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the end of Foreign Policy?

The battle of Seattle: anti-globalisation protestors disrupting a World Trade Organisation summit.
Globalisation is one of the greatest challenges facing Foreign Policy.

As the world gets smaller, is it time to leave behind outdated notions of Foreign and Domestic - Us and Them?

It's become fashionable since Labour came to power in 1997, to contemplate The End of Foreign Policy, in much the same way that a few years ago, an eminent American academic concluded that History had ended with the resolution of the Cold War.

According to the new theory, traditional divisions between Domestic and Foreign Policy, are no longer valid. They've been rendered obsolete by globalisation - the growth of economic, cultural and technological connections across state borders.

Peter Hain
Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain: the end of Foreign Policy?
"For a Foreign Minister to contemplate The End of Foreign Policy may seem like inviting redundancy, "the junior minister Peter Hain told an audience at Chatham House in January 2001. "But increasingly the problems that come across ministerial desks in the Foreign Office are of a new and intractable kind. They do not respond to traditional diplomatic solutions."

The global challenges which Peter Hain had in mind in that speech were a very mixed bag. They included BSE, the soaring numbers of British people contracting AIDS abroad, and the intractable nature of international drugs trade.

Quote Mark Today's world is a small place. What happens across the globe can directly affect the lives of every one of us in Britain Quote Mark

Foreign Office official website
To that list, he might have added a number of other issues.

Climate change, for instance, can only be tackled by concerted action in the developed world. And - as the events of September 11 2001 demonstrate - terrorism, too has become an international phenomenon: violence can be exported around the world as easily as drugs or diamonds.

"As with so many problems on the new global agenda," Mr Hain said, "the villain turns out in the end not to be a corrupt government, careless corporation, faceless bureaucrat, or greedy gangster - but the millions of daily choices made by individuals."

Anti-capitalist riots in Genoa, July 2001
The challenge of globalisation

Whether or not Foreign Policy is any more dead than history, the challenges of globalisation are very real.

It's been estimated that by the mid 1990s, nearly 40,000 multi-national companies accounted for one fifth of the total global economy.

There is a sense that giant corporations such as Microsoft or Shell are beyond the control of any individual state.

Audio Clip VIDEO
BBC News Correspondent Jon Sopel
reports on anti-globalisation riots in Genoa
That feeling of powerlessness in the face of huge multi-national conglomerates helped fuel the violence of anti-globalisation demonstrations around the world, from Seattle to Genoa. The targets of the demonstrators' anger are international organisations like the G8 group of industrialised countries and the World Trade Organisation. Often, on the streets, well-known global retail brands are also hit.

The WTO is the only international organisation which deals with the global rules of trading between nations across the globe. It was established in 1995 (as a successor to GATT - the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and has 143 member states. Its aim is to resolve trading disputes peacefully by agreement or arbitration. Disputes handled so far include tuna and dolphin fishing in the Pacific and Venezuelan oil exports to the US.

Climate change

Protests in Sweden
Protests in Sweden as President Bush tears up the Kyoto treaty on climate change
The global challenge of climate change is one area where the old certainties of international diplomacy have been stood on their head.

Here, you can forget the so-called special relationship between Britain and America: the two disagree fundamentally on how to tackle global warming.

Britain has been at the forefront of climate change negotiations held under the auspices of the UN, while the United States, the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases, has refused to implement the reductions required by the Kyoto protocol.

As if to underline the point, Britain's place at the climate change negotiations has been filled not by its Foreign Office team, but by its environment ministers. At one memorable meeting in November 2000, a last minute deal hammered out by the environment secretary and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott fell apart - he said, because the French environment minister was too tired to sign.

The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a global agreement to tackle climate change. Pollution produced by cars, industry and power plants -so-called "greenhouse gases", is causing the average temperature of the world to rise. Experts fear that if nothing is done, the polar ice caps will begin to melt, causing sea levels to rise and changing the world's climate irrevocably.

The United States has five per cent of the world's population but is responsible for a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions

In Kyoto, December 1997 the UN brokered the world's first treaty to tackle global warming. Signatories pledged to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade by just over five per cent from 1990 levels.

But the USA has dragged its feet on implementing the Kyoto protocol and in March 2001, the new president, George W Bush abandoned the Kyoto treaty altogether, saying it is against his country's economic interests.

Non-Governmental Organisations

The traditional autonomy of Foreign Policy has also been challenged by the rise of what are known as non-governmental organisations - often referred to in shorthand as NGOs.

Where once, there were a few hundred, now there are thousands working across the world. Good examples are aid organisations, such as Oxfam or Save the Children, or the human rights organisation Amnesty International.

While individual governments cannot control what these organisations do, their opinions can carry considerable weight.

When Amnesty questions a country's human rights policy, its voice is heard around the world. That's not always convenient for foreign policy. Take, for instance, the recent military campaign in Afghanistan. Amnesty was the first to raise questions about events in Mazar I Sharif, where hundreds of foreign Taleban prisoners were killed by the West's allies in the Northern Aliance.

The end of Us and Them?

The idea of inter-dependence now dominates Labour Foreign Policy thinking. Peter Hain told his Chatham House audience:

Quote Mark Foreign Policy used to be about what went on abroad: diplomatic handshakes in distant capitals, nation speaking solely unto nation, far removed from ordinary life. No longer. Today, events in far flung places have a direct impact on our lives. We find oursevles in the midst of a vast network of relationships and interest that disregard national divisions. Quote Mark

Mark Leonard, Director, Foreign Policy Centre
"In future perhaps Foreign Ministries will become Departments of Global Affairs - as the concept of 'foreign' becomes ever harder to define. In the process we will see an end to traditional foreign policy and the evolution of a new foreign policy….for a world in which there is no longer any such place as abroad."

In reality, if only for purely administrative reasons, there will probably always be a division between governments' domestic and foreign agendas.

But the trend of the past few years has been to play down that distinction - the Us and Them, if you like. It began within weeks of Labour taking office, with Robin Cook's ethical foreign policy - a pledge to apply the same standards abroad as at home.

The challenge is whether rhetoric can or should live up to reality in foreign affairs. The acid test is whose national interest will prevail, when nations' interests differ.

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