My Lords, I will wait for noble Lords to perform the usual exodus. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem has just said, “What we want is genesis, not exodus”—which may well be correct.
I am privileged to lead this debate. For reasons that I will not bother the House with, I have been spending a lot of time recently doing some research into the 1930s. I am struck—actually, horrified—by the similarities between our suddenly turbulent and unpredictable age and those years. Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise; democracy seemed to have failed; people hungered for the government of great men; and those who suffered most from economic pain felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices. Public institutions, conventional politics and the old establishments were everywhere mistrusted and disbelieved. Compromise was out of fashion; the centre collapsed in favour of extremes; the normal order of things did not function; change and even revolution was more appealing than the status quo; and fake news—built around the effective lie—carried more weight in public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts. Painting a lie on the side of a bus and driving it around the country would have seemed very normal in those days, too.
Perhaps the last time that we stood as close to large-scale conflict as we stand now in the world was at the height of the Cold War—but then we had a comfort which I fear we do not enjoy today. Then, the western liberal democracies stood together in defence of our interests and our shared values. Now it pains me to say that, under President Trump, the most powerful of our number thinks that standing together is less important than going it alone, that the abdication of leadership and responsibility is preferable to engaging in the international space and that collective action takes second place to “America First”.
Throughout the long years of the American century we have taken great comfort in the fact that our alliance with the United States and its Presidents has been built not just on shared interests but on shared values. Today we have to face the wrenching reality that this US President seems not to share our values; his recent racist comments have shockingly illuminated that fact. The liberal principles that have underpinned every civilised age, every peaceful period and every prosperous society are now under attack as never before, but President Trump appears more aligned with those forces ranged against liberal values than with those seeking to defend them. Throughout the American century we have taken comfort in the fact that the leader of the western world, although flawed like the rest of us, was well informed, judicious and cautious about going to war. Now I fear that we have an American President who seems all too frequently ignorant of the facts, unpredictable, foolhardy and reckless. Bang goes my invitation to the state dinner.
This is frightening stuff for those who, like me, place their faith in the Atlantic alliance. So what do we do about it? For the moment I fear that the answer is to grin and bear it in the hope that the US will find its way back to sanity. After all, we in Britain are not entirely free of this kind of lurch into stupidity ourselves. When the battle between the America that we know and love and Donald Trump ends, I think only one side will remain standing: either Donald Trump will destroy American democracy as we know it or American democracy will destroy Donald Trump. Personally, my money remains on the strength of that old and deep democracy.
However, even if on both sides of the Atlantic we can find our way back to saner and safer ground, is there something deeper going on here? The slow divergence of interests between Europe and the US does not date from President Trump’s election, although that has undoubtedly accelerated the process. Even under President Obama the US’s gaze was arguably looking more west across the Pacific than east across the Atlantic. I have no doubt that NATO and the Atlantic axis will remain Europe’s most important alliance for as far ahead as we can see, but it will not be the same alliance as it has been for these last 50 years. To remain strong, in my view, the Atlantic relationship will have to look far more like JF Kennedy’s 1962 vision of a twin-pillar NATO than the present conjunction of a giant on one side and 21 pygmies on the other.
We will need a NATO that is mature enough to cope with areas where our interests do not perfectly elide. We should not be shy, for example, of calling out Israel for its illegal occupations just because Washington chooses not to, or of strenuously supporting the Iran nuclear deal just because Mr Trump wants to wreck it. I have no doubt that the United States will remain the world’s most powerful nation for the next decade or more, but the context in which she holds her power has now totally changed. The American century was one of the few periods in history when the world was monopolar and dominated by a single colossus—when all the compasses had to point to Washington to define their position for or against. Now we are moving into a multipolar world, more like Europe in the 19th century than the last decades of the 20th. A foreign policy for the next 50 years based on what we have done for the last 50 will be a foreign policy clumsily out of tune with the times—which I think is exactly where we currently are.
Everything has changed in the world—except, it sometimes seems, Britain’s view of it. British foreign policy in the post-Trump era will have to be much more flexible, much more subtle and much more capable of building relationships on shared interests—even with those beyond the Atlantic club, and even with those with whom we do not necessarily share values—than the simplicities of the last decades, when we only needed to snuggle close to our friendly neighbourhood superpower to be safe and powerful.
In a world dominated by a single superpower, might—not, unhappily, diplomacy—is the determiner of outcomes. So our present foreign policy is dominated not by diplomacy but by the use of high explosive. See a problem in the world, drop a bomb on it: that is what our policy has been. The string of western defeats in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and, most humiliating of all, Syria should tell us that this age is over. We have lost contact with the essential truth of Clausewitz that war is an extension of diplomacy by other means. We have remembered the war but we have forgotten the diplomacy—and so we have failed.
In an age when building alliances will protect and enhance Britain’s interests better than using military capacity alone, high explosive will, I believe, be less useful to us than effective diplomacy. To be diminishing our diplomatic capacity, as we are currently doing, is folly of a very high order.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the current slide towards isolationism is that, in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, the only solutions to our problems are multinational ones. Climate change, trade imbalance, resource depletion, population growth, nuclear proliferation, overpopulation, poverty, migration and conflict suppression are the greatest problems we face—and not one of them can be solved by nations acting alone. As a medium-sized nation with global reach but, sadly, diminishing weight, it is in our interests to see a rules-based world order rather than one shaped by might. So actively pursuing the strengthening of multilateral institutions seems to me a necessary cardinal principle of a sensible British foreign policy.
Lastly, we have to deal with the consequences of our own folly. I make no secret of it: we Lib Dems seek to reverse Brexit, which has already resulted in a catastrophic shrinkage of our ability to protect our interests abroad. I reject the notion that in seeking to reverse Brexit we are acting either undemocratically or unpatriotically—any more than, for instance, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who I recognise as a true democrat and a patriot, was acting in contravention of either of those principles by constantly and determinedly seeking to change the country’s mind after the 1975 referendum. But one thing is certain: whether we are in the EU or out, our foreign policy must continue to place its first emphasis on working intimately with our European neighbours because that is the best way—indeed, the only way—to pursue our nation’s interests in a dangerous, volatile and turbulent age.
It is too little recognised just how much the terms of our existence as Europeans have changed over the last two decades. Europe now faces an isolationist US President to our west, the most aggressive Russian President of recent times to our east, and, all around us, economic powers now growing up, some already stronger than any single European nation. The right reaction to this new context of our existence is not to allow ourselves to be broken up and scattered, but to deepen European co-operation and co-ordination. This way only does our country’s best interest lie. So, inside the single market and customs union or out, inside the EU or separated from it, our only sensible foreign policy is to proceed in lock-step with our European partners.
I can put it no better than the Government’s own paper on post-Brexit foreign policy. Britain’s future relationship with the EU should be,
“unprecedented in its breadth, taking in cooperation on foreign policy, defence and security, and development”.
Precisely, my Lords. The question we debate today is: do the Government mean that, or will the country’s interests once again be hijacked by the anti-European prejudices of the Tory party? I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for promoting this Motion and debate. I do not disagree with some of his concerns; in fact, I agree with some but certainly not all of them. I disagree particularly with the weight that he places on 20th-century blocs and alliances in this completely different age. That is charmingly out of date and old-fashioned but I understand it.
Whenever we discuss the special relationship and relations with the United States, we tend to hear two mantras constantly repeated. The first is that America remains the superpower leader of the free world, and the second is that the US President, Donald Trump, is the most powerful man in the world. I question both those statements in modern conditions. I dispute the first proposition because, although America is a great nation, a good friend and ally and the world’s most powerful economy by far, it has painfully discovered that it can no longer get its way in the reordering of the world. Indeed, that is confirmed by the recent studies by the Pentagon authorities, who fully recognise that America’s role has changed and that it is in a new era of what the authors call America’s “post-primacy”. In a world of networks, the whole concept of a superpower dominating the world has to be radically revised. I doubt the second proposition about Donald Trump because, as we now clearly see, his powers are limited both by internal US constitutional restraints and by forces larger than the USA itself, or, indeed, any one country, and much more complex. America clearly no longer gets its way merely by virtue of its colossal defence spending, and in these conditions there is no decisive victory to be secured, no real army to be defeated—the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is right about that—and no definite end to a conflict. The battle ceases to be primarily on the battlefield; it becomes a matter of narrative and persuasion, of winning the story as well as of outright military operations.
That raises two issues. First, technology has greatly empowered the Davids against the Goliaths. Lethal weaponry can now be procured with ease and at low cost, which can put power into the hands of the smallest and often most invisible group or operating military cell or tribe. American foreign policy experts have just not fully understood that size no longer wins in the network world. Secondly, it needs to be the right kind of defence spending that actually wins friends and defends, by securing peace and stability rather than just by making enemies. What the Army calls non-kinetic means of winning become the most vital aspects of national defences. The basic point is that sheer overwhelming force is no longer the decisive factor, as vividly demonstrated, as we all know, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and possibly over North Korea. America can no more “win” on its own, despite its colossal arsenal, than we can.
As for Donald Trump, while I make no excuses for his very uncouth undiplomatic language, there are two reasons not to write off his presidency so soon. His bark is plainly much worse than his bite. The first reason is that within the American domestic context he is finding it very hard to get his way. On issue after issue he has been defeated. But secondly, and more important from our position in the UK, it is obvious that on the international stage his scope and space are highly limited, partly for the reasons already mentioned and partly because there are now global forces at work which are much larger and much more powerful than even the great USA itself. By “larger forces” I mean the rising power of Asia—China in particular, but not just China—which now produces the bulk of the world’s GNP outside the OECD. I mean the remorseless growth of new networks cutting across the old rules of sovereign states and severely limiting, indeed cancelling out, the role of the superpowers of the last century, whether we are referring to China or the United States, ensuring that the rhetoric of “America first” simply does not work in practice. It is not quite a post-western or a post-Atlantic world, but it is one in which power is shared with the Indian Ocean and the Pacific arenas.
These dramatically changed circumstances colour our relationship with the United States in entirely new ways. It is still special, in that we share many common values and have obvious affinities based on history and culture, but it is quite different from the relationships of the past. America is our partner in the new age, but not our boss. We do not need to be—in fact, must not become—its obedient poodle, let alone its gun dog. The phrase “solid not slavish” was used by my noble friend Lord Hague when he summed it up a while ago, and it remains an entirely apposite and concise description of what the relationship should be. The network is a great equaliser of nations and people, and it is healthy to escape from our overdependency on America. To put the matter colloquially, in the age of hyperconnectivity and soft power, we have other fish to fry.
My Lords, it is very difficult to say something positive about President Donald Trump. I am going to stretch the patience and maybe the credulity of the House and try to do so. As he has rampaged across the world, he has done something valuable, even if he has done it unconsciously. With his attacks on the American press, he has alerted all of us to the value and importance in our society of a free and vibrant media. With his partisan attacks on “so-called” judges, he has underlined across the world that free societies are based on the rule of law. When he equates neo-Nazis with anti-Nazi demonstrators, he has highlighted to the rest of us that racialism and anti-Semitism are a cancer in a civilised society. When he attacks allies for being dependencies and questions the value of NATO, he stirs the memory of how NATO saved our continent from Stalin and ended the violence in the Balkans. When he sneers about fake news, he reminds decent people that there is only the truth and not what he calls “alternative facts”. And when he attacks diplomacy, internationalism and co-operation between nations, and he slashes the budget and personnel of America’s Foreign Service and the UN, we in contrast can see that this complex, dangerous and interdependent world needs diplomacy.
He may not realise it and he may never have intended it, but Donald Trump may yet have revived and reinforced among thinking people globally that there is a better alternative to the shouty, incoherent ravings of a very temporary American President. In doing so, he will have done us all a service.
Beyond President Trump, in this country we need to face up to a very uncertain future. The Defence Secretary on Monday in the Commons outlined the grave threats that we face, when he said there were “four principal threats” to our country and the fourth one is,
“the erosion of the rules-based international order”.—[
I believe what he said; I agree with him. You might normally expect me to now advocate an increase in our defence budget, and I do, but I also want to make the case for diplomacy and an end to the vandalism of our national interest that is represented by the degrading of the Foreign Office and its budget. Our military is after all the last line of our nation’s defence, not the first. The military is there to reinforce and stiffen diplomacy and then robustly to act when diplomacy fails, but hard power without soft power is a recipe for constant conflict not enduring peace.
Consider this. The whole budget for the Foreign Office in 2017-18 will be £1.2 billion. Strip out cross-Whitehall funds and non-discretionary funding like subscriptions to the UN and NATO, and it is down to £900 million a year. That whole year’s budget is less than the United States is spending on its new London embassy alone. That is £900 million to run the whole diplomatic effort—in 168 countries and territories and nine multinational organisations. In contrast to that, the National Health Service spends £2,000 million a week in this country. The global staff of the Foreign Office has been reduced by 20% in the last decade. In contrast, the staff of the United States of America in the UK alone represents one-third of the total global staffing of the Foreign Office.
In a world with multiple threats to our safety and security and with the complexity of Brexit determining our long-term future prosperity, this savage amputation of our international diplomatic capacity is frighteningly short-sighted and self-harming. In our Diplomatic Service we invest in the protection and the projection of our national interest. We in this country have other powerful instruments of soft power too: the BBC World Service, the British Council, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and even—I declare an interest as vice-chairman—the internationally acclaimed Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It is time we abandoned the wrecking-ball approach of the Trumpian world and reinforced, not slashed, that diplomatic first line of defence.
My Lords, in our current discussions about what is sometimes called the special relationship, it is inevitable that the character and personality of the current President will be a dominant feature. There are two temptingly polarised alternatives: the President is an unpredictable maverick and he will test the relationship to its destruction; alternatively, Trump is but a blip, the new President will repair the damage and normal service will be resumed. My case is that neither of these is tenable. There has never been an unsullied golden age in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. It is true that when the personal relationships between President and Prime Minister have been strong, greater influence has perhaps been available from this side of the Atlantic. But if we remember the closeness of Thatcher and Reagan, it is also true that that did not stand in the way of the illegal invasion of Grenada by the United States.
From the point of view of the United States, the relationship is one of choice, but for the United Kingdom it has been one of necessity. The post-war decline of the United Kingdom, the end of empire and the expression that we had lost an empire but not found a role meant that we had to look elsewhere. What better role than to be close to the most powerful nation in the world? That closeness brought rewards. It brought the Marshall plan and Polaris, after Harold Macmillan went to meet President Kennedy, and of course it still allows us access to the Trident system. Things had to be given in return; the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, will remember that there was a very large American ship in the Holy Loch, and there were those who challenged that. However, it was a necessary part of our bargain.
For the United States it has been a question of choice and its wish to have a close ally in Europe as European co-operation post-war both economically and—yes—politically began to emerge. It is notable that in the 1960s President Kennedy supported Britain’s attempts at membership of the European Economic Community. To some extent, that long-standing policy was echoed by the intervention of President Obama in our debate about whether we should stay in or leave the European Union. Why was this so? It was because the United States wanted one country that could be relied on to put the American case in Europe. It is quite legitimate. It never made any secret of its motive and the truth is, to coin a phrase, we rather enjoyed being the voice of America.
What difference does Trump make to this? Ill informed or incoherent as he may be, his clear objective is to further American interests by any means possible—a kind of civilian equivalent of hybrid warfare. It may not be the language of the Ivy League or of the Washington habitué. Diplomatic or domestic conventions may easily be disregarded. This is a man with a transactional approach, with short-term rather than long-term goals.
Yes, we will continue to be important to the United States—sharing intelligence and the nuclear burden of NATO, and even perhaps in the Security Council, although recent positions taken by the United States will make that yet more difficult. None of this will arrest the pivot—not President Trump’s expression but Hillary Clinton’s, when Secretary of State—towards the Pacific. President Trump is a competitor, not a conciliator, and heaven knows there is plenty of competition to be found between China and North Korea.
We will tolerate the boorishness. We will tolerate the unpredictability out of necessity, not least when seeking a trade deal with the United States. Who believes that the offer of the President will be anything other than an attempt to secure the interests of his core support across the United States? We will inevitably lose influence with the United States, just as I believe our efforts—which may be successful—to leave the European Union mean that we will be leaving influence in Europe. This is an unhappy coincidence.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for the opportunity to reflect on the geopolitical changes that are sweeping our world and what we will face as we emerge, blinking, from our 40-year membership of the European Union into that world. I agree that there are more simultaneous crises going on now than I can remember through my career. It is striking that the Syria crisis must be the first in the Middle East since the Second World War where neither the US nor the UK has been playing a key and shaping role.
The underlying trend, which I think has already begun to come out in your Lordships’ debate, is the erosion of the international security structure that Britain was so instrumental in putting together in the late 1940s. That is partly because of the US retreat from leadership of global crisis management. It started before President Trump and has many reasons—some of them lie in that grinding and difficult 10 years of international conflict that the US and UK went through in the first decade of this century. Clearly, President Trump’s dislike of multinational organisations and his preference for transactional bilateral deals is exacerbating that trend, but there are other factors too, most obviously economic ones. There is the move of economic power towards Asia and the rise of countries with nationalist leaders impatient with the constraints of the post-war institutions who want to dominate in their region—countries such as Russia, China, Turkey and perhaps Saudi Arabia as well.
In parts of the world, I think we are returning to a period of spheres of influence, which is a very uncomfortable world for many countries. The question for us is what should Britain do in that context, as we leave the EU. For me, it means putting much more energy into an active, engaged, initiative-taking foreign policy. As one of a number of former heads of the Foreign Office here today, noble Lords would expect me to support the eloquent appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for a properly resourced Foreign Office. If global Britain is going to mean anything and if bilateral relationships with our friends and allies will have to take greater weight after Brexit, we clearly need a Foreign Office with the resources to do the job. The current balance between the money spent on international development, defence, intelligence and foreign policy seems to me to be way out of kilter.
I have two thoughts. First, we must make the most of the multilateral organisations of which we will still be a leading member. I particularly think of NATO. It is very welcome that British troops are now deployed in eastern Europe in support of our Article 5 commitment to NATO. Britain should naturally be looking to play a leading role in NATO.
But I also want to draw attention to our strategic relationship with France on the day that President Macron is here for an important summit meeting. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves that Britain and France are natural allies. We are the two European nuclear weapon powers. We have the largest defence budgets in Europe and we have Armed Forces who are trained, equipped and experienced to go out and undertake real combat in the real world. We have the two most significant defence industries in Europe. It is vital that we now put new energy back into the Lancaster House process that I played a small part in launching in 2010, both to use the capacity that we built for the two Armed Forces to work together and to drive forward defence industrial co-operation, including the potentially very important unmanned combat air system of the future. It is also time that we revisited our consultations with the French on nuclear deterrence. The factors affecting nuclear deterrence in the world, not least the emergence of a potentially nuclear-armed North Korea, make it important that the two European nuclear powers should be giving leadership in NATO on nuclear deterrence as well.
In the circumstances described by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, let us double down on our strategic relationship with France and let us also remember that our relationship with the United States, whatever the difficulties with the current President, remains absolutely essential in the fields of defence and intelligence, which I saw at first hand. They will continue. We need to show that we are relevant allies to the US, including in what is happening in Asia, but let us now invest seriously in our key strategic bilateral partnership.
My Lords, I first refer to my entry in the register of interests as a consultant to a number of companies in the Middle East and also to my role as the Government’s trade envoy to Iran. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for introducing this debate. I agree with him on two particular points. One was the emphasis on diplomacy in tackling problems, and he may be surprised that I agree with him on the second point. In or out of the EU, on many issues we have to co-ordinate our policy with Europe, and the Government should develop a deep partnership.
I was slightly hesitant about speaking in this debate because I was worried that it would develop into an anti-Trump bandwagon. Although I share many criticisms of President Trump we have to accept and respect that he is the President of the United States, and not everything single thing that he has done has been wrong. None the less, I want to concentrate on one issue relating to the United States policy that is wrong, which is its policy towards Iran.
I was in Tehran last week with Jack Straw and Sir Peter Westmacott, our former ambassador to the United States. Naturally, we raised the cases of the dual citizens: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Foroughi. We also expressed concern about the riots and what was happening there and told them the world would be watching. My view, and it has been my view for a long time, is that, with Iran, we need a policy of critical engagement. Engagement—but critical—because, although it is in many ways an authoritarian country, to my mind it is one with a capacity to change and is much more open than many of the other countries with which we are closely allied in the neighbourhood.
On the issue of riots in Tehran, there are of course many interpretations. One thing that struck me particularly while I was there was the reaction of President Rouhani. He not only defended the rights of the demonstrators to demonstrate; he went further. He said this is an opportunity for us to listen and to learn. He went even further than that and said that this is not just about economics, it is about freedom. Lastly, just the day before I left, he said that the young in his country have a completely different view of the future, and they cannot go on imposing their way of life on them. President Rouhani renewed his commitment to honour his election promises about more freedom and more economic benefit.
My view is that the best way to help those who were demonstrating and felt compelled to riot is to make sure that we make the nuclear agreement effective and give the Iranians some benefit from the agreement. President Trump has indicated that he wants to tear it up and that he thinks Iran is not complying with the agreement, despite the fact the International Atomic Energy Agency has issued 10 reports indicating that Iran is 100% compliant. His own State Department does not agree with him. I do not think the CIA agrees with him. No European Government agrees with him. None the less, he has indicated that, although he has signed the waiver on sanctions this time, in another 90 days he will not do it again. If that is to happen, it will make the agreement really ineffective. It will be extremely difficult for Europe to carry on on its own, and I would like the Minister to comment on one point.
I gather there was a meeting between Mr Zarif and EU Foreign Ministers a few days ago in which there was discussion of whether Europe could isolate itself from American sanctions by some legal mechanism, rather similar to what Mrs Thatcher did with sanctions against Libya in the 1980s and sanctions against Russia. We took action then, so could we not take action again? If America retains some sanctions it is very difficult for EU banks to make trade at all possible.
From an Iranian point of view, there is this huge feeling of betrayal. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, put the emphasis on diplomacy. Henry Kissinger once said that we want Iran to be less of a revolutionary cause and to become more of a normal state. It will only be able to do that if it actually feels that diplomacy pays and that agreements are honoured. If that agreement is simply torn up it will be the worst possible signal towards Iran. We need Iranian involvement in dealing with the crises in Yemen and in Syria, and we want the Iranians to feel that diplomacy is necessary to reaching a solution in those areas. Even after we have left the EU, I hope that the Britain’s cooperation within the EU3 will continue because such diplomacy, in coordination with our European partners, is extremely important. We should not simply follow the United States on this issue because on this, I am sorry to say, it is profoundly wrong.
My Lords, in an interview with the New York Times, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump—not spontaneously but prompted by his interviewer—said that his foreign policy boiled down to two words: America first. Later, he explained that this meant that his Administration would prevent other nations from taking advantage of the United States and at the start of his presidency he promised to radically reform America’s trade policy, to demand more of allies and to do less in the world. One year on and his promises, among other things, have resulted in calls to renegotiate NAFTA, to withdraw from the TPP, to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to leave the Paris climate accord.
This is all at a time when the liberal international order is under great pressure from revisionist states, there is turmoil in the Middle East, as well as North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the aftershocks of the global financial crisis. It is a time when, in addition to an erratic US President, Europe faces major foreign policy challenges: a revanchist Russian President; a western Balkans rejecting the settlement reached at the end of the Yugoslav wars; a Turkish President lashing out at Greece, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria; and a destroyed Iraq and Libya and a half-destroyed Syria, all exporting refugees, including jihadists, to destabilise already fearful European communities. It is a time when every European foreign ministry has had to divert resources to produce dossiers to feed the European Commission’s Brexit negotiating process and when Brexit is dominating the UK’s political and policy agenda, already putting huge strains on the country’s Civil Service. As a result, the UK’s foreign policy capacity and attention span is and will be constrained, and its priorities will be shaped by the Brexit agenda. I fear that any UK contribution to European foreign policy after Brexit is going to be even weaker and more limited than in recent years.
I am grateful for the opportunity of this debate, coming less than a week after President Trump gave us and other European allies a 120-day ultimatum to come up with a new deal addressing his Iran concerns or the US will pull out of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement. His plan overtly involves bullying us and other allies into fundamentally changing the terms of a deal that we and the US know is working and which we have publicly stated we have no intention to amend. Further, we believe that keeping the JCPOA in place is the only way to make future negotiations on other Iranian activities possible at all and that a US withdrawal would undermine the transatlantic relationship and our alliances, which are mutually vital across a broad range of policies from trade to terrorism. The final words of the President’s statement showcase the challenge we face, and are worth reading and rereading:
“I hereby call on key European countries to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal … If other nations fail to act during this time, I will terminate our deal with Iran.
And listen to this:
“Those who, for whatever reason, choose not to work with us will be siding with the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions, and against the people of Iran and the peaceful nations of the world”.
I recognise that last Thursday at a meeting in Brussels, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Ministers of France and Germany and the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, the European signatories to the deal, insisted, having met Mr Zarif, that Iran was respecting the agreement and that it is essential for international security. At the same time, Sir Adam Thomson, director of the European Leadership Network, led a delegation of very senior non-governmental Europeans to Washington DC to engage the US Senate on the Iran nuclear deal. In his draft report, which I have seen and which will be published, he states that the delegation was,
“received and heard with courtesy and attention. They believe their weight, seriousness and arguments resonated privately with US interlocutors. Interlocutors on Capitol Hill asked the ELN to continue to feed in European arguments and material”.
Entirely coincidentally, at the invitation of the Centre for a New American Security, I, along with Ambassador Lose, the Danish ambassador to the US, spent part of last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, engaging in discussions and debates with residents of the city on various aspects of the transatlantic relationship. CNAS launched this initiative because of mounting evidence of a divergence between Washington and the rest of the US on issues of foreign policy and trade, and because survey data show that Americans and Europeans are losing sight of the value of the transatlantic relationship and what each side gains by committing itself to it.
To my astonishment, I found in Utah—a “red state” which could hardly be further from DC—an informed and interested range of audiences of all ages, receptive to the message of the value of transatlantic co-operation. There was no “America first” for these people. To me, the lesson of this snapshot, which is all I have time for in five minutes, is one of leadership and engagement. The US is correct to encourage Europe to take more responsibility for its security and destiny. My observations and experience of the last week confirm my prejudice that when we do, in solidarity, we are at our most effective. But I fear that we just do not do so enough.
My Lords, I had better start by saying that I thought that that was an excellent speech and I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for trying to deprive the House of it. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on bringing this topic before us and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, that the tone of the debate has been well set.
Early in March 1974, I was in the back of a limousine, returning from Foggy Bottom to the British Embassy with the new British Foreign Secretary, James Callaghan, who had just had his first meeting with Henry Kissinger. I was a 31-year-old, very enthusiastic political secretary—we did not call ourselves spads in those days. I was enthusing to Mr Callaghan about just how well the meeting had gone and how well he had got on with Dr Kissinger. Mr Callaghan leaned back and said, “Tom, it is part of the job description of a British Foreign Secretary to get on with the American Secretary of State”. That is perfectly true—it is a priority that the British Foreign Secretary should have to this day, and I hope he has.
Over the last 40 years, Britain has had a unique foundation for its foreign policy as the only country with membership of the UN Security Council, NATO, the Commonwealth and the EU. These interlocking relationships have given us a unique combination of hard and soft power. We have also had, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, referred to, the BBC World Service, an instrument of soft power underpinned by its expertise and integrity.
The idea that our departure from Europe gives us an opportunity for some new global role is fantasyland. To proffer the Commonwealth as a practical alternative to the European single market is a delusion. The Commonwealth is a tremendous example of our soft power but it is not, and never can be, an alternative trading bloc. Every Commonwealth country has its own regional trading commitments and will rank its relations with those trading commitments, and with the EU, above any bilateral trading arrangements with the UK.
Let us look forward to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the spring, but let us do so while playing to the Commonwealth’s soft power strengths. If the Government try to play the Commonwealth as some alternative to EU membership they will run into trouble, not least from Commonwealth countries themselves.
On other fronts, as we have heard, there are various thoughts about where we go next in keeping the links with the EU and possible new links with the USA. On
“said much about German co-operation with France to deepen EU and eurozone integration. It stated that US, Chinese and Russian policies obliged Europe to assume more responsibility for its future. But on Brexit, and on the UK generally, the CDU-SPD document is deafeningly silent. For all the wishful thinking in London, Brexit is not a top priority for German politicians”.
Barber’s second point is that, between 2005 and 2015, the UK ran an average annual trade surplus of over £28 billion with the United States. The US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has already made it clear that, if the UK wants a far-reaching deal, Washington expects London to depart from any close regulatory alignment with the EU. In other words, any bilateral trade deal is going to be as tough and hard-nosed as we know our American cousins can be.
This does not mean that we do not continue to build on our US relationship. A very old friend of mine—an American academic, John Reilly—in the Christmas newsletter he sends out to friends, summed it up like this, “Ours is a vast and resilient country, with a people still younger than most, a continent still richer than most, an economy more innovative than most, and an international record prouder than most”.
As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and others, the tectonic plates are moving and we are going to need the kinds of foreign policy initiatives that have already been enunciated, as well as, I say again, a well-skilled and well-resourced Foreign Office. I remember Jim Callaghan saying in 1974, as we were settling in, “This is a Rolls-Royce department”. Perhaps it is time to get the Rolls-Royce off its bricks and put it back into service.
My Lords, I am hugely grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is only a couple of weeks since my introduction, so I hope that my desire to speak is not judged impetuous. In truth, I did not want to perpetuate the frustration of not being able to contribute, nor submit to the folly of awaiting a debate on which I had a special interest or strong views, only to be bound by the protocol of remaining uncontentious. So I thought I would speak softly in this debate, at least in part then to be eligible for bolder things to come.
I start by offering a general thank you to all those who have offered me such a warm welcome to the House. Even a number of noble and gallant Lords whose very proximity in a previous life I used to fear have been remarkably friendly. I single out for special thanks my two supporters: the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Hague—both selected carefully to emphasise both my Yorkshire and my soft power credentials. I most warmly thank all those members of staff who have been so courteous and helpful.
I think I am a rarity among recent defence chiefs in having a son who is a professional comedian. Comedians know little about American foreign policy, but comedic sons are good sounding-boards for maiden speeches and common sense. Tom, my son, likened this event to a “new material night”—defined as an occasion when a non-paying, often small audience, largely composed of friends, gathers to hear you try out some new ideas, in the knowledge that they are not yet perfectly formed, nor necessarily that funny.
So here is my contribution to this debate—a contribution to an understanding of the gravity of its context from the view of a military mind. When I stood down as Chief of the Defence Staff 18 months ago, I privately offered a personal view to the staff on the state of the world. I recalled that I had spent much of my adult life rather simplistically hoping that the natural evolution of mankind was towards greater mutual tolerance, greater civilisation and a greater equality of opportunity and social condition—ultimately, a more inclusive global polity that was representative of commonly shared ideals and morality.
I had a parallel sense that this natural evolution would be accompanied by relative stability among nations: a sense that cataclysmic war, as witnessed in the last century, was a watershed in human awakening, and that our evolution towards collective civilisation would occur within an agreed international rules-based system to which all nations subscribed. My views were bolstered by ample academic evidence and bestselling books which irresistibly demonstrated that the fundamentals of human existence in respect of disease, famine and violence had never been better. There was a sustained revolution going on in human fortune. But then I qualified this euphoria. My more recent experience had rather dented my confidence in this somewhat idealised human journey. Indeed, increasingly, most of the evidence seemed to support a very different narrative.
First, as has been mentioned, a number of countries—Russia, Iran, North Korea and China—variously tended to the view, perhaps understandably, that the current rules-based order denied them the historic entitlement they sensed was theirs. They were not content with the status quo, nor with the stewardship of those who control it. Separately, demographics and economics were becoming, in combination, increasingly dangerous sources of global instability, either through a rebalancing of global economic power, as in Asia, or through the continuing maldistribution of wealth and opportunity within and between countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Then there was the widespread growth in violent religious extremism, a phenomenon that threatens international security and the integrity of various nation states, most obviously Iraq, Syria and Libya. The world suddenly seemed a significantly less stable and certain—and a more dangerous—place.
As I finished my time as CDS, therefore, my historical judgment was that inevitable change, often accompanied by violence, looked a far better descriptor of mankind’s future, and my philosophical judgment was that human nature still tends to the Hobbesian: driven by selfish concerns, primarily those relating to individual survival, achieved if necessary by brutal means.
Even if these judgements seem overstated, noble Lords might at least allow the conclusion that competition is a more natural human condition than peaceful coexistence, and that stability and a rules-based global order do not occur naturally. Indeed, stability, peaceful coexistence and a rules-based order need to be imposed, primarily consensually through alliances of interested parties, and occasionally through the willingness of those parties to threaten to use, or to use, force—but always in the context of mature leadership and wise policy.
This, to me, is the context of this debate. The grand strategic challenge of this age is how we accommodate the change that is inevitable while sustaining the stability on which the continued betterment of the human condition depends. The strategy needed to meet this challenge will be achieved only through a combination of wise policy, strong capability and thoughtful leadership. The absence of such a combination—or, worse still, its replacement by policy and leadership that is antagonistic or self-serving—runs the grave risk that change will be violent, stability will fail and the journey of human betterment will suffer badly. So while we look to the United States of America to lead, the United Kingdom should also look in the mirror at our ability to discharge a supporting role.
A better definition of this role forms the context of our national ambition, our place in the world and, for me—dare I say it?—a far clearer understanding of the sort of Armed Forces we actually need. I risk, however, straying into a separate debate—one to which I hope I will now be permitted to contribute.
My Lords, I am truly honoured to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond, who is such a welcome recruit to your Lordships’ House—on what one might call the warriors’ Bench.
I was honoured to serve as a member of his strategic advisory panel when he was Chief of the Defence Staff. I always associate the words “strategy” and “strategic” with the noble and gallant Lord. He has, in the language of quantum physics, a real gift for discerning both the waves and the particles that go into our nation’s defence posture, and the foreign policy and influence in the world that our Armed Forces support. He is, too, as we have heard, a son of Yorkshire, so we can expect an enduring and welcome injection of directness and common sense in our future deliberations. I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord on a very fine maiden speech.
I will concentrate this afternoon on what one might call the hidden dimension in diplomacy, foreign policy and international affairs, by which I mean intelligence, particularly the intelligence-sharing arrangements that have served the UK so well for more than 70 years. I refer especially to the so-called “Five Eyes” network, embracing the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which the most recent report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament rightly calls “the closest intelligence partnership in the world”. It is also the most enduring, because in essence the “Five Eyes” is the World War II intelligence alliance, which has run on right through the 40 years of the Cold War and into the age of multiple threats that has followed. The UK-USA element within it, privately but not officially called the “two eyes”, is what gives our country its genuine global intelligence reach. Only two other nations possess that: the United States and Russia, with China coming up fast.
This intelligence reach is of critical value to the UK in a fragile, volatile and often scarcely readable world. For all the skills of our intelligence agencies and Defence Intelligence inside the Ministry of Defence, without the “two eyes” and the “Five Eyes” we would slip instantly into the second rank of intelligence powers.
This most special of special relationships rests on an array of agreements and one treaty—the so-called UK-USA treaty of the late 1940s. Participating nations are, however, not obliged to pass on or share intelligence that they garner. Anything that happened, on either side of the Atlantic, to staunch the flow would be a blow of considerable proportions on many levels, because we are an intelligence-trading nation as much as a diplomatic trading nation—to borrow a phrase used by my former Times colleague, Geoffrey Smith. What is of some immediate concern to the secret world is whether Brexit could impact on the skein of valuable bilateral intelligence and security arrangements we have with our European partners, to which other noble Lords have alluded.
The ISC caught this anxiety well in its report, published just before Christmas. I should point out that I have an air of regret about the ISC because we have got out of the habit of debating its annual reports in this Chamber. That is a great pity and we should restore that debate. The ISC said just before Christmas:
“Whilst none are as deep as the Five Eyes, the Agencies nonetheless have significant relationships with other countries. In particular, several areas of obvious shared intelligence interest exist with our European allies—primarily on International CounterTerrorism but also on other Hostile State Activity and Serious and Organised Crime”.
In that context, Parliament and Her Majesty’s Government should take the ISC’s concluding recommendations deeply seriously. It said:
“European mechanisms play an essential role in the UK’s national security, particularly at a time when the Agencies have all emphasised the importance of enhancing their cooperation with European counterparts. We urge the Government to be more forthcoming with its assessment of the associated risks of the UK’s impending departure from the European Union, and the mitigations it is putting in place to protect this vital capability”.
It went on to say:
“Once the UK has left the EU, intelligence cooperation is an area where it can continue to be a leader amongst its European allies”.
I say amen to that.
Such matters come perhaps into what one might call the hidden wiring capacity of our international relationships, but the value we can bring as a top-flight intelligence power, not just to ourselves but to our allies, must not go unheard amid the fractious cacophony that Brexit has brought to our politics and our national conversation. Good, carefully assessed intelligence is where hard power, soft power and so-called sharp power meet. As a country, we need it to shape our actions, our precautions and our strategy-making as much as we ever have in peacetime before.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and I will make three reflections. One is on the unpredictability of current US foreign policy; the second is to offer certain examples; and the third on what is our appropriate UK response.
In the past, there have been periods when we have been comfortable with US foreign policy and others when we have been less so. Those differences reflect in part our respective geography, history and culture. Our tradition is more elitist, that of the US led more by the democratic tradition, which was described by Alexis de Tocqueville as being subject to waves of popular emotion. Past phases of US foreign policy included the post-First World War liberal internationalism, followed by the isolationism of the 1930s and, post-Second World War, the commitment to international institutions with the Marshall plan, Bretton Woods and NATO. Then there was the harsh realism of Suez, the moralism of Carter, Reagan’s naive expansion of democracy, the crusader element of Bush—leading to the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq—and the ultra-cautious realism of Obama, which vacated the ground in the Middle East to Iran and Russia.
During those periods, however, at least US policy was predictable. Under President Trump, it is more capricious. President Zigzag has a large ego and oscillates from tweet to tweet. One of the few consistencies is the aim to overturn the Obama legacy and have “America first”. It is therefore more difficult for our Washington embassy to report accurately on the changes. Think also of the US ambassadors in Africa who have carefully built up relationships over time, only to see them demolished by the ill-considered expletives of President Trump. All this is compounded by cuts in personnel and attacks on the intelligence and diplomatic communities, but we are hardly a good example on the reduction of personnel.
The President’s idiosyncrasies have caused real problems for US ambassadors, not least the US ambassador in London, who was wrong-footed by the President’s decision—taken on spurious grounds—not to open the new US embassy here. When the President calls the press “enemies of the people”, it makes it the more difficult for the West to set an example and criticise press curbs in places such as Russia and Turkey. Equally, when he criticises the judges, it makes it more difficult for us to carry on our tradition of supporting the rule of law elsewhere in the world.
Particular areas of concern include Israel and Palestine. The orthodox view is that there can be no settlement without US involvement, but this US role has been made less possible—perhaps impossible—by the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the reduction in aid to UNRWA. The President has made childish comments about the North Korean leader such as calling him Little Rocket Man, and said, “My button is bigger than yours” and “I will destroy North Korea”. These were all to the embarrassment of our ally, South Korea, which seeks to build bridges with the north.
By reducing security aid to Pakistan, the US could well lose a key source of intelligence on terrorism. The points on Iran have already been well made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and others. There have been similar brash utterances on climate change, Latin America, NATO and Russia.
How should we respond? Our response in respect of climate change, Iran and the Middle East has been measured and correct. We have avoided bluster but at the same time have accepted that the US is a key ally—particularly in the field of intelligence and US agencies—and have avoided divergence wherever possible, looking long. We should not seek differences with the US but should recognise that over great swathes of policy, our position is much closer to that of our EU partners. This is hardly surprising, as the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, would no doubt say, because of the working relationships developed over many years by diplomats and Ministers.
We will continue to bring major assets to the table: the P5 and our hard and soft power, which are relevant to our current discussions with President Macron. We will co-operate with the French on defence, building on St Malo and the Lancaster House agreements on climate change and many other policies. What shall we exchange for the French gesture on Bayeux? As a Francophile decorated by France, I counsel against offering our French colleagues the Maclise paintings in the Royal Gallery. Yes, we should avoid policy divergences with the US but, notwithstanding Brexit, we should align our policies and interests with those of our EU partners, particularly France.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, in his absence on raising this debate. I am filled with admiration for his promotion of diplomacy over bombs, which was very good to hear. That was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, in his remarks on Iran.
Despite the antics of the current President of the United States, that country is our friend and ally. Especially in the light of the appalling decision to leave the European Union, we might be more and more dependent on our American cousins in the future. I wish it were not so but it is. However, there is an opportunity to do things differently following two actions by Donald Trump. I will address just two issues.
After decades of a so-called peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis, Donald Trump has chosen to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, thus recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. He could not have made a more inflammatory move. By doing so, he has destroyed any illusion we might have had that the USA was acting as a neutral broker in the peace process. This has been compounded by the reduction in aid to UNRWA, which has been looking after Palestinian refugees in the Middle East since the creation of the State of Israel. The Palestinian leadership is furious; so are Muslims and Christians all over the world. It is time for our Government to take control of this situation. Together with the European Union and the Arab states, we have an opportunity to form a new neutral negotiating body not led by the USA. I remind our Foreign Office, if it needs any reminding after last year’s commemoration of the Balfour Declaration, that we—Great Britain, as we once were—are mainly responsible for this mess, and it is time we faced our responsibilities and made amends.
My other point concerns the link between foreign affairs and international development. The FCO is to receive funds from DfID in future years. It should be reacting with horror at another of Donald Trump’s announcements: the infamous Mexico City policy or global gag rule. It is why I am surprised that so few women Peers have chosen to speak in this debate. This announcement reinstated the ban on funding for all development programmes relating to safe abortion or advice about safe abortion, as under George W Bush and Ronald Reagan, but Trump has expanded the ban to the vast majority of US bilateral global health assistance programmes including those on HIV, maternal and child health, malaria, nutrition and many others, which total $8 billion-worth of funding. That ban means a delay in the reduction of maternal death rates and a halt to the spread of family planning in developing countries, which are essential if a country is to progress, which is in our interest.
Why should this concern the FCO? The connection is to be found in reports from the World Bank. A rise in GNI in developing countries occurs after a decrease in maternal mortality and declining fertility rates in those countries. The Asian-tiger countries realised some time ago that good maternal health and smaller families would release women to join their country’s workforce, hence their success, which is a great advantage to us. In recent years Rwanda, Vietnam and Tunisia have demonstrated this, and it is all good news for our country. It is therefore essential that our foreign policies and development funding should reflect this and take very seriously the changing attitude of the Administration in the United States.
I conclude by asking the Minister two questions. What plans do the Government have to recognise the state of Palestine and make it a reality instead of just a mantra they recite from time to time? With its new funding from the Department for International Development, what will the Foreign Office do to persuade the USA Administration to reverse their cruel and foolish implementation of the Mexico City policy?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for initiating this debate. It is a privilege to speak after so many noble Lords who have unrivalled experience, knowledge and collective memory of international affairs.
Over the past year, we have witnessed a different kind of politics and leadership emanating from Washington. While it is regrettable to see an apparent weakening of American leadership in the world, it is also regrettable that so much time has been spent analysing personalities rather than politics. It is extraordinary that the cognitive tests of the President of the United States made more headlines this week than the facts that 400,000 Yemeni children are severely malnourished due to a blockade by countries we consider our allies, that nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees are stuck in a no-man’s land of statelessness and abuse, and that Russian-sponsored paramilitaries are roaming around the most unstable part of Europe, the Balkans.
I share the concerns expressed by many noble Lords regarding the unilateral decision to disregard UN Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem, the downgrading of human rights and the threat to tear up the Iranian nuclear agreement, among other current US policies, although I note that the United States’ policy on NATO has had a healthy impact on the willingness of allies to contribute more to mutual self-defence.
Whatever failings we perceive in the Administration of another country, it does not absolve us from our responsibility to put forward foreign policy ideas and initiatives of our own—as the United States Administration is undoubtedly doing, whether or not we always agree. We should be less preoccupied with the tweets and habits of the President of the United States, and more focused on our own policies and the strategies we wish to pursue with the US as a whole. I say this for everyone on this side of the Atlantic. American support and engagement, including the security guarantee through NATO, has been a crucial factor in the success and stability of Europe over the last century.
The transatlantic alliance rests on common political and economic interests, shared history, and vital military and intelligence links. It would be absurd if our history of thinking and acting together could be completely thrown off simply by the election of an unusual President. Furthermore, it would be a development welcomed with glee by our adversaries.
On this side of the Atlantic, we ought to admit that we have been distracted by our own difficulties, including but not limited to Brexit, which has contributed to an atmosphere of “each country for itself”, rather than joint thinking and common purpose. However all-consuming the demands of Brexit, we cannot put on autopilot our foreign policy responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council, and as an economy dependent on the international rule of law, while the seeds of future threats are being sown around us, whether in Syria, Iraq, Burma, Yemen, the Balkans or elsewhere.
It is deeply concerning that our undeniable talent and resources in foreign policy have been thrown into Brexit to the exclusion of almost everything else. Here, I echo the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. While we are pulling out of the EU and refocusing on trade and the Commonwealth, the world has not stopped to wait for us to rearrange the chairs.
We urgently need to see fresh thinking and bold initiatives with the United States and our allies to revive viable and credible peace negotiations in Syria, to hold the Burmese authorities to account for ethnic cleansing and alleged genocide, and to muster a serious collective effort to roll back Russian undermining and interference in some forgotten parts of Europe, notably in the Balkans.
It cannot be that we have regressed so far that there is now talk again of spheres of influence, rather than democratic rights, the rule of law and universal freedoms. Anyone who has practised foreign policy knows that we are most effective when we act jointly with the United States and with Europe.
I am not romanticising this relationship, but anyone who says that the transatlantic alliance built over the last century is not something we have to build on, strengthen and be able to rely on at a time of growing danger internationally, simply because of a different type of presidency in Washington, is missing the bigger picture.
We have never lived in a more interconnected world; yet, I have never felt that democracies were more parochial than they are today. We need to rediscover our sense of unity and purpose and confidence, based on our values, and cannot ever simply accept that America is disengaged. The last time America was disengaged was in the Second World War—and then, we waited too long. We should never observe that trend without doing everything in our power to reverse it.
I therefore welcome the Prime Minister’s engagement with President Trump and I encourage her to pursue it further, looking beyond trade agreements to transatlantic security as a whole and the robust defence of the liberal order that we in Europe built with the United States—which is an indispensable today as it ever has been.
My Lords, that was a courageous and forthright speech.
I declare my interests as a member of the advisory panel of the United Nations Association. Like others, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, most warmly for having secured this debate and for the challenging way in which he spoke.
The first reality of existence is that we live in a totally interdependent world. Individually and as a nation, we shall be judged by posterity on our success or failure in meeting that reality, and on the constructive and imaginative part we play in forging the co-operative international remedies and actions that are essential to ensure the survival and well-being of the human race. Forbidding as things may already seem under Trump, the true humanitarian and security costs of his actions will become ever clearer in future. Coming so soon after his precipitate and dangerous action over Jerusalem, this week’s news that the Trump Administration are to cut from US$350 million to US$60 million their contributions to the work of UNWRA is a glaring example. Unless immediate steps are taken to make good the void, quite apart from the grave humanitarian consequences for schools, medical clinics, food and income programmes, the negative impact on stability and security will, sadly, prove significant.
While in the European context we should be promoting our commitment to NATO and to the Council of Europe, and indeed taking seriously the work of the Ministers of the Council of Europe, it is globally that we have to redouble our efforts. We must see the UN as our UN, not as something separate from us. Particularly as we are a permanent member of the Security Council, the UN’s successes or failures are inescapably ours and the responsibility for putting right shortcomings is very much our responsibility. The same is true of the UN family and specialised agencies. We simply must forgo the temptation to cherry-pick our favourite bits of multilateralism. We have to play a full, effective and, where necessary, critical part in the system as a whole. That demands a principled, multilateral and consistent foreign policy. It is greatly to our credit as a nation that, thanks to what is enshrined in our legislation, we are world leaders in overseas aid and development. However, the influence we gain by that is considerably negated by, for example, putting trade before human rights, as happens with Saudi Arabia, with dire consequences in Yemen. Similarly, when we shirk from playing a committed part in discussions on nuclear disarmament—condescendingly, at times—that undermines our credibility.
There is a central role to be shouldered by UK diplomacy—I am glad that this has been repeatedly emphasised during the debate—and by the British Council, the BBC and others if we are to sustain and enhance our influence on the world stage. Given the scale of the need, deprivation, suffering and injustice that remain across the world, our overseas aid programme must at all costs remain a priority. However, that must be alongside increased funding for the FCO itself, with the emphasis on multilateralism and operations that support work at the UN level. Hopefully, the new drive for multilateralism will help to justify what I believe is our otherwise questionable permanent membership of the UN Security Council. It will also gain us a part in building a broad and diverse set of alliances to replace the old order.
The list of actions is challenging, but the opportunities are huge.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Ashdown for initiating this debate, even though I sometimes do not share his historical analogies or gloomy prognosis of what is to come.
The US role in securing the liberal international order that the world has enjoyed over the last 70 years is changing—there is no doubt about that—but it has been changing since the more stable certainties of the Cold War fell away. It is giving rise to a set of new and complex global issues. Since the early 1990s we have seen a unipolar moment but at the same time we have seen enormous disruption in what we thought were certainties: the rise of climate change, the rise of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
In preparing for this debate, I was fortunate enough to realise that Chatham House is wonderful. It is a UK institution that we really must cherish and which has an extraordinary reputation around the world. If I recall correctly, my noble friend Lord Ashdown is himself an honorary president of the institution. It kicked off 2018 by producing a special edition of its journal, International Affairs, on the future of the liberal international world order. This is a very important moment to help us reflect on the changes I have described. In the leading article in the journal, Professor John Ikenberry from Princeton, who I know my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire also knows, makes a few central points that I think worth repeating. He says that preserving the liberal international order in the face of globalisation is a,
“problem of authority and governance”.
That is what we have seen with the rise of populism and authoritarianism.
The central question therefore becomes: who pays, who adjusts and leads? How do you redistribute authority? It is a matter of managing change as power and authority shift from the West, the EU and Japan to rising powers such as China and India. My money is still very much on the United States and, broadly, with the West. Indeed, even through the Trump presidency, despite the reservations that several noble Lords have voiced today, I would argue that there are more continuities than disruptions. The US economy has not tanked as predicted; indeed, the EU and UK can look with envy at a growth rate of nearly 3% and unemployment at just above 4%. NAFTA has not been scrapped; it has been renegotiated, but then again we only wish that our own renegotiation had gone better. The checks and balances that are hard-wired into the US system and constitution are bigger than the incumbent of the White House, including when it comes to nuclear stand-offs. Lastly, even on the question of climate change, my greatest concern is the US withdrawing from the Paris agreement but that will be implemented only after the next presidential election, so who knows? There might be a change of view in that regard.
The UK’s own changing relations must embrace both continuity and change. Continuity comes from remaining a steadfast partner to both the US and the EU, including making the right calls when confronted with divergences in international affairs, for example over Iran, which has been widely mentioned across the House. However, we must also change in recognising that, as we sit among our allies as defenders of the liberal international order based on multilateralism and a rules-based system, our values matter more than ever. The defence of freedom, human rights and democracy in the face of the rise of authoritarianism across the world makes defending and standing up for our ideas and values even more important, even though there appear to be temporary reverses.
The West has experienced many crises of confidence in the last 70 years. Think of the Cuban missile crisis, the nuclear stand-offs in Asia between India and Pakistan, and 9/11 and the war on terrorism. No doubt the disruptions will continue to challenge us, even as we come up to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on his role in supporting the UN system. Even as we come up to this period, it is important that we keep our nerve. The power of our values and ideals still trumps all the other ideologies out there. People around the world can see that, which is why they still gravitate to western culture, western economic models and, most importantly, western democracy and freedom.
My Lords, if we look at the Middle East, it seems full of conflict and unpredictability; much the same could be said of American foreign policy, particularly in that region. I would therefore like to describe a new and positive initiative.
Since 2014, the Finnish Government and the British charity Forward Thinking have developed the Helsinki Policy Forum. I declare an unpaid interest as a trustee of the charity. The forum is so called because it first met in Helsinki, and it aims to increase dialogue between key powers so as to develop shared analysis, with the help of participants from the UN and international bodies, together with leaders in business and NGOs. It is well aware of the influence of religions in that region.
The forum tries to ease tensions and prevent conflicts and to identify policy proposals that can be implemented in practice. In three years, 95 such recommendations have been made, and I am glad to say that a large majority have been taken up by Governments, parliaments, think tanks and the media. The aim is to find win-win approaches that serve the common good, so that all may benefit. A meeting on Syria, for example, included Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The ability to call together high-level officials from major states stems at least in part from 13 years of painstaking and patient work by Forward Thinking with the political and religious extremes in both Israel and Palestine.
In the absence of formal institutions for preventing and resolving conflicts, the forum works in three ways. First, it raises awareness, to alert and prevent; secondly, it builds confidence through face-to-face meetings, to address a widespread lack of trust in the region; above all, it seeks to highlight mutual and wider common interests—a small example of the latter was the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia for Iranian pilgrims to take part in the 2017 hajj.
Between larger meetings, the forum holds working groups on single issues such as economic co-operation or migration. It is always in close touch with foreign policy groups in Berlin, Rome and Istanbul, as well as the Davos World Economic Forum. I commend the Helsinki Policy Forum to our Government, and indeed to your Lordships, and to all who want to see a more co-operative and peaceful Middle East. What has been done shows once again the value of neutral ground and independent facilitation. As Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our senior adviser, wrote in Forward Thinking’s recent annual report, in the context of international relations and interests the Middle East is the canary in the mine.
I conclude with two probably controversial questions, for which I take full personal responsibility. Will Her Majesty’s Government move from condemnation to a better understanding of the history and current evolution of national resistance movements such as Hamas and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party? Will they make plans for dismantling sanctions on Syria, given that those probably do more harm to the Syrians than to the current regime? I do not want to provoke the Foreign Office, but I will just say that these questions arise from my many visits to Israel and Palestine, including Gaza, and also to Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for securing this important debate today. I also congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, on an excellent maiden speech. When I was chancellor of Bournemouth University, I had the pleasure of conferring on the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, an honorary doctorate, and I still remember the inspiring way he spoke that day.
I declare my interests, in that I am married to an American, and my children are British and American. I am also an honorary colonel in the United States army, am honoured to have been given the freedom of a number of American cities, and have enjoyed lecturing at various American universities.
The “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and America was first coined by Sir Winston Churchill in a speech in 1946. Our two nations share a strong common heritage. My wife’s ancestors John and Priscilla Alden were pilgrims on board that famous ship the “Mayflower”, which made the voyage from Plymouth to the new world of America in 1620, nearly 400 years ago.
Although we share the English language, cultural differences between America and Britain manifest themselves from time to time. To my wife Laura, cricket means an insect she used to hear during the night in her home town of Dallas, Texas, whereas to me cricket is a fine summer game, played occasionally in between frequent showers of rain. These are but small differences between our two cultures.
More importantly, when we travel to America it is clear that the British brand—for example, British royalty, our literature and our history—remains very strong there. These bonds are stronger than whoever happens to be President in the White House, and they will endure even beyond temporary differences in foreign policy. I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Fox News TV about Brexit, and it was clear to me from the questions that America is listening to and watching what is going on in Britain. I am delighted, too, to have been invited to President Trump’s forthcoming prayer breakfast in Washington DC. It will be just me and the President of the United States of America—oh, and 3,000 other guests.
When it comes to foreign policy, historically the actions of the United States have had a profound effect on the rest of the world. When Donald Trump became President, he made it clear that he was going to focus more on greatness at home. We could criticise him for that, but in essence that is what Brexit is about—giving Britain the opportunity to become not just Great Britain but greater Great Britain. Let us not forget that one of Mr Trump’s earliest actions on entering the White House was to restore the bust of Sir Winston Churchill to the Oval Office. That was an important signal of the US President’s bond with, and respect for, Great Britain.
Concerning foreign policy, let us consider briefly the situation in the Middle East, particularly in Israel. American Presidents have endeavoured to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but that has led to a stalemate situation, where the peace process has become stagnant for some years. On
The Holy Bible says, in Matthew chapter 5 verse 9:
“Blessed are the peacemakers”— not peacekeepers but peacemakers; it is very much an active thing. To achieve peace, it is important to recognise that there are agents of peace which world leaders can by their policies halt, misuse or use to not only benefit their own people but help to create peace. In Israel, a distinct agent of peace is innovation. Israel has a small population yet ranks third in the World Economic Forum’s rankings of the most innovative economies. The world has benefited from Israeli inventions too numerous to mention here. Israeli intelligence services have helped stop a wide number of terrorist attacks around the world. Many Arab nations now look to Israel as a strong ally in their common battle for peace against militant Islam. These Arab nations now seek Israeli technology to help grow their own economies, so trade can be an agent of peace.
The UK has 28 trade envoys but only five Trade Ministers. Trade is an agent of peace. Will the Minister say when the Government intend to appoint more trade envoys? There are 282 foreign embassies. Is it not time for the UK to host a peace conference inviting ambassadors to talk about making peace?
In conclusion, the first duty of any Government is to protect their people, but we live in a world where geographical boundaries will mean less and less. Perhaps one should remember that there is only one race—the human race. This is why President Thomas Jefferson was right when he said simply:
“Enemies in War, in Peace Friends”.
My Lords, at a time of momentous change on both sides of the Atlantic, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, has done us all a great service by initiating this debate.
In 1946, Churchill coined the phrase, “special relationship”. In cautioning against anti-Americanism throughout the debate, we have rightly cited the Marshall aid programme and NATO. We could add to that the Truman doctrine and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which Eleanor Roosevelt played such a decisive role, all of which were indispensable in opposing totalitarianism, championing democracy and safeguarding peace and the rule of law. In sustaining these achievements and in our mutually advantageous relationship, we need far more wisdom and self-restraint, nowhere more so than in North Korea, where 3 million lives, including those of British and American servicemen, were lost in the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. I declare an interest as founder, 15 years ago, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which I continue to co-chair.
With six nuclear tests last year alone, North Korea continues to act in defiance of Security Council resolutions. It is said to possess 5,000 tonnes of chemical and biological agents and 1,000 artillery pieces trained on Seoul alone. We have seen what it can do with abductions and assassinations, let alone cyberattacks, the hacking of crypto-currencies and cyber robberies, which can directly impact the United Kingdom. Sanctions, implemented by China and, to a lesser extent Russia, are having some welcome effect. Although the law of unintended consequences may yet lead to a catastrophic war, there has been some welcome movement in Pyongyang, from the Winter Olympics, and maybe a shared flag, to the reopening of eight formal lines of communication between north and south. However, as that regime strives to survive, Pyongyang will be duplicitous and try to drive wedges between the United States and its allies and encourage anti-American sentiment.
The north’s calibrated strategy will aim at securing relief from sanctions, but they are past masters of offering concessions that are never honoured. We should recall that, between 2005 and 2009, the US unfroze $25 million of a North Korean fund at Banco Delta Asia, which the regime then used as a slush fund. We must beware of being what Lenin called “useful idiots” in the hands of a well-practised and often cunning snake oil salesman.
We should stay close to the United States and work together, as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher did so effectively during the Cold War and the Helsinki process. Along with sanctions and diplomacy and military deployment—including, last week, three stealth B-2 Spirit bombers to Guam and HMS “Sutherland” and HMS “Argyll” to the Asia Pacific—we must never lose sight of breaking North Korea’s information blockade and the championing of both people’s human rights.
Four years ago, a United Nations commission of inquiry concluded that the,
“gravity, scale and nature”,
of the human rights violations in North Korea,
“reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”.
Its chairman, Justice Michael Kirby, said:
“This Commission’s recommendations should not sit on the shelf … It is now your duty to address the scourge of human rights violations and crimes against humanity”.
However, while the report’s recommendations gather dust, 200,000 people remain incarcerated in the regime’s gulags, where more than 300,000 people have been killed. The regime rapes, tortures, indoctrinates and lets millions of its people starve to death. Like Stalin, Kim Jong-un uses mock trials, purges and public executions.
Consider the plight of North Korean refugees. Just two months ago, 10 North Koreans, including women and a four year-old child, were repatriated to North Korea from China, despite South Korea’s willingness to give them refuge and citizenship. The father of one of the children, who had reached South Korea, issued an appeal broadcast by the BBC. He said that his wife and son would,
“either face execution or wither away in a political prison camp”,
if sent back to North Korea. He said that he was haunted by images of his young son in detention:
“I can almost hear my baby calling my name”.
I was genuinely shocked to receive a parliamentary reply about this case, in which the Government confirmed that they had not made representations to China on behalf of those fleeing refugees.
We should not remain silent about the nature of this regime. We should act whenever we can, nor should we impute in some foolish way a moral equivalence between North Korea and the United States of America. In the Cold War, once destruction was mutually assured and we realised that weapons used by either side would lead to obliteration, other weapons proved more effective; we should deploy them all. The Helsinki process opened eyes and minds to systematic injustices. As walls fell, this ushered in an era of extraordinary change. It remains the historic role of our two nations to challenge and help change even the most nightmarish and oppressive of regimes.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown.
The virtually universal view of President Trump—at least around this Chamber and outside it—is that he is unbelievably inept at best and a malign force at worst. Internationally, he has finished up being the most reviled President for very many years. He campaigned on a platform of isolationism and protectionism mixed with a dose of racism, in order, he said, “to make America great again”. However, all he has succeeded in doing is leaving my American friends and relations wringing their hands in despair over his domestic policies, and as he has brought America’s standing in the world to the lowest level for very many years. However, considerable dangers follow hard on the heels of those views of the man and the opinions that are now projected on to American values as a whole. Despite its President, America remains the dominant voice of western democracy, whatever Trump says or does.
At a time when there are huge dangers lurking around the world—as many have spoken about—when a Russia led by a predatory Putin is patrolling our skies and seas, intent on expanding his influence, when Chinese versions of civil liberties are inflicted on millions of their citizens, when a nuclear North Korea is making all sorts of warlike noises, when Iran, with its sponsorship of terrorism and untrammelled ballistic missile programme, is so unstable and the whole of the Middle East is in turmoil—when all this going on, we in the UK need to think very carefully indeed about jettisoning America and what it stands for when we and the rest of the democratic world need it most. We should especially think about that carefully when, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, emphasised, we need to share intelligence. When America itself needs support, we should be careful how we react to its President’s outbursts. As we think of our long-term, post-Brexit trade needs, it is worth remembering that at worst he will be there only for eight years, and at best for four years, or maybe less.
However, there is one of Trump’s recent interventions on which I would like to focus—his proposal to move his embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. On this issue I am afraid that I must part company with one or two earlier speakers. It certainly has been the focus of many knee-jerk responses in the media, but surprisingly, with rather less dismay in the Middle East. Even the Palestinian response was muted, when it became obvious that protesters at the Damascus Gate were outnumbered by the TV and media reporters standing around. Provocative it was, but was it a profound change of policy given the facts of the case? First, it is worth remembering that west Jerusalem is where the Israeli Parliament and all its government departments are sited, together with its Supreme Court. It is faintly ridiculous to see ambassadors and their staff spending hours travelling from their embassies in Tel Aviv along the motorway to Jerusalem every day. The population of west Jerusalem is 95% Jewish and it is only in west Jerusalem that Trump is suggesting his embassy should be based.
East Jerusalem, on the other hand, is Arab by a large majority, and the Arab-Palestinian population there is growing. There is no way that Trump has proposed that the American embassy to Israel might be placed there. Now that would really be provocative. Indeed, he said in the same speech that the division between east and west Jerusalem would be entirely a matter for the two sides to agree between themselves. That was the second part of his speech, which was largely ignored. No matter that some Palestinians and Israelis speak of Jerusalem being their undivided capital, I cannot believe that any sensible person thinks that Israel will hand over western Jewish Jerusalem, with all its machinery of government, to Palestinian control, nor that it is to Israel’s advantage, in any way, to hang on to largely Palestinian east Jerusalem.
In truth, the battle is not about east and west Jerusalem and their burgeoning populations. It is about the Old City and specifically the Holy Basin, where the al-Aqsa mosque, so precious for the Muslims, and the Western Wall, so significant for the Jews, are sited. That is where the focus of all the most vital interests in Jerusalem lie and where there is so much mutual suspicion. President Trump did not say or imply anything about this most contentious of all the issues on Jerusalem. Resolution of who controls the Holy Basin has to await another day, perhaps another generation.
Moving an embassy to Jewish west Jerusalem seems to me rather less contentious. It recognises where Israel has placed its centre of government and does not preclude any negotiation between the two sides on what might happen to the rest of Jerusalem. This may be one of the few outpourings from President Trump with which I feel some agreement.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. His debate has already illuminated what is a very confusing, if not threatening, picture to all of us. The President has yet to address important questions of foreign policy, because almost everything he says seems to be designed for internal purposes—not, apparently, for the good of the world outside. The State Department is left wondering what its job is: morale is low, people have resigned, humanitarian budgets are squeezed, and the Secretary of State seems flummoxed by conflicting instructions. It is therefore hard to examine a US non-foreign policy unless one makes a few suppositions.
I am going to focus on the western Balkans today, since our International Relations Committee has just published a report on the Balkans. The committee also had the benefit of the evidence of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, based on his considerable experience in the region. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his colleagues must be thanked for bringing the Balkans back on the agenda in a timely fashion, while the Government are preparing to hold a Balkans summit. I have frequently asked the Government whether EU enlargement is still on the table, and the answer “Yes” is sounding a little half-hearted. Rather surprisingly, the Select Committee took no evidence from the USA and made little reference to its foreign policy. I conclude that, with such a maverick President, few people can claim to understand US foreign policy in Iran, Jerusalem or anywhere else, let alone the western Balkans.
However, one can piece together a few facts, especially relating to NATO, which traditionally is aligned with the views of the US. NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg made a strong stand on Georgia last year, demanding that Russia remove its troops from the two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The US must have been behind this initiative. On the other hand, as General Rose pointed out to the committee, there is a lot of interest in eastern Europe in co-operating with NATO. Even Serbia, he says, has held as many as 22 military exercises with NATO in the past year.
We have to understand that, from the Russian point of view, it is NATO and the west that are hostile to them and trying to push back the frontiers through hard and soft power. My new noble and gallant friend Lord Houghton touched on this. While President Putin claims to be a Slavophile, looking to Asia rather than Europe, Russia has been leaning in both directions at least since the time of Peter the Great. The Select Committee concluded that, despite Russia’s resentment, the peace and stability of the Balkans could be enhanced by further NATO co-operation and specifically by support for the proposed membership of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. It is unthinkable that this does not reflect the policy of the new US Administration. This is in some contrast to the apparent lack of enthusiasm within the EU for the accession of new members, stemming from President Juncker’s comments in 2014. Some witnesses to the committee felt that the EU was watering down the Copenhagen principles of democracy and the rule of law.
I would finally like to mention Kosovo, which I visited twice with the IPU. I declare an interest, in that I am proud to have a Kosovan-Albanian son-in-law. Kosovo is another example of a state in which we invested a lot of political, as well as military, capital since the war of 1998-99. It is only half a country, while four EU countries refuse to recognise it and Serbs virtually rule the north with Russian approval. The murder of a leading Serb politician in Mitrovica this week was another sign of insecurity there. The noble Baroness, Lady Helic, has already mentioned roaming paramilitaries, and there is corruption. Kosovo suffers from high unemployment and emigration, and it will depend on foreign aid for years to come. The US is definitely committed to Kosovo and KFOR, and I believe that we too have a moral commitment to support its EU application, alongside Serbia’s, and ensure that the US does as well.
Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic states are on the front line of the new Cold War. In the case of eastern Ukraine, this is an active war in Europe, in which thousands have died and are still dying. You have to believe that, whatever the chaos in the White House, the US Administration is following this scene closely through NATO and its generals on the ground and yet, to judge from recent evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, NATO is way behind Russia in its preparedness for conventional warfare. We also have to assume that, while we remain in the EU, the US is behind us in supporting democracy and the rule of law in eastern Europe.
My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate instituted very well by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, to whom we are all grateful. As one or two others have done and the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, just did, I want to concentrate on a decision that throws light on the activities of the United States. That is the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
My interest, as I have outlined before, is that my wife was the third generation of her family to be born in Jerusalem, having gone there for Christian reasons in Ottoman times. The family still has interests and friends on all sides of the religions and confessions there. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, pointed out that over that period we British failed to protect the existing inhabitants of Palestine as Balfour’s letter promised. We also failed to prepare Palestine for independence, as we were required to do under the mandate. Now we find ourselves facing problems there again.
It interested me that the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, made such a clear distinction between east and west Jerusalem and suggested that east Jerusalem, in spite of the statement by the President the other day, might indeed be the capital of Palestine. He is right to concentrate on the Old City as the focal point. Every effort to settle the problems of these two countries by partition, from the Peel commission in 1937 to UN resolutions over the years, has recognised the inescapable fact that the status of Jerusalem needs to reflect its importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians if peace is to be secured and to last. Of course, it would be easier to be consoled by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, if one did not also know of the tremendous pressure put on the residents of east Jerusalem by the Israelis through residence restrictions, movement restrictions all the time, building restrictions and the building of settlements in east Jerusalem, which has been going on ruthlessly for many years and which continues to this day.
It is significant, particularly in the context of this debate, that we and other western democracies have not followed the United States in this initiative. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, hoped that in the United States democracy might help to curb the excesses of Donald Trump, and we all hope that. However, we the allies of America also have a duty in this respect not necessarily to follow all his policies over the years and to lean out of the boat in the other direction.
The damage that was done by the statement on Jerusalem was, first, a blow to the United Nations and its resolutions and the rules-based order that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to in his excellent maiden speech, as did other noble Lords. The statement is also a blow to the idea that America might be a broker between Israel and Palestine, as previous US Presidents have done their best to be. I am particularly sad about that because for a brief period last year, when American policies seemed to be developing, particularly in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and so on, it seemed that the great dealmaker, as he is said to be—at least by himself—might open up new possibilities of reconciling this stubborn problem. I fear that has become much less likely and less possible.
In the face of US policy, we in this country, with our other allies in Europe and elsewhere, need to redouble our efforts to try to bring peace in Israel/Palestine but also in other parts of the world, not just sit back and bemoan what is happening. Of course, many Israelis and Palestinians want to get on with one another. Those are the people we should help, while doing our best to marginalise the zealots on both sides of this terrible divide.
My Lords, I always look forward to these debates because I learn so much from the contributions made, from experience, across the House—particularly today from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, who made an interesting speech containing some interesting concepts, which will bear rereading.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for introducing this debate in the way he did. I do not share his slightly doom-and-gloom approach. I recognise his attempt to use the historical perspective of the 1930s, but I would have thought that pre-1914 is more relevant. One great power, the United Kingdom, was in relative decline, and now another, the United States, is in relative decline—the emphasis being on relative not absolute decline, which are two very different concepts. But I accept that the position is changing. Of course, there is also our own decision to leave the European Union.
None of these things will necessarily mean that there will not be great collaboration between the key western democracies and countries. Following the Brexit referendum, we must stay close to Europe and get closer on defence and foreign policy. In my judgment—indeed, this is said within the European Union at the moment—there will be greater co-ordination of defence and foreign policy in the EU. The United Kingdom ought to support that. We have to work in tandem with that, and our relationship with both the EU and the US will be—to use that hackneyed term—a special relationship: it has to be really close. We must acknowledge that the United States will, in due course, have to relate more directly to the European Union and less via the United Kingdom. That is one of the political consequences of leaving the EU. It is not necessarily totally disastrous. Although we should have stayed, and I voted to stay, I do not take the view that we cannot make this work, as long as we see our relationship with the European Union as being a close one.
I also emphasise what has been my view for some time: that the European Union is at best two-speed and maybe even three-speed in its approach to emerging economic and political integration. Some countries in Europe will head ever closer towards economic union and the political union that necessarily goes with that—if you have closer economic union, you inevitably develop a political union—and we will be slightly outside that, in the second or third tier of that process. That is not necessarily a disaster. It is not the best place to be in, but we can make that work if we recognise that we have to be very close and have a good working relationship politically and on the economy, defence and foreign policy. That is why I share my noble friend Lord Robertson’s view that we have to put the Foreign Office at the forefront of our activities. We must also consider our soft power in all its aspects, including our help to developing countries, which my noble friend Lord Judd mentioned. All those things will continue to be part of Britain’s influence. But our language, culture and history make it clear that relationships with the EU and the US will not necessarily diminish. The relationship between the UK and the US is not all about the President and the Prime Minister; it is about the incredible, multilayered British and American contacts—family, business, politics, academia, science and technology—that keep us close. That has to be a key part of this.
The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, on Iran was important and good. We need to focus more on the role of Islam. In my lifetime we got used to a political ideology dominating the world—communism, capitalism, Nazism, fascism, and so on. That has gone and is being replaced by a religious ideology, and, frankly, that has been the history of the world for several thousand years.
The disputes in Iran and the riots in the streets are in part about the problem Iran has in marrying political control—President Rouhani is struggling but he is trying to do a good job—with religion: according to both Shia and Sunni interpretations, there is no law above God’s law. Time precludes any further examination of that issue but we have to focus on it in the coming decades.
Finally, we also have to be aware of the role of nationalism, which I am afraid is growing in many countries in the world. That, combined with the growth of ideology, is a danger we have to face.
My Lords, I am grateful for the chance to speak in this debate, in which I have the unusual pleasure of agreeing with every word said by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick.
I will make two quick points. First, this is a brilliantly timed debate, one year after the inauguration. I am less worried than I was then about the threat to NATO. The investigations into possible collusion and certain Russian involvement in the election campaign in America have neutralised what I saw as the biggest risk to NATO: candidate Trump’s openly avowed admiration for President Putin. If that is still in his head he cannot act on it, given the investigations taking place on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington, so I am slightly less worried about that.
One point that perhaps was not brought out in the debate, and about which I am more worried about than I was a year ago, is the threat to the rules-based trade system. The open insistence that the United States will no longer be bound by WTO rulings, and the attempt to subvert the WTO system from within by refusing to make appointments to panels—refusing to appoint judges in the WTO’s dispute settlement procedures—is an existential threat to a central element of a rules-based system that originated here in London. We invented the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The WTO was run for a very long time on British expertise. When we joined the European Union we imported the old Board of Trade expertise into it and we saw great commissioners such as Leon Brittan and Peter Sutherland. We should pay tribute to Peter Sutherland for all his work, not just in Brussels but also in Geneva, in all our interests.
It is very important if we are to leave the European Union that we remain in very close touch with it in support of the WTO system. To my mind, a sweetheart trade deal with the United States is a mirage. It clearly has an “America first” policy. We remember the inaugural speech. We must not let pursuit of close contacts with America, which are very important, blind us to the fact that the rules-based system is particularly important to an open trading country such as the United Kingdom.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and constructive debate with remarkable consensus across the House. Almost everyone agrees with what the noble Lords, Lord Lamont and Lord Robertson, said about Iran, for example. I hope it does not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, that we are very much of one view on that.
There are three interconnected themes: first, the changes in the United States and the impact of President Trump; secondly, how we maintain the threatened liberal international order; and thirdly, the implications for British foreign policy. On the United States, I think most of us agree that the changes to which we have to adjust are longer term than President Trump and that Trump highlights and, we hope, exaggerates some of the underlying trends.
When I first went to the United States in 1962 I began to learn that the Atlantic community was between the east coast of the United States and Britain and western Europe. In those days Texas was not so important; Massachusetts and Pennsylvania mattered much more. Now, California, Texas and Florida are fundamental to American foreign policy and Asian-Americans and Latin-Americans are as important as the old, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were. The discontented white Anglo-Saxon Protestants form part of Trump’s core vote.
The special relationship is a great deal less special than it was. I remember in 1967 taking my then-girlfriend, now wife, around Washington with her list of people who had worked with her parents in the war. They all turned out to be senior people either in intelligence agencies or the State Department. For that American generation, that was part of their formation. They had spent four years in European war. That has gone. People in the United States are much more likely now to have travelled somewhere else. They do not instinctively look to Europe. Our consensus, however, is that in spite of President Trump and all these trends, the United States remains the indispensable power for a liberal international order and we need to maintain our governmental and political exchanges with the United States in spite of the blizzard of dreadful Twitter messages.
“stability and a rule-based global order do not occur naturally”.
We have to fight for them. We have to keep them going. We have to have an active foreign policy with others to maintain it against all the efforts of authoritarian states to undermine it. He also said that a liberal international order has to be a more inclusive world community.
When I hear US Republicans talking about the importance of Winston Churchill I remember that the Atlantic charter, the basis for a liberal international order, was mainly written by Roosevelt and his assistants and signed by Churchill. US Republicans have scrubbed Roosevelt completely out of the picture. They like Churchill as a great world leader but want to shunt Roosevelt off because he believed that welfare and freedom from want—other dimensions of democracy—were equally important.
It is important that we remember that because globalisation, as we have discovered in the past 30 years, spreads inequality into our countries and therefore fuels populism. I remember reading an excellent book by the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik, in which he says that globalisation may not be compatible in the long run with democracy and, if we have to choose, we have to choose democracy.
That is a matter for another debate but it raises some very awkward questions for those such as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who are quite fond of a network world. When many of those who use the network come from corrupt and authoritarian regimes and launder their money through London and elsewhere, it is not easy for us to maintain our liberal values, let alone spread them further out.
Then we come to the implications for British foreign policy. I feel a degree of underlying uncertainty as to what British foreign policy is. In his best diplomatic way, the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, suggested that he was not entirely sure what “global Britain” means. That confusion is shared by all of us. It is rather like “deep and special” and “strong and stable”. It is a very convenient phrase to use when you do not want to explain what you mean, and that is part of the problem with British foreign policy today.
The underlying concern was expressed strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. He mentioned the,
“savage amputation of our international diplomatic capacity”,
Winston Churchill, after all, defined British foreign policy as being based on three circles—the transatlantic, the European and the Commonwealth. We are presently disengaging from the European circle, without yet any information from the Government as to how we will maintain that relationship after we leave the European Union. We operate our diplomacy through 40 working groups underneath European common foreign and security policy. I am told that during the Arab spring the Political and Security Committee, in which we take a major part in Brussels, met almost daily for several weeks and the number of Foreign Ministers’ Councils was sharply raised.
I am also told that the British and the Germans are the ones who most regularly send diplomatic messages round within the European Union. We will cut ourselves out of that unless we come to some other arrangement. The Government have so far said nothing on that, except that we had a position paper last September which in detail told us how much we had gained in foreign policy and defence co-operation over the last 30 years precisely from this co-operation with our European partners. On the importance of British-French defence co-operation, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, that when I was in the coalition Government, I was well aware that Liam Fox was making active efforts to ensure that as few people as possible knew how important Franco-British defence co-operation was. That was not very helpful and part of the problem that we face. There is a gap between public understanding and the analysis of where we are.
For the past 40 years, we have worked through all that. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, remarked on the importance of EU3 on Iran. It was extremely effective, together with the high representative—the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton—and it is not clear how we will maintain that either. We will not meet our opposite numbers as easily, regularly and naturally as before, so we will have to find some new arrangement that is so far undefined.
The day before yesterday, a number of noble Lords complained that they had not understood that Europe was a political project. Of course it was a political project. It came out of the last major war. It was a project to provide European security and—as Mrs Thatcher used to say, including in her Bruges speech—to extend democracy. We have extended it successfully across eastern Europe.
The uncertainties of British foreign policy should concern us all. I listened to Boris Johnson’s speech in Chatham House in December 2016 in which he announced that it was the first of a series of speeches that he would make on the redefinition of the strategy of British foreign policy. I have searched several times since then—I asked the Library to assist me—to discover which speeches he had since made on the strategy of British foreign policy. I regret to tell the Minister that I have been unable to discover them, and so has the Library. Perhaps he could help me and even provide a list of those speeches for other noble Lords who have contributed to these debates.
The consensus across the House about British foreign policy seems to be entirely clear. The United States remains important. France, Germany and other European actors are also vital. The Commonwealth is an asset, although we should not overplay what sort of an asset the Commonwealth is. But we do not quite know what the Government think on all this, least of all how they will maintain the European circle alongside the American circle after we leave the European Union.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for initiating this debate, which has been wide ranging and important. One of the good things about House of Lords debates on subjects such as this are that we are not confined. We hear from a wide range of expertise on a number of subjects. I particularly welcome the excellent maiden speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond. As the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said, he is a welcome addition to our military Benches, and I look forward to his future contributions.
Was it warrior Benches? There you go: that shows the difference between us. I will not go any further.
Trump’s attack today on the free press, backed by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, is full of irony. Twelve months ago, the Chatham House report on America’s international role under Trump said that his foreign policy path would be hard to predict. It pointed out his fondness for,
“unpredictability—a characteristic long noted as dangerous in foreign policy—and has a tendency towards inflammatory and escalatory rhetoric. He is transactional and short-termist in outlook, has little respect for long-standing alliances and partnerships”.
Twelve months on, Trump started 2018 with a flurry of tweets that sparked protests across the world, caught allies off guard and further divided opinion in Washington. As we heard in this debate this afternoon, he has split the international community and inflamed Palestinians when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by moving the embassy. He then threatened to punish those who voted against the move at the United Nations General Assembly by cutting aid.
I say all this because the excellent contribution from my noble friend Lord Robertson was a telling point about this debate. We need to focus on the reactions to these things, not just what Trump intended. There is a positive reaction. It causes us to focus on what we have and the important things that we value. Trump’s own view of his first 12 months was to praise his own Administration for victories against ISIS in the Middle East and for bringing unprecedented pressure to bear on the North Korean regime. The national security strategy unveiled in December also labelled Russia and China among the chief challenges facing the US, despite Trump’s overtures towards their leaders. That has been reflected in today’s debate.
“Other than the neo-isolationism I do not think there is a pattern to his foreign policy … I think he is purely reactive”.
But our reaction must be about what that vacuum is creating. That is the important role of Britain internationally in supporting a rules-based system and human rights. In our debates on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill this week, I was pleased that this House focused on the importance of championing human rights, which will be at the core of our activity.
Another consequence of Trump’s actions over the past 12 months has been the deep cuts to the State Department budget and the dearth of high-level diplomatic appointments—the failure to make key important appointments. As my noble friend Lord Robertson reflected, we have also seen cuts to our foreign and diplomatic services which will impact on our ability to fill that vacuum. There is no doubt that Trump’s lack of interest in established diplomatic protocols has put a strain on the close relationship between No. 10 and the White House. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, pointed out, UK national security strategy is largely designed to work this special relationship from force structure to intelligence sharing. It is critical.
On Trump’s “America first” agenda and the new national security strategy published at the end of last year, we have heard, as the US National Security Adviser Lieutenant-General HR McMaster said last year, that “America First Doesn’t Mean America Alone”, and that the US would continue to work closely with allies in pursuit of a global leadership. That is another key element of today’s debate. We have the rhetoric and the tweets, but we also have effective co-ordination at a range of levels in our special relationship, which is something that we should not miss.
The highest priority in the strategy was given to the protection of the American homeland from attack. Another overriding theme was a focus on American prosperity as the core national security goal. I welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. He is absolutely right that there is an additional threat to the rules-based system, which is about trade. Trade has become one of the key focuses of President Trump. It fits in well with the presidential election narrative targeted at the working classes in the US with growing concerns about stagnation and declining competitiveness. I will return to this theme at the end of my speech.
One of the things we have seen in the excellent House of Lords briefing that we had for this debate are Professor John Bew’s observations that one can see subtler themes in the strategy that McMaster highlighted. They are talking about peace through strength—a conscious sort of reminder of the Reagan era, reflecting Trump’s demands for more effectiveness and utility in the international game. McMaster is also keen to stress that the US will expect reciprocity from its allies in terms of supporting NATO for example, as we have heard in this debate.
From our point of view there are synergies in terms of our concerns, particularly about the security challenge posed to American interests referred to in its national security strategy, and to its allies by Russia. From our point of view, that also links to cyber and the policing of the internet, which is becoming an increasingly important aspect, not only of defence issues but of defending our liberal democracy and the values that we have talked about.
“combines elements of isolationism with cost-benefit bilateralism and, most strongly of all, a deep ambivalence towards the liberal international regimes that America has helped bring to birth and sustain since the end of the Second World War”.
But I think what I have heard in this debate is that our special relationship with the United States is not about one man; it is about our common heritage, our shared values and democracy. It is important to reflect on that. Our focus on that relationship cannot just be seen in terms of that individual relationship; it must be seen much more in terms of that soft power that we have been talking about, and certainly we had an excellent debate in this House on the report of the Select Committee on soft power. I think it is still worth reading that report because it focuses on a number of key issues. I think, for peace and security, our relationship remains very important. As James Landale of the BBC put it:
“It is almost as if the Trump modus vivendi has made it even more obvious that the transatlantic relations that matter are the historic state-to-state contacts between the different agencies of government rather than the personal relations between individual leaders”.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said it absolutely perfectly. We have new networks that are developing. We need to reach out to those networks, and not only new networks of countries. One of the things that Trump’s campaign has taught us is that there are new means of communications. As a foreign policy objective, we should reach out not only to all politicians but to civil society, because that is how we maintain our liberal rules-based organisations in the world. Reaching out through new media and new contacts—that is what our soft power should focus on.
I commend the debate and I conclude by thanking the noble Lord for initiating it, but it is not the end and the last word. This debate will continue over the next three years of Trump’s Administration.
My Lords, I first join all noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, not just for tabling this debate but for introducing it in a very informed and thoughtful manner. He appropriately set the tone demonstrated by all contributions to this excellent debate, which is well-informed and again reflects the best of your Lordships’ House in terms of expertise on a wide range of issues.
It would be entirely appropriate at this juncture to welcome the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond, to his place. In his first excellent speech, he said he would be non-controversial. Drawing a military analogy, he was non-combative in that sense as well, while the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, welcomed him to the warrior Benches. It is for me, on behalf of the Government, to welcome him to all Benches. He is a valuable addition to the House and I look forward to working with him across the months and years.
For over a century, the most important and epoch-defining international partnership has been, as noble Lords have acknowledged, between ourselves and the United States of America. It is an alliance that has overcome tyranny. It has championed rules, rights and freedoms that have transformed lives and livelihoods, both within our borders and beyond. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also pointed out the excellent relationship we have enjoyed at the United Nations and the important role we have played with the United States in the UN as a P5 member. Let me assure all noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the UK is committed to further strengthening the rules-based international order and international organisations such as the UN, which have been central for this rules-based system for the last 70 years. Indeed, before Christmas we worked with the US and other partners to secure General Assembly resolutions in support of the UN Secretary-General’s current plans for reform efforts within that organisation.
Together, we have a rules-based international system within which we work closely with the United States and other international partners. This system, albeit imperfect, has enabled a period of relative stability and prosperity that we have never seen before. We stand together with the United States—and with Europe—in facing a resurgent Russia, an assertive China and new forms of threat across the world. We have shared great successes, for example in the fight against Daesh, in close co-operation on intelligence issues—as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, pointed out as part of our “Five Eyes” alliance—and bilaterally and in our shared commitment to NATO, reflected on by the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts.
I am confident therefore that we need no further persuasion, as we have all agreed, whatever perspective was drawn in this debate, of the United States’ continued importance to UK interests; nor of the pivotal role the United States will continue to play for many years to come, as pointed out by my noble friend Lady Helic, among others, in shaping the way the world deals with a host of issues that are fundamental to us. Whether we are dealing with the challenges of North Korea, or—as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out—closer to home in the Balkans, the USA has a close role to play. In that respect, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—we talked about global Britain and the three circles—that, yes, there are times of challenge in the UK-US relationship, but it remains, as all noble Lords have acknowledged, a constant, constructive dialogue; from engagement across the board at working level to regular calls between my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the President. The strength of that relationship means that we are willing and able to have frank discussions with each other when we disagree, and rightly so for each ally.
The President has set a new direction for US policy, as many noble Lords have set out today. There are issues of difference from us, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, pointed out. On climate change, not only have we been strong, we have continued to work with other international partners. My noble friend Lord Lamont pointed to the Iran nuclear deal and I can assure him that we continue to work strongly with our European Union colleagues, and the EU3 in particular, in ensuring that deal stays alive, while not missing an opportunity to ensure that the United States also continues to support that important deal. Multilateral trade agreements and the Middle East peace process, which I will come to in a moment, have been areas where we have differed from pronouncements made by the Administration. Notwithstanding differences, however, we continue to work very closely alongside the Administration on all these issues, as friends, as allies and, as my noble friend Lord Howell aptly put it, as partners in this relationship. We do not agree on everything but divergence from particular US foreign policies is nothing new for the United Kingdom. British Governments of all political colours have at times found themselves at odds with some aspects of US foreign policy. On major post-war issues such as Suez or Vietnam, the US and UK did not agree. The Thatcher/Reagan years are often cited as a high-water mark in relations between our two countries, yet even they were not always aligned on every issue.
Turning briefly to Iran, my noble friend pointed out that this is an important relationship to retain. I acknowledge his important efforts in this regard but I also reassure him that the recent visit by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to Iran was a dialogue that was both constructive and raised issues of mutual importance. Yes, we are encouraged by some of the pronouncements made by President Rouhani, particularly with some of the challenges and protests we have seen on the streets of Tehran. As we move forward, there are important parts to this relationship: good co-operation with the Trump Administration is important. For each of the policies on which we disagree there are many more we agree on.
I shall reflect on some of the points made by noble Lords during this debate. The noble Lords, Lord Ashdown, Lord Judd and Lord Robertson, spoke very poignantly of the importance of soft power. Indeed, on reflecting in preparation for this debate I was reminded that Portland Communications recently did a survey of soft power which included government assets, but also the private sector and its representations across the world—we were second on that list. That does not mean that we rest on our laurels. I saw, in my time at the Foreign Office, the important role the British Council plays. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, about Chatham House; I might add Wilton Park to that list. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, pointed out some of the challenges. He talked of population growth being a focus of foreign policy initiatives. Perhaps he should have a conversation with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, who mentioned that very term but also the solution, which he feels equally passionate about. I am sure it reflects the sentiment across your Lordships’ House, about how that can be dealt with. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, touched on educating and empowering girls and women as part of the solution to some of the challenges that we face. Girls’ education is at the centre of that.
The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, talked about our vital relationship with the US in intelligence. The US is a long-standing ally and I know from my time as Aviation Minister and as Minister for Countering Extremism the vital work we have done in sharing intelligence and averting terrorist incidents—those impacting our streets here in London and across the world, and those in the aviation sector. Equally, I assure the noble Lord that we work exceptionally closely with our European partners on intelligence sharing, joint operational work and sharing our experience of developing threats. It is our view that close co-operation will continue regardless of the UK’s future relationship with the European Union after Brexit.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, again talked about a differential with the withdrawal of aid to Pakistan. The UK and Pakistan have shared an interest in the battle against terrorism and we regularly highlight to Pakistan the importance of taking effective action against all terrorist groups: it is a constructive relationship that we believe in. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, my noble friend Lord Cope and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, among others, touched on the Middle East peace process and particularly the recent pronouncement by President Trump recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before any final status agreement. Let me be clear: the British government position has not changed—east Jerusalem is regarded as occupied Palestinian territory. It is our belief that the prospects for peace in the region were not helped by the pronouncement. It is important, however, to look forwards. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, also pointed out, the second part of that speech focused on the continued commitment to a negotiated two-state solution. It remains the view of the British Government that a shared Jerusalem is the way forward: a shared Jerusalem for Israel and a shared Jerusalem in the context of a viable, sustainable Palestinian state.
I turn to the global Mexico City rule that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised. It is clear that we will not agree with the US Administration on their policy, but let me assure her that the UK remains one of only a handful of international donors willing to tackle this highly sensitive issue. My noble friend Lady Helic touched on the important issues of Burma and Syria. She recognises, of course, the important work we have done, both at the United Nations and more recently at the Human Rights Council, in ensuring that this important issue—the displacement of close to 1 million people, as she so aptly and poignantly put it—is kept at the forefront of all people’s minds. I assure her that we are working very closely with the United States in this. As I have already alluded to, we continue to work closely with the United States on action against Daesh in Syria and Iraq. We will continue to work closely on this with our European partners.
My noble friend Lord Taylor talked about the importance of Israel, both in the context of the Middle East peace process and more generally. I assure him that the UK enjoys strong and growing relations with Israel, built on decades of collaboration across a range of fields, including education, business, arts and culture. That also provides us with the strength to ensure that we can have very candid conversations when we disagree. My noble friend asked specifically about trade envoys. I agree with him that they play a vital role in promoting UK trade. The Department for International Trade, which is responsible for overseeing our network of envoys, will announce any new changes as appropriate.
I recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, put it, that we also continue to deal with the US further afield. He mentioned North Korea, appropriately. I assure him that we are continuing to work very closely with the US to put maximum pressure on North Korea to change course and enter negotiations to eliminate its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Through the UN Security Council we have imposed increasingly tough sanctions to cut off the revenues that fund these illegal programmes. My noble friend Lord Lamont mentioned the use of sanctions. I am fresh from the Report stage of the EU sanctions Bill, which we finished yesterday and which will allow us the flexibility, through the domestic sanctions policy that we will have, to continue to work with our partners to ensure that we can impose sanctions as and when necessary. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised the importance of the relationship that every Foreign Secretary has had with the US Secretary of State and he talked about his own experience. I assure noble Lords that the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and my noble friend Boris Johnson enjoy a very close, co-operative, productive and constructive relationship in this respect.
As we look forward, one of the areas which has been raised concerns the United States and the European Union. An oft-repeated characterisation, which noble Lords touched on, is our relationship with the US and how it frames our exit from the European Union—a choice between the US or the EU or between Europe and the world. As many noble Lords acknowledge, these are false choices. Yes, we are leaving the European Union, but our national interest will continue to be aligned with the interests of our European neighbours. We are still part of that continent, we still continue to enjoy strong relationships, particularly on security and our economies. I agree wholeheartedly with noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who implore us to continue to do more work with Europe. We will do so but our departure from the European Union will not change the reality that global problems will require global solutions. They will require partnerships and we will always need to work with countries both near and far.
We continue to work on our relationship with European partners. As the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, pointed out, you need only turn on the television today to see a summit taking place which underlines our close proximity with one of our closest neighbours—the closest if you look east—and that is France. The Anglo-French summit taking place today with President Macron again underlines the importance of our relationship across many areas, including stronger economies, our defence relationship and other areas of mutual interest. We will continue to work on those relationships. At the G7 summit in May the Prime Minister took the lead on engaging the US and European countries to co-operate on countering online extremism. That remains a priority on which we work collectively with our European partners.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, talked about soft power. If we look down the list of countries, as I said, we are second only to France. Interestingly, the United States ranked third in that survey. The noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Wallace, also talked about trade and the definition of global Britain. Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that the three circles remain alive and well. They are very prosperous.
As Minister for the Commonwealth I am sure that all noble Lords are looking forward to the Commonwealth Summit and Heads of Government Meeting in April. It will not replace the European Union or the UN, but it is an incredible network. My noble friend Lord Howell speaks passionately, and rightly so, about the Commonwealth relationships. We enjoy similar legal systems, education systems and languages. It is important we leverage those across the four important areas of sustainability, security, prosperity and fairness. I look forward to working with noble Lords in strengthening our role across the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, talked about the FCO budget. I can assure him that, in the government spending review, the FCO’s non-ODA budget was fully protected. As we have also heard, we are working in closer alignment with colleagues in DfID, through common-aligned objectives in our development policy. Indeed most recently, along with Defence Ministers and the Secretary of State for International Development, we launched a new document looking at women, peace and security around the world and at our international partners. The document underlines the importance of global Britain in that area. Let me reassure the noble Lords, Lord Robertson, Lord Ricketts, and Lord McNally, about the role of the FCO in its diplomatic efforts and its embassies, which play an incredible role together with our high commissions. That will continue to be the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked questions about national resistance movements and sanctions against Syria. On the latter, without going into too much detail, those sanctions will remain in place with the regime until we see a move away from President Assad. On resistance movements, I think history tells us—albeit depending on what the notions and government structures are—that the first and primary objective must be that they must cease violence. They must put down weapons and recognise those around them as legitimate partners towards peace. I will write to him specifically on the observations he made.
My noble friend Lord Howell, among others, raised the important issue of changing global relationships. We can talk of relationships with China or India, and the Government continue to strengthen our work in this respect. As my noble friend pointed out, technology advancement, changing positions, population growth, changing dynamics, businesses, education—all these things are changing the world. That is what global Britain is all about: repositioning ourselves to ensure that we strengthen the new relationship we will have with the European Union; strengthening and continuing to build on our relationship with the United States; and recognising—through the Commonwealth and other bilateral relationships—the importance of building and developing prosperity, trade and relationships across the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, spoke in the gap, quite rightly, on the concept of trade and touched on the WTO. Let me assure him that the UK will remain steadfast, notwithstanding any challenges, as a champion of free trade at the WTO and in establishing the UK’s future independent trade policy. As we leave the European Union, we will continue to work closely with WTO members, including the US, to ensure a simple, fair, transparent transition for all parties, that minimises disruption to our trading relationships with other members.
In conclusion, the UK Government have engaged historically, and will continue today and in the future to engage, with the US Administration, issue by issue, policy by policy. It is a strong, productive, important relationship, and we will continue to work as we have always done. We will use every tool of friendly co-operation and influence to persuade the US Administration of the benefits of working for our common interests. That allows us to have those candid conversations when we disagree. As we have always done, we will continue to cherish and nurture our close relationship with the US. It is a relationship based on shared history—as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said—and on shared fundamental values and shared interests. It is a relationship that transcends personalities and party politics—a relationship that matters hugely to both our countries, and which has been a driver of peace and prosperity for many, many decades. This relationship is as important today as it ever was before. In an age of geopolitical turbulence and uncertainty, it is a relationship that I believe—and I am sure it is a sentiment expressed by all noble Lords—will endure the test of time and endure long into the future.
Finally, I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and all noble Lords who have contributed to this important debate. As ever, as a Minister responsible in this House for foreign affairs, I am for ever enlightened and informed.
My Lords, I shall of course not detain the House for more than a handful of sentences. That was a very high-quality debate—I know we always say that, but it really was. I listened to it intently and learned from it a lot. I make two comments, very briefly: I noted the point of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that I was being too pessimistic—this was not the 1930s, it was 1914. I am not sure that I draw a huge amount of comfort from that, but there we go. I was moved to be described by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, as charmingly old-fashioned. No one has ever said that about me before, and I shall relish it, coming as it does from the noble Lord. It has been a privilege to lead this debate, and I beg to move.