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Jeremy Corbyn and British foreign policy

The anti-war movement, with all its errors and omissions, is central to Corbyn's popular appeal.

The west, the Middle East and oil: a conspiracy theory?

Western governments do not always get what they want, but arguing that oil is the key factor behind western actions in the Middle East is one of the most evidence-based statements that one can make.

Ed Miliband's foreign policy would not be benign

For political reasons, support for British militarism has been seen by successive Labour leaderships as a key test of seriousness and virility.

Scotland’s growing influence on UK foreign policy

Kirsty Hughes talks to Scottish National Party and Scottish Green politicians on foreign policy, the EU and the tectonic shift in Scottish politics.

Five things you should know about foreign policy this election

Half a century ago, the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said that Britain “has lost its empire, but has yet to find a role”. The same is true today.

Misdirection at the Chilcot Inquiry

The Inquiry shows us that when asked a difficult question there is nearly always a way to deflect responsibility.

Putin still has plenty of friends in London

If we take a brief look back at our history of “getting tough” with Russia, we can see where our political and financial elites really stand.

The end of the Strangelove era?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): London's Somerset House marked the 63rd anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing on Wednesday with a screening of Stanley Kubrick's classic film Dr Strangelove.

At a lively panel discussion beforehand, there was general agreement that the satire's picture of the cold war nuclear stand-off was all too close to the truth. Peter Sellers' portrayal of the title character accurately reflected an era when the fate of the world hung on the insane logic of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.).

Thankfully, the debate provided reason to hope that today's intellectual climate is moving in a very different direction. The best evidence for this was a line-up that brought CND chair Kate Hudson and journalist John Pilger together with former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen, for decades a leading supporter of Britain's nuclear deterrent.

Where does the BAE case leave international law?

John Jackson (London, Mishcon de Reya): At the end of her judgement in the BAE case one of the law lords, Lady  Hale, said “- - I would wish that the world was a better place where honest and conscientious public servants were not put in impossible situations such as this - - -“. I would wish that too. I would also wish that people and nations did not seek to advance their interests by violence or the threat of violence. If that were so there would be no need of armaments industries and questions of national security could be dealt with in a more open and satisfactory way.

The impossible situation to which Lady Hale referred was the dilemma confronting the Director of the SFO in deciding, with incomplete information, whether, to quote Lord Bingham, “the public interest in pursuing an important investigation into alleged bribery was outweighed by the public interest in protecting the lives of British citizens”. The incompleteness of information available to the Director is the link to my second wish and my remark about how questions of national security are dealt with.

Lords were right to reject judicial activism on BAE

John Jackson (London, Mishcon de Reya ): Doubtless some, perhaps many, will be disappointed by the unanimous decision of five law lords to overturn the judgement delivered, and probably crafted, by Lord Justice Moses in the Serious Fraud Office’s BAE case. And those disappointed will include some who have convinced themselves that the Blair government acted cravenly to protect the commercial interests of BAE - a large employer and taxpayer - or even that this all fitted in with a longer term plan by Blair himself to grease his passage, post-premiership, to a position from which he could enjoy the trappings of international office and advance the interests of his friends in the United States in the maintenance of oil supplies from the Middle East.

Good Friday 10 years on: Jonathan Powell on the peace process

Tom Griffin reviews Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland by Jonathan Powell.

Powell's book sheds light on the political manoeuvrings of the peace process and draws out important lessons we have yet to learn.

To bomb or not to bomb?

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): Last night, intelligence ² hosted a debate on the motion "It's better to bomb Iran than risk Iran getting the bomb" in partnership with the Spectator (still a redoubt for neo-con perspectives). Listening to a recording of the debate (available here), I think the opponents of the motion convincingly established the following points:

Snapshots from the Fabian's global conference

Sunder Katwala (London, Fabian Society):  We are exactly a year from the happy prospect of a new US President taking office. Bush’s progressive critics must now deepen the debate. So this year’s Fabian conference – ‘Change the World’ – was dedicated to global issues,– to ask what change in America and the year in which China will take the global spotlight will mean for us, but also to ask how progressives in Britain and Europe should respond. Hopes of progress on the great issues we face – from climate change to a response to terrorism - which uphold our democratic values depend on making 2008 a year of new ideas in foreign policy.David Miliband offered a thoughtful keynote speech arguing that a number of fundamental power shifts were reshaping our world.

Cabinets and the Bomb

Andrew Blick (London, Democratic Audit):I attended last night the launch of a new Peter Hennessy-edited volume, Cabinets and the Bomb. The event took place at the National Archive in Kew and was a gathering of the great and good from the intelligence and defence worlds. One clear theme emerged from the discussion that took place: the successive decisions made by UK cabinets to keep and then retain nuclear capability - sometimes more prime-ministerial than collective in the making - have always been based primarily on political considerations rather than military. There is a gut instinct that we have to, in Ernest Bevin's immortal words, have a "bloody union jack" on a bomb; this sense is then post-rationalised. And perhaps the biggest motivator of all has been the fear of France becoming the only European power with an independent deterrent.

Should Britain trade with Saudi Arabia?

Jon Bright (London, OK): I've just come from a CentreForum event advertising the launch of their new pamphlet: 'Globalisation: a liberal response'. Samuel Brittan and Vince Cable were on hand to fly the flag for free markets (with safeguards), relaxed immigration laws and the end to notions of 'reciprocity' in trade negotiations. Brittan was all for allowing Polish plumbers in to London - we need to find what to export back in which we have a comparative advantage, he said, and that was for the market to decide.

Brown's new foreign policy

Jon Bright (London, OK): David Mepham and David Held have an article up on openDemocracy today outlining Gordon Brown's foreign policy challenges. As Kanishk Tharoor recently pointed out on these pages, a change in style of the transatlantic special relationship could be significant in itself. But Mepham and Held correctly argue that Brown will need to do more than wear a tie to Camp David to improve Britain's tarnished image abroad. Their prescription is a wish-list from fans of multilateralism and global governance - focus on human rights, hearts and minds, universal values and creative diplomacy.

Will Miliband listen to the wisdom of crowds?

Jon Bright (London, OK): It's hard not to be overwhelmingly cynical about foreign policy - so disconnected from public opinion that we regularly throw in our international lot with a figure both disastrously incompetent and nationally despised. I came to politics late: it was the Iraq war that made me take notice, and the failure of the anti-war march that made me disillusioned (21 years to get interested and less than 3 months to get cynical - New Labour always did work fast).

Your chance to ask Miliband

Paul Hilder (Lewisham, Avaaz.org): Do you have a question for Britain's new foreign secretary David Miliband? A statement, piece of advice, warning or encouragement? Our million-strong global advocacy network, Avaaz.org, has agreed to co-host Miliband's first speech this Thursday - because he's agreed to take questions and challenges from people around the world.

Foreign policy after Brown

Andrew Blick (London, Democratic Audit): The foreign policy aspects of Gordon Brown's constitutional reform programme have got very little attention. Exception (excuse own trumpet blowing) is  myforeignpolicytoo which now has a detailed analysis of their implications (see here for who we are). We welcome the general thrust of the proposals, but with concerns about the devilish smallprint. For instance we hope that the right of Parliament to vote on going to war will be put on a statutory basis (not left to a convention, please!) and we note that the Attorney General will still be able to interfere in decisions over prosecutions if they are deemed to involve national security.

Brown's proposals have large implications for foreign policy

Andrew Blick (London, Democratic Audit): My first reaction to Gordon Brown's statement - with which I hope many will agree - is that it is of historic significance. On foreign policy, which I will be posting on shortly in more detail at MyForeignPolicyToo, I have the following comments: I would like the commitment to consult Parliament on war and peace to be statutory (since the discretion to respond to emergencies can be built into a law just as well as a convention). The proposal for a statutory right for Parliament to ratify treaties is excellent and in some ways more important than the war powers, since treaties can draw us into wars, or at least provide the excuse for them (think 1914), but cover many, many other policy areas as well. Trade treaties can have even greater consequences for human suffering or good than military conflicts. But we will need reform of the parliamentary committee system if MPs and Peers are to dispose of their new responsibilities for oversight of treaties (and war) properly. It would be good to know that Parliament is going to get to look at appointments to bodies such as the Export Credit Guarantees Department or UK Trade International. And I would like the Commons Strategic Export Controls Committee - which is responsible for checking we are not exporting implements of oppression abroad - to get advanced notice of the issue of export licences. But generally this is great stuff, comprising many of the changes we have been recommending, and it has exceeded my expectations.

My Foreign Policy Too

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): Who should decide when it comes to war, peace and diplomacy? An ongoing project aims to make British foreign policy more democratic, ensuring that Brown delivers on his promise to "make government more open and accountable to Parliament in decisions about peace and war". It is called, rather optimistically, MyForeignPolicyToo. (It is being run by the Federal Trust, One World Trust and Democratic Audit.) The site contains detailed analysis of democratic processes in areas such as Aid, Conflict, Trade, Europe and the ‘Special Relationship’, and makes  proposals for each. They suggest giving MPs a role in shaping policies rather than simply scrutinizing them after the event, making Parliament "more representative of the people and less reactive to the executive’s demands". The project also weighs up the pros and cons of related constitutional reform proposals by Gordon Brown and looks positively at the Tory Democracy Taskforce. The alliance behind My Foreign Policy Too believes that a more democratic foreign policy will mean a more ethical one. Fingers crossed.

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