aggression would be one way to return the UK to credible involvement in the international sphere.
Luke J. Davies BSc MA is Chair of the Young Fabians International Network.