What a bad time to pursue a solo foreign policy!

InFacts, 04.12.2019
David H.A. Hannay, miembro de la Cámara de los Lores y ex embajador británico (UE-ONU)

Nato’s 70th-anniversary leaders’ meeting at Watford may have papered over some of the cracks and tensions in the Alliance. But it cannot conceal the fact that the British government, with its determination to leave the EU on January 31, has chosen a singularly unpropitious moment to launch out on a solo foreign policy course. The leaders (well most of them, most of the time) may have been on their best behaviour on this occasion. They may have not made things any worse. But they certainly have not made them any better.

Take the lack of consultation between Nato allies before one of them withdrew its troops which had been fighting alongside the Kurds in NE Syria and another then seized the opportunity to launch a military operation against our erstwhile allies. Any chance of that sort of thing not happening again? Not much.

Take the Turkish decision to buy Russian air defence equipment which could seriously prejudice the Alliance’s capabilities; and their refusal to endorse strengthening the defences of the Baltic and East European members of the alliance. No improvement there either.

Earlier this week Boris Johnson said: “We’re the country that historically helped to bridge the Atlantic together and to bring Europe and America together, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.” Dream on! He seems unaware of the extent to which that influence has, for the past 45 years, been due to our membership of the EU and our ability to shape its policies from the inside. Does he seriously believe that will continue when we are no longer a member and become just another third country?

The Europeans’ improved contribution to burden-sharing in the Alliance has led to some easing of the transatlantic tensions over that. In the years ahead the improvement in those contributions will often take the form of building up the EU member states’ own defence capabilities and decision-making capacity. Would it not be better if we were part of that, making sure that what the EU does is consistent with and supportive of overall Alliance requirements? But we will not be able to do that from outside the door.

And then the “noises off” from this week’s gathering, on trade policy in particular, are hardly reassuring. Threats of US retaliation against a French move to tax multinational companies for the profits they make in France (a move that our own government intends to emulate next spring – presumably triggering similar threats); hints of a lengthy prolongation of the US/China trade war beyond next year’s presidential election.

These are just as bad auguries for any prospect for a beneficial UK /US trade deal as are the war of words over whether the NHS will be on the table, on which one can surely have no more confidence in Donald Trump’s latest assurances than one can in any other of his erratic and often contradictory pronouncements.

What this week’s gathering does, yet again, is to remind us how close our national interests are to those of our main European partners and how much we will put at risk if we press ahead with leaving at the end of January.

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