Page last updated at 20:50 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 21:50 UK

Cameron's Britain: Foreign policy

By James Robbins
Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News

Darfur refugee
The Conservatives say arms sales fuel crises such as Darfur

A party in opposition is hesitant to commit itself to specific policies in foreign affairs - never more so than in a world moving as fast as ours.

But strong clues to the foreign policy of any future Conservative government can be found across a range of policy documents, and particularly in speeches by David Cameron and the shadow foreign secretary, William Hague.


The cornerstone of current Tory thinking is "liberal Conservatism":

  • liberal: to support the aim of spreading freedom and democracy, and support humanitarian intervention
  • Conservative: to recognise the complexities of human nature, and sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world

The Conservatives also say their foreign policy will "promote human rights, economic liberalism and political freedom, with humanitarian intervention when it is necessary and when it can be effective".

Against the backdrop of a Labour government that has arguably intervened more in the affairs of other countries than any other in modern times, the Conservatives say they will take a more "sceptical attitude towards the ability of states to create Utopias".

And while the Tories do not believe invading Iraq was a mistake, they have promised to hold a full inquiry into the war.

The Conservatives have proposed setting up a "proper" National Security Council, which the party claims would put the Foreign Office on a new policy-making footing.

William Hague said in 2007: "In the conflicts of recent years our armed forces have never let us down.

"It is therefore vital that the machinery of government does not let them down."


Mr Hague has also spoken of how the UK would pursue its transatlantic alliance with the US.

The Tories' goal, he said, was not to put distance between the two countries, describing the US as "our indispensable partner".

Barack Obama and John McCain
The next US president will find a "solid not slavish" UK under Tory thinking

But he added: "It is our goal to recover the art of managing the relationship well and making it one of permanent friendship coupled with honest criticism."

Or, as Mr Cameron put it, the UK should be "solid but not slavish" in its friendship with the US.

So, any incoming Conservative government would adopt a more critical relationship with America, while developing stronger ties with increasingly influential nations such as China, India and Japan.


In the Middle East, the Conservatives propose instigating a "Partnership for Open Societies", where the world's democracies would work in the area to promote liberal democracy.

The party says it would achieve this by supporting political, economic and social reform in the region.

If the Tories were to return to power, their policy would also tackle the "appeal of terrorism, fundamentalism and revolution as a method of change in Muslim societies".

David Cameron in Jerusalem
Conservative policy on the Middle East reflects Labour thinking

Like Labour, the Conservatives support a two-state solution as the only viable future for Israel and the Palestinians.

The Conservatives have also called for the European Union to be tougher in tackling Iran's nuclear programme.

The party believes the EU should copy measures that Washington has taken to deny certain Iranian banks access to the US financial system.

They also think the EU should ban new European export credit guarantees to Iran, and it should begin targeted action to restrict European investment in Iranian oil and gas fields.


Conservative thinking on Afghanistan largely echoes the government's approach.

William Hague has spoken of "creating an Afghanistan that can work for the Afghans".

UK paratroopers in Afghanistan
Afghanistan remains a key test of UK foreign policy

The Tories say we should not try to create a fully-fledged Western-style democracy or impose it upon this society.

They argue the international community should reverse the trend of crumbling reconstruction projects, continuing unemployment and growing disaffection among Afghans.

The party has also called for a "significant" improvement in the "co-ordination of our aid and reconstruction efforts".

The military effort must be well resourced both internationally and nationally, the Conservatives say.


The Conservatives see trade as the key to unlocking so much wasted potential around the world, and as the means to increase and spread global prosperity.

So they urge the opening up of markets and removal of barriers that put poor countries at such an unfair disadvantage.

The Conservatives also want the EU as a bloc and other rich countries to drop unilaterally their trade barriers for poorer countries by 2013 at the latest.

UK aid in Burma
The Tories would keep to the UN target on aid spending

The Tories want a Pan-African Free Trade Area, which they argue could help unleash the entrepreneurial dynamism of the people of Africa.

The Conservatives have also pledged to increase aid spending to 0.7% of national income by 2013.

They say: "Effective aid is essential for economic empowerment, and that is why a Conservative government would spend more on aid."

Aid "vouchers" would be "put directly in the hands of poor communities", in an attempt to tackle corruption.

They would be redeemable for development services of any kind with an aid agency or supplier of their choice. The vouchers could be converted into cash by the aid agencies.

Taken as a whole, the evolving Conservative approach to foreign policy combines elements of present government thinking - which the opposition supports - alongside new ideas where they believe a change of government would make a difference.

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