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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 April, 2004, 00:18 GMT 01:18 UK
'UK must revive ethical policy'
Robin Cook
Cook talked in 1997 of an "ethical dimension" to foreign policy
Britain needs a campaign to revive its "ethical" foreign policy to soften the blow to its credibility caused by the Iraq war, says a leading think tank.

The Foreign Policy Centre says Britain can recapture its reputation by acting as a "moral entrepreneur" and backing a "worthy cause".

The centre, which has Labour ties, has given a verdict of the pledge to give foreign policy an "ethical dimension".

Tony Blair made pre-war mistakes by being too "presidential", it says.

Indonesia failure

When Labour came to power in 1997, then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook the "ethical dimension" was in his mission statement.

Six-and-half years later, Nicholas Wheeler, from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and Tim Dunne, from the Exeter University, have tried to judge the government's success in their report, Moral Britannia?

Britain needs to act as a moral entrepreneur in terms of mobilising domestic and international support for a worthy cause
Foreign Policy Centre report

They say it has won praise for its intervention in Sierra Leone, setting up the Department for International Development and backing the new International Criminal Court.

But the suspension of sales of Hawk aircraft to Indonesia, which raised fears they would be used for internal repression, came "too late", says the report.

"The inescapable conclusion we draw here is that Britain failed to act as an ethical state in its relations with Indonesia because it placed selfish economic advantage prior to human rights concerns," it continues.


The two academics argue that Iraq is a classic of example of where selling arms to authoritarian regimes has come back to haunt governments.

They say the Iraq war showed how the twin foundations of the ethical foreign policy - complying with international rules and trying to improve human rights - can become unstuck.

"The fact that the edifice of the ethical foreign policy was crumbling was graphically illustrated by Robin Cook's departure from government," says the report.

George Bush and Tony Blair
Blair should distance Britain from the US, says the report

In the wake of the war, Britain lacks credibility internationally for its claim to uphold ethical commitments to internationalism and multi-lateralism, it goes on.

"One way of recapturing its reputation would be for the government to mobilise internationally opinion around an issue that was consistent with its professed internationalist values.

"Britain needs to act as a moral entrepreneur in terms of mobilising domestic and international support for a worthy cause, as Canada did with the treaty banning land mines."

Evidence worries

The report suggests Britain could follow Oxfam's suggestion that it campaign for a treaty controlling the spread of small arms.

That would set Britain apart from the US without damaging transatlantic links too much and foster relations with Third World governments and charities, it says.

Among other lessons it draws for the future is that the government must be sure of its case before using force, scrutinising all the evidence rather than searching for things to support a political judgement.

Britain may also need to distance itself from America if it wants to act as a "pivotal power", it says.

"It is time that we faced up to the fact that the influence Britain gains from the special relationship is significantly overshadowed by the costs it has to pay in terms of the damage done to our relationship with European partners and peoples outside the Western world," it says.

Pre-war mistakes

It warns that there is mounting evidence that the Foreign Office is being sidelined by Mr Blair and his close circle of advisers.

"We would argued that a less presidential approach to foreign policy might have averted the many mistakes made in the run-up to the war," it says.

It points to the use of intelligence and the "misreading" of the French position in Security Council debates.

"Double standards" is a familiar criticism of interventionist foreign policies.

But the report suggests it can be countered by arguing that the best that can be achieved is following coherent values, not consistency in the way different cases are handled.

Time for Blair to call in his debt?
16 Apr 04  |  Politics

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