Jack Straw and Colin Powell look for common interests
BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Interesting Times was broadcast on Thursday, 6 March 2003 at 2030 GMT.
David Walker asks if the notion of "national interest" has any validity in a globalised, US-dominated world, with conflict with Iraq seeming inevitable.
Once politicians and the public had a clear idea what Britain's "national interests" were. In 1848, Lord Palmerston said that Britain's interests were 'perpetual' while our friends and enemies come and go.
But who defines what the national interest is, and how? Is it discovered by successive governments or is there some underlying continuity, a sort of general agreement, of what the UK needs to survive?
Labour came to power suggesting universal, ethical precepts should be used in foreign and security policy rather than the older idea of material interests.
Now comes the Iraq crisis, generated by the USA according to American perceptions of interest. But what are the UK's interests with regard to Iraq? And the USA?
Was there ever a point when the UK Government could have stopped and asked: Where does the UK interest point at this moment? And can we even ask the question?
"Only American national interest counts now," Hugo Young wrote in the Guardian a year ago. But there remains the nagging question: What if the material, cultural and spiritual interests of the UK are different from those implied by Washington? What then? How might they be discovered let alone asserted?
Contributors include: Lord Owen, Lord Skidelsky, Professor Philip Bobbitt, Professor David Coleman and Professor Paul Hirst.
Presenter: David Walker
Producer: Ingrid Hassler
Editor: Nicola Meyrick