BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Thursday, 28 June 2007, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Will Brown change UK foreign policy?
Gordon Brown

What changes will Gordon Brown make to British foreign policy when he succeeds Tony Blair as prime minister? BBC News website world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds looks at them issue-by-issue.


Gordon Brown is something of an unknown quantity as far as foreign policy is concerned. He can probably be described as an Atlanticist and his pro-American sympathies should not be underestimated, though he will not be as close to President Bush as Tony Blair has been. His European instincts incline towards the practical not the integrationist. He has quietly supported all the interventions carried out by the Blair-led government - Iraq, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan - but the question remains as to how far he would undertake such interventions himself. As chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) he has been keen on multinational initiatives on debt and aid, so he is expected to continue with these.

Update 28 June: Mr Brown has appointed David Miliband as foreign secretary, taking over from Margaret Beckett. Moving from the Environment Department, he is expected to continue Mrs Beckett's new commitment to climate change as a diplomatic issue. He criticised Israel's attack on Hezbollah last year.


The expectation is that he will distance himself from President Bush to some degree. However, Mr Brown has close ties to the United States, is certainly not personally anti-American and his will not be an anti-American government. He is interested in and in sympathy with US politics and history, knows a number of American political, especially Democratic, leaders well and holidays at Cape Cod. He might disappoint those who want Britain to make a decisive break with the Bush administration. A lot will depend on the decisions he takes over Iraq.


He has not backed away from the decision to invade Iraq, but has hinted he will take a new look at how long the troops might stay. He said recently: "I take my responsibility as a member of the Cabinet for the collective decisions that we made, and I believe they were the right decisions, but we're at a new stage now." Current British policy is to regroup the 5,500 troops there into one base, at the airport, this summer but there is no timetable for a total withdrawal. Mr Blair has always insisted that the troops will have to stay until conditions for stability are right. Mr Brown, however, has room to manoeuvre because he could interpret those conditions more flexibly. This could be the test of how far he is prepared to diverge from US policy. His own military advisers might also tell him to get out as quickly as possible, perhaps within a year, to avoid army overstretch.


As British policy in Iraq moves towards an endgame, British military commitments in the war against the Taleban in Afghanistan are increasing and troop numbers are expected to reach nearly 8,000 later this year. Mr Brown is not expected to change this commitment. He has taken a tough stand in the fight against al-Qaeda and believes that it must not be allowed to regroup in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan could become a growing problem for him.


It would be wrong to suppose that Mr Brown will weaken Britain's efforts. Indeed, he has recently proposed tougher laws domestically, signalling that he thinks domestic and international Islamist terrorism remains a serious threat. As chancellor, he has acted against sources of terrorist funding. In a speech in 2006 he declared his intentions: "This global terrorist problem must be fought globally - with all the means at our disposal: military, security, intelligence, economic and culture."


Mr Brown can be expected to continue supporting UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities. Asked recently if he would rule out a military attack on Iran he replied: "We want a peaceful settlement to the Iran issue." This is in line with current British government policy, which emphasises a multilateral approach but does not rule out military action. However, one of Mr Brown's closest political allies, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, has said: "I don't happen to believe that military action has a role to play in any event. We could not justify it." So support by Mr Brown for military action is hard to envisage.


Gordon Brown has not shown as much interest in Israel/Palestine issues as Tony Blair has. Britain therefore is not expected to play a major role under a Brown premiership, which will probably recognise the limited influence that any single European country can exert. The appointment of Simon McDonald, a former British ambassador to Israel, as his foreign policy adviser has delighted the Israelis, who see McDonald as "friend of Israel". One of Mr Brown's main areas of interest could be in economic development for the Palestinians. On a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2005, he got Israeli and Palestinian economic ministers together for the first time in many years.


He is likely to support increased sanctions against Sudan in the Security Council over Darfur and might face a tough decision at some stage on whether to provide military forces to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur, if this is agreed by the Security Council.

Zimbabwe might present problems if the situation deteriorates further but Brown's instinct will be to work through neighbouring countries to bring pressure on Robert Mugabe while standing ready to help with aid.


The main issues over the EU treaty were settled at the Brussels summit, but the new prime minister will have to approve the final details. As chancellor, Gordon Brown has been more interested in practical EU policies than in institutional debates. He sees Britain's future in an EU that is flexible, free-market and pragmatic. A study in the journal International Affairs in March concluded that he would be either an "awkward partner" or a "pragmatic player" but not someone who wanted to put Britain at the forefront of European integration. His EU adviser is a Treasury official, John Cunliffe, who knows Mr Brown's thinking on Europe well. Mr Brown has kept Britain out of the Euro and this policy is likely to continue. Arguments ahead could come over Turkish membership, which he wants, state support for industry which the new French President Nicolas Sarkozy favours, farm policy reform and Britain's budget contributions.


Mr Brown commissioned and accepted the results of the report on climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern in October 2006, which said that global warming could shrink the world economy's potential by between 5 and 20%. He has supported EU and British targets for carbon reductions. So he is on board for international action over climate change, which has come increasingly to dominate world economic discussions. In March 2007 he said: "The foundation of this must of course be a new international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2012." He added: "My ambition is to build a global carbon market, founded on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and centred in London." He has even appointed the former US Vice President Al Gore as an adviser and action on global warming is another issue on which he is likely to differ from President Bush.


This was one area in which Gordon Brown made his mark internationally as chancellor. He has championed debt relief through the "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries" initiative. He proposed an International Finance Facility to help the poorer countries to raise capital. He supported the G8 initiative in 2005 to double aid to Africa. The UK Treasury says he will have increased the British aid budget to "nearly 6.5 billion a year by 2007-08 - a real terms increase of 140 per cent since 1997". So he can be expected to be active in these areas as prime minister. His efforts will probably be reflected in an attempt to get Britain closer to the Commonwealth.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific