Glen Ruffle: The tragedy that is British foreign policy

Recent photos from Krak de Chevaliers in Syria show the heart-breaking damage done to this world heritage crusader castle during the Syrian war. Journalists were enabled to visit the castle by pro-Assad government forces, who took it from the rebels the British government so wanted to help.



There is a crisis in British foreign policy. It is bereft of direction, and lacking in any purpose. The government has not one foreign policy triumph to its name, and is contributing to the formulation of problems in the future via its poor choices now.

For three years, civil war has raged in Syria. The British government, rather than covertly approach Assad and offer support in exchange for greater compliance, a situation that would have benefitted Britain and kept the devil we knew instead of the devil we did not, chose to immediately support the rebellion, despite the evidence from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya that when an established power is removed, Islamic extremism fills that gap. Had the British offered covert support for Assad and delivered on it, we would have found a leader more amenable to Britain, more open to the West, and most importantly, we would have saved the lives of 140,000 people.

Thankfully, parliament was given the chance to vote and blocked the foolish plans to intervene, which would have caused anarchy on Israel's border and destabilised the wider Middle East for the sake of Saudi gas pipelines that Assad had blocked from traversing his country.

And of course there is Crimea. British 'policy', for want of a better word, has been utterly absurd. As caught by a keen photographer, the government initially planned to do nothing, as there was nothing they could do. Now the Foreign Secretary is providing all the talk of a man determined to drive Putin, his oil, and his plans to create a rival economic system that will undermine the West, into the arms of China and India.

The Cameron government generally seems to be continuing the sad trajectory of the Blair years: follow the US, because we can do nothing. This is symptomatic of a political class, lacking in any real-life experience, that has no vision and only seeks power for power’s sake. With no beliefs to guide them, they are vulnerable to those with vision and direction, falling easily into the hands of Eurocrats; giving up powers while increasing their own personal job prospects (Tony Blair being the classic example).

William Hague's recent Telegraph article betrayed more weaknesses. Ukraine was described as a European nation; the fact that Europe did not want to pay for it, driving Yanukovych into Moscow's arms, was ignored. And throughout, Hague seemed to equate British policy with the EU's policy as one and the same.

Members of Parliament should step back and reconsider why they are elected. They have power to secure the interests of the British people, who chose them. It is not in the interests of the British people for Putin to divert oil supplies to Asia and economically isolate Russia, reintroduce a new Iron Curtain, reduce our export markets, while increasing tensions and the need for military expenditure in a time of prolonged austerity. If the people of Crimea had not wanted Russia, there would have been more fighting. There was not.

The hand of Brussels

Yet Europe’s hand can also be seen. The UK no longer has an independent voice on the UN Security Council, as under Article 34.2 of the Treaty of Lisbon the UK is legally bound to use its influence for the sake of Europe, and not for the British people. Given the conflicting state of European policy (Poland cautioned against sanctions while the UK officially called for them), the fudge that emerges benefits no one, least of all the British people.

And, despite continued cuts, the armed forces of the UK remain the backbone of European defence capabilities. Yet the UK continues to expend its military power, paid for by the British tax-payer, for free in a continent that takes British money and complains of the British rebate. It is time EU states paid for the protection Britain provides, and helped fund the running of the armed forces who risk their lives for the sake of Europe’s foreign policy.

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