Full text: Tony Blair’s speech
A country always has to know its place in the world. For Britain this is of special importance. At the end of the 19th century we were an imperial power. A century later the empire was gone. Naturally, and despite the pride of our victory in world war two, our definition seemed less certain. Our change in circumstances affected our confidence and self-belief. Yet today I have no doubt what our place is and how we should use it.
What are our strengths? Part of the EU; and G8; permanent members of the UN security council; the closest ally of the US; our brilliant armed forces; membership of Nato; the reach given by our past; the Commonwealth; the links with Japan, China, Russia and ties of history with virtually every nation in Asia and Latin America; our diplomacy – I do believe our foreign service is the best there is; our language.
What is the nature of the world in which these strengths can be deployed? The world has never been more interdependent. Economic and security shocks spread like contagion. I learnt this graphically in the 1998 financial crisis; everyone knows it after September 11. Nations recognise more than ever before that the challenges have to be met in part, at least, collectively. Also culture and communication driven by technological revolution are deepening the sense of a global community. Look at the FCO [Foreign Office] strategic goals you set out in your paper. Each of them has a direct domestic impact. Yet each of them – whether free trade through the WTO [world trade organisation], combating climate change or the threats to our security – can only be overcome by collaboration across national frontiers.
Fundamentalist political ideology now seems an aberration of the 20th century. But religious extremism through the misinterpretation of Islam is a danger all over the world, not because it is supported by large numbers of ordinary people but because it can be manipulated by small numbers of fanatics to distort the lives of ordinary people. As the FCO point out in another paper, wars between nations seem less likely – at least outside of the continent of Africa – but flashpoints remain and in any event, the crucial thing is that no conflict we can contemplate can possibly remain localised.
What does all this mean? It means that the world today has one overriding common interest: to make progress with order; to ensure that change is accompanied by stability. The common threat is chaos. That threat can come from terrorism, producing a train of events that pits nations against each other. It can come through irresponsible and repressive states gaining access to WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. It can come through the world splitting into rival poles of power; the US in one corner; anti-US forces in another. It can come from pent-up feelings of injustice and alienation, from the divisions between the world’s richer and its poorer nations. The threat is not change. The world and many countries in it need to change. It is change through disorder, because then the consequences of change cannot be managed.
This has been understood, at least inchoately, ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then the call was for a new world order. But a new order presumes a new consensus. It presumes a shared agenda and a global partnership to do it.
Here’s where Britain’s place lies. We can only play a part in helping this – to suggest more would be grandiose and absurd – but it is an important part. Our very strengths, our history equip us to play a role as a unifier around a consensus for achieving both our goals and those of the wider world.
Stating our aims is relatively easy and they would be shared by many other countries: security from terrorism and WMD; elimination of regional conflicts that can afflict us; a stable world economy; free trade; action against climate change; aid and development. Jack set them out clearly yesterday. The question is: how as a matter of diplomacy do we achieve them? What are the principles of foreign policy that should guide us?
First, we should remain the closest ally of the US, and as allies influence them to continue broadening their agenda. We are the ally of the US not because they are powerful, but because we share their values. I am not surprised by anti-Americanism; but it is a foolish indulgence. For all their faults and all nations have them, the US are a force for good; they have liberal and democratic traditions of which any nation can be proud. I sometimes think it is a good rule of thumb to ask of a country: are people trying to get into it or out of it? It’s not a bad guide to what sort of country it is.
Quite apart from that, it is massively in our self-interest to remain close allies. Bluntly there are not many countries who wouldn’t wish for the same relationship as we have with the US and that includes most of the ones most critical of it in public.
But we should use this alliance to good effect. The problem people have with the US – not the rabid anti-Americans but the average middle ground – is not that, for example, they oppose them on WMD or international terrorism. People listen to the US on these issues and may well agree with them; but they want the US to listen back.
So for the international community, the MEPP is also important; global poverty is important; global warming is important; the UN is important.
The US choice to go through the UN over Iraq was a vital step, in itself and as a symbol of the desire to work with others. A broader agenda is not inimical to the US; on the contrary. For example the US decision to back a new relationship between Nato and Russia has made both missile defence and Nato enlargement easier and less divisive.
The price of British influence is not, as some would have it, that we have, obediently, to do what the US asks. I would never commit British troops to a war I thought was wrong or unnecessary. Where we disagree, as over Kyoto, we disagree.
But the price of influence is that we do not leave the US to face the tricky issues alone. By tricky, I mean the ones which people wish weren’t there, don’t want to deal with, and, if I can put it a little pejoratively, know the US should confront, but want the luxury of criticising them for it. So if the US act alone, they are unilateralist; but if they want allies, people shuffle to the back. International terrorism is one such issue. The fanatics have to be confronted and defeated – in ideas as well as militarily as I shall say later. WMD is another. I want to make it clear. In February 2001, at my first meeting with President Bush I said this was the key issue facing the world community. I believe that even more today. The latest revelations about North Korea are a manifest wake-up call to the world. This shouldn’t divert us from tackling Iraq and WMD. There will be different ways of dealing with different countries. But no one can doubt the salience of WMD as an issue and the importance of countering it. North Korea’s weapons programme and export of it, the growing number of unstable or dictatorial states trying to acquire nuclear capability, the so-called respectable companies and people trading in it: this is a real, active threat to our security and I warn people: it is only a matter of time before terrorists get hold of it. So when as with Iraq, the international community through the UN makes a demand on a regime to disarm itself of WMD and that regime refuses, that regime threatens us. It may be uncomfortable, there will be the usual plethora of conspiracy theories about it; but unless the world takes a stand on this issue of WMD and sends out a clear signal, we will rue the consequences of our weakness.
America should not be forced to take this issue on alone. We should all be part of it. Of course, it should go through the UN – that was our wish and what the US did. But if the will of the UN is breached then the will should be enforced.
Jack Straw has today set out for parliament in more detail our policy objectives on Iraq.
So when the US confront these issues, we should be with them; and we should, in return, expect these issues to be confronted with the international community, proportionately, sensibly and in a way that delivers a better prospect of long-term peace, security and justice.
Second, Britain must be at the centre of Europe. By 2004, the EU will consist of 25 nations. In time others including Turkey will join. It will be the largest market in the world. It will be the most integrated political union between nations. It will only grow in power. To separate ourselves from it would be madness. If we are in, we should be in whole-heartedly. That must include, provided the economic conditions are right, membership of the single currency. For 50 years we have hesitated over Europe. It has never profited us. And there is no greater error in international politics than to believe that strong in Europe means weaker with the US. The roles reinforce each other. What is more there can be no international consensus unless Europe and the US stand together. Whenever they are divided, the forces of progress, the values of liberty and democracy, the requirements of security and peace, suffer. We can indeed help to be a bridge between the US and Europe and such understanding is always needed. Europe should partner the US not be its rival.
Thirdly, we should engage with the countries, who by dint of land size and population are bound to be ever greater economic and political powers, in order to seek common ground. Russia, China and India are all countries in a process of transition. Their power will be enormous. How they develop will affect crucially our own security and prosperity. With the US and within Europe as well as on our own account we should be helping in their path of change, whether in the WTO, on issues of peace and security or in the UN security council itself. With Japan, we should ensure we remain its principal partner within Europe, yet another reason for being influential in Europe ourselves.
Fourthly, our history is a strength, provided we lose any lingering traces of imperial arrogance and recognise countries will only work with us as equals. But that said, working with us is what many want and probably more than any other former colonial power, our empire left much affection as well as deep problems to be overcome.
For many of those countries, our relations today are being transformed, with DfID [Department for International Development] helping to give us a relationship of equality, trust and partnership. We should deepen it at every turn. Not just through commerce and conventional diplomacy but through the British Council, the World Service, through encouraging students from abroad to study here, through political dialogue.
Fifth, there can be no new consensus, no new order, no stability, without tackling the appalling poverty that afflicts nearly a half of the world’s population. Action to deal with this – possible with the right vision and imagination – is the best investment in its own future the developed world could make. For the developing world, Britain should be their champions. For example in opening up markets through the WTO; and working with Africa, to make their Nepad a reality.
Sixth, we need to construct a better framework within which the international institutions, like the IMF and World Bank help countries deal with their difficulties and make progress. The problem here is often that what the IMF and World Bank say – indeed what the world says – is intellectually correct; but the political pain can be unbearable or the political system too fragile to take the medicine. I started to reflect on this as a result of the European enlargement process. If you had said five years ago, all 10 countries would join and in 2004, people would have thought it wildly utopian. But EU and Nato membership has been a remarkable magnet for reform. And look at Turkey now. We ask countries in Latin America, in the Middle East, in Asia and Africa to undertake vast change. Yet it isn’t often placed within a broader political context where there is some specified and obvious gain, some goal to aim for.
This is where the international community needs to develop mechanisms for encouraging the developed nations to put more vision, energy and creativity into fashioning the right pull-factors so that countries are able to mobilise their people in favour of reform. It might be on a regional basis. It might be in terms of trade or security or help with governance. But without it, too many politicians in developing countries will know what is the right thing to do, but struggle to do it. Britain has the political and intellectual capacity to help create this framework. Latin America is the place to start.
Seventh, we must reach out to the Muslim world.
This is about three things. It is about even-handedness. The reason there is opposition over our stance on Iraq has less to do with any love of Saddam, but over a sense of double standards. The Middle East peace process remains essential to any understanding with the Muslim and Arab world. The terrorism inflicted upon innocent Israeli citizens is wicked and murderous and undoubtedly will bring strong action from the Israeli government. No democratic government could do otherwise. That is not the point. The point is that unless there is real energy put into crafting a process that can lead to lasting peace, neither the carnage of innocent Israelis nor the appalling suffering of the Palestinians will cease. At the moment the future of the innocent is held hostage by the terrorists.
But reaching out to the Muslim world also means engaging with how those countries move towards greater democratic stability, liberty and human rights. It means building pathways of understanding between Islam and other religious faiths. This seems an odd thing for a politician to say – but then I am used to clerics offering me advice. But we need to engage with mainstream Islam at a theological as well as political level. Inter-faith dialogue is one important part of greater understanding. The fanatics who abuse true Islam have to be challenged by ideas and values as much as by security and arms. They will recruit new volunteers as fast or faster as we imprison or destroy the old ones, unless we are helping those within the faith of Islam who are speaking out in favour of moderation, tolerance and sense.
Again Britain, with its understanding of the Arab world and its tradition of religious tolerance can help.
In the end, all these things come back to one basic theme. The values we stand for: freedom, human rights, the rule of law, democracy, are all universal values. Given a chance, the world over, people want them. But they have to be pursued alongside another value: justice, the belief in opportunity for all. Without justice, the values I describe can be portrayed as “Western values”; globalisation becomes a battering ram for Western commerce and culture; the order we want is seen by much of the world as “their” order not “ours”.
The consensus can only be achieved if pursued with a sense of fairness, of equality, of partnership. Our role is to use all the strengths of our history, unique in their breadth for a country our size, to unify nations around that consensus.
One last thing we, Britain, need: confidence in ourselves.
This is not a time for British caution or even British reserve, still less for a retreat into isolation on the basis of some misguided view of patriotism. This is a time for us to be out in front; engaged; open; creative; willing to take bold decisions. All it needs is courage and confidence. You, like the British people, have plenty of both. When you put your minds to it, there is no-one better. I saw it in Kosovo and Afghanistan. I’ve seen it in countless European Councils; I’ve seen it in the passion and commitment of DfID; in the recent negotiations in the UN. I see it every time I meet the most junior of your staffs in any Embassy in the world who have only one motivation: an enthusiasm to do the best for Britain in a noble cause. Now is the moment to make our future as exciting in impact, if different in character, as our history.