A '------- --------' [please fill in as appropriate] foreign policy: will Hague fill the gap?

“Ethical” foreign policy. Putting human rights “at the heart of” our foreign policy. Successive foreign secretaries have promoted – or end up being associating with – foreign policies with particular labels.

Judging by early reaction to William Hague’s big speech today – “Britain’s values in a networked world” – the likely tag for the coalition government’s foreign policy is set to be “a foreign policy with a conscience”.

The full speech is here. My reaction? Total rubbish (no, just joking).

Actually, Mr Hague’s so-called values statement contains some very welcome pronouncements. Like: “There will be no downgrading of human rights under this Government and no resiling from our commitments to aid and development”. Bravo. And then he goes on to talk about strengthening this area. Bravo again.

In fact Hague goes further: “These and other values are part of our national DNA and will be woven deeply into the decision-making processes of our foreign policy at every stage.” (It’s great to hear a senior member of the government talking about human rights this way and I’d like to see him saying so every time there’s a ridiculous story about human rights for rapists being a top prison priority (or whatever) in the popular media. Ahem).

So, some good language and – as Amnesty’s Kate Allen observes – it’s noteworthy that the Foreign Secretary mentions the government’s support for an international arms trade treaty (in an era of $60bn arms deals to Saudi Arabia this is surely going to be important). Delivering his speech in the heart of London’s legal zone – Lincoln’s Inn – it was also heartening to hear the Foreign Secretary talking about the UK supporting a rules-abused global system of international treaties and courts (Hague on The Hague!).

But it wasn’t all good. In a section called “Dealing patiently with difficult issues”, Hague says the government will push ahead with Labour’s much-criticised attempt to get around the rules on torture by seeking so-called “diplomatic assurances” from foreign governments that they won’t torture people the UK sends their way. As I’ve said before, this is a totally flawed policy and the government needs to back down from it.

An Amnesty mole at Lincoln’s Inn Fields today tells me that Mr Hague received questions about the UK’s relations with Zimbabwe, China and US drone attacks in Pakistan. Evidently Hague was extremely guarded, saying little more than the UK will be “talking about a range of issues” with the likes of China. He kept it brief and general on the Pope and human rights as well. And there was some familiar fudging over the legal status of drone attacks.

Hmmm. OK, he’s a politician trying to get across a nuanced message at a high-profile launch event. But if the UK is really to operate a foreign policy with a conscience, he’s going to have to be a little more forthright than that when he next visits China, Riyadh, Moscow, Harare, Washington and ------------------- [please fill in other capitals as appropriate].


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