The Coalition has brought a shift in foreign policy focus away from traditional western powers to emerging countries, particularly the BRICs, from influence by hard power to soft power, and from a foreign policy based on ideology to one based on pragmatism. As with nearly all policy areas, the economy has been a primary motivating factor, and the Government has been keen to link its foreign policy aims with the need to secure overseas business investment.
The Prime Minister has been particularly keen to build a new special relationship with India, and has made two visits, bringing British business delegations along with him. In his first visit, in July 2010, David Cameron risked a diplomatic row by insinuating that India’s neighbour and traditional rival Pakistan exports terrorism, and warning that Islamabad could no longer ‘look both ways’ regarding terrorism and democracy. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain accused the Prime Minister of damaging prospects for regional peace.
The results of the Government’s efforts in India are still in progress. The Prime Minister’s 2010 visit did not stop India from purchasing French fighter planes over British Typhoons, but Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire’s March 2013 visit resulted in a $20 billion Anglo-Indian Trade deal. A sure sign of success for the Prime Minister’s latest visit to India would be if Delhi decides to open its financial and insurance sectors up to greater foreign investment, a key theme of the visit.
However, it is a non-BRIC country, Qatar, that is proving to be the true ‘special relationship’ partner. Qatar has snapped up an array of British assets in the wake of the financial crisis. It now owns Harrods, the Shard, the Olympic Village, 20% of the London Stock Exchange, 20% of Heathrow Airport, and in the last three years has become Britain’s biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas. The Government is currently in talks with Qatar over a possible £10 billion investment in UK infrastructure.
Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the United States remains close, but considerably less public than under Tony Blair. David Cameron’s state visit to the US in March 2012 contained no major policy announcements and went largely under the radar of most US media. However, the two countries, together with France, led the joint military effort to oust Muammar Gaddafi and remain the leaders coordinating military efforts in Afghanistan.
The Libyan war represents an exception rather than a norm regarding military intervention. This Government has generally been reserved in its use of the armed forces, as Budget cuts to defence have scaled down the size of the UK military. Though there were suggestions that Libya made Cameron the ‘heir to Blair’, the intervention has not set a policy precedent for liberal interventionism, as Tony Blair’s call for action in Kosovo did. the Government has recently called for lifting the ban on arming rebels in Syria, but it has fallen short of supporting intervention. which suggests that there is no ‘Cameron Doctrine’ or unifying ideology to the Government’s foreign policy.
Major challenges ahead for the Coalition’s foreign affairs pledges include the UK’s visa system, which has been criticised for hindering trade with Brazil and China in particular, the renewed Falklands Islands row with Argentina, which has stoked wider Latin American animosity towards Britain, and the collapse of Syria, for which military intervention may soon prove unavoidable.
Progress against the Coalition Agreement
Pledge: We will take forward our shared resolve to safeguard the UK’s national security and support our Armed Forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Status: In progress – The 2013 Spending Review, due on 23 June, will set the budgets for all government departments for 2015/16. Major concerns have been voiced by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, the Commons Defence Committee, and major military chiefs that these further cuts to defence spending could undermine the armed forces’ ability to carry out its duties. Much of this pledge will depend on what in time for the Spending Review.
Pledge: We will push for peace in the Middle East, with a secure and universally recognised Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.
Status: Not achieved - The UK abstained from the UN vote on Palestinian Statehood in November 2012, as the two conditions William Hague sought from the Palestinians – an assurance that they were committed to return to unconditional negotiations with Israel and an agreement not to seek membership of the International Criminal Court – were not met. Despite his condemnations of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel and calls for attacks to cease immediately, the situation in Gaza deteriorated into a war in November 2012. And disregarding Hague’s objections, Israel approved the building of 3,000 new homes in the West Bank. In January 2013, William Hague warned that a two-state solution is ‘slipping away’.
Pledge: We will work to establish a new ‘special relationship’ with India and seek closer engagement with China, while standing firm on human rights in all our bilateral relationships.
Status: In progress – In February 2013, David Cameron visited India with the largest trade delegation ever to accompany a prime minister. Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire’s visit to India in March 2013 resulted in one of the largest ever Anglo-Indian Trade deals, with BG Group getting a 20- year deal to supply liquid gas to the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation. However, last year goods and services trade with India only amounted to 1.7% of British imports and exports, and an India-EU free trade agreement, negotiations for which began in 2007, is still unfinalised and has missed several deadlines. China-UK relations experienced a freeze after David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama when he was in London in May 2012. China cancelled several high level meetings with UK ministers. China’s foreign minister said that David Cameron had ‘harmed Chinese-British relations’ and the incident led to the cancellation of the head of China’s parliament to London.
Pledge: We will maintain a strong, close and frank relationship with the United States.
Status: Done – Despite rumours of a more distant relationship with the UK under President Obama, the US and UK remain close partners economically, the UK is still America’s biggest trading partner in the EU, militarily, with both fighting together in Afghanistan and Libya, and diplomatically, with leaders from both countries still hailing the ‘special relationship’.
Pledge: We want to strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for promoting democratic values and development.
Status: Done – All Commonwealth heads of government agreed to a charter in December 2012, signed by the Queen in March 2013, which is the first time that Commonwealth countries have adopted a single document outlining the institution’s values. The charter includes affirmations on democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, rule of law, separation of powers, international peace and security, and a commitment to gender equality and female empowerment.
Pledge: We will work to promote stability in the Western Balkans.
Status: Done – The UK committed more troops to the regional reserve for the EU-led peacekeeping mission in the Balkans from December 2012. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development have committed £10 million jointly to support conflict prevention efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo, including support for the Srebrenica prosecutions team, UK judges hearing war crimes cases in Kosovo, and projects to support ethnic minorities returning to rebuilt homes following the Kosovo War. During the past three years, the Western Balkan countries have continued to make reforms necessary for EU membership, with Serbia gaining candidate status in March 2012, and Croatia to gain member status on 1 July 2013.
Pledge: We will support concerted international efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Status: In progress – The UK, through the EU and UN, is signed up to a list of economic sanctions against Iran including a ban on the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil and prohibitions on transactions with Iranian banks, and a ban on Iranian natural gas. However, these sanctions have not yet resulted in any concessions on Iran’s nuclear programme and it continues to enrich uranium.
Pledge: We will support reform of the UN Security Council, including permanent seats for Japan, India, Germany, Brazil and African representation.
Status: In progress – Though the UK supports reform, none has yet materialised. The permanent members of the UN Security Council remain the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China.
Pledge: We will work to intensify our cultural, educational, commercial and diplomatic links with many nations beyond Europe and North America to strengthen the UK’s relations with the fastest-growing areas of the world economy.
Status: In progress – The Government used the 2012 Olympics as a springboard from which to make progress on this goal, launching the GREAT campaign to showcase and encourage foreign investment in the UK’s strengths in Technology and Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Creativity, Knowledge, Green, Heritage, Sport, Shopping, Music and Countryside. In January 2013, the Government launched Healthcare UK in Dubai as a body to sell NHS expertise internationally. Closer links have also been built with Qatar, which is in talks over investing £10bn in UK infrastructure projects.
Pledge: We will never condone the use of torture.
Status: Done – The Government has not condoned the use of torture, though questions have been raised by the row with the European Court of Human Rights over the deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan. The Court believes that there is a real risk that evidence gained by torture would be used if he stood a retrial for terrorism in Jordan, however, the Government entered into diplomatic assurances with Jordan promising humane treatment.