The Conservatives have nothing to say on foreign policy other than parroted lines on Brexit. Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ general election mantra means nothing and reveals a lack of policies or vision for Britain’s place in the world. Labour can differentiate itself from the Conservatives with a clear and patriotic vision of a globally engaged and influential Britain, capable of defending itself from new and evolving threats. In this general election campaign, Labour should not abandon its core values and ethical foreign policy aims, but must prioritise security reassurances.
The international system is in flux. Trump’s erratic and unpredictable behaviour puts US leadership in international affairs in doubt. Globalisation has accelerated global capital and labour movement and eroded aspects of sovereignty. Autocratic nations are emboldened. Terrorists are using global networks and can strike using weapons as basic as a car. In times of rapid change populist anxieties and a desire for protection lead people to desire old certainties such as sovereignty, hard borders and economic nationalism.
Labour needs to provide an alternate vision of certainty and control in a changing world. It can do this by placing security at the forefront of the party’s foreign policy proposal. However, the effort to promote security should not lead us into the trap of erecting walls and retreating from the world. Instead Labour should make the case more than ever for a global Britain. The answers to insecurity are not found in closing off from the rest of the world, rather they can be best addressed at an international level.
A foreign policy that looks outward to the world and embraces the positive aspects of globalisation is not incompatible with providing security and control. Labour has the opportunity to build a foreign policy agenda that bridges the divide between open and closed – providing security guarantees, whilst remaining true to internationalist values. Whilst internationalism appears to be at odds with the disposition of the country, Labour can effectively make the case by emphasising the national security factor. Labour should campaign for a secure and global Britain.
The leaked Labour manifesto and Corbyn’s Chatham House speech mention a number of worthy foreign policy aims such as limiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia and pursuing a two-state solution in Israel, but Labour must first earn the right to talk about these issues. The left is great at discussing human rights, development, climate change, peace and justice, but we must first convince the electorate that the Labour has credibility in national security and defence. If Labour is not credible on security, no one will listen to its policies on anything else. There is a lot to do to rebuild trust in this area, but the party can begin by signalling unequivocal support for the armed forces, NATO and Trident.
The importance of NATO to UK and European security has been made apparent by the aggressive actions of Putin’s Russia and the persistent threat of international terrorism. Labour must commit to defending NATO and upholding the principle of collective defence – we should be supporting the deployment of troops to Estonia, not challenging it. NATO should also be at the centre of creating a new framework to counter terrorism in Europe and beyond. With a NATO-sceptic White House and UK relations with Europe strained due to Brexit, NATO will be a vital institution for maintaining European solidarity and security cooperation in the future.
Trident may appear a relic from the Cold War, but with a barrage of threats from North Korea and Russia flexing its muscles again, we should not be diminishing our defensive capabilities. Labour’s language on Trident must be unambiguous – we are prepared to press the red button. Deterrence necessitates this.
Labour must also demonstrate understanding of the changing threat environment and argue for Britain to be a world leader in developing new solutions to security challenges. There must be increased focus on new threats – cyber security, hybrid warfare, information warfare and lone-wolf-terrorism. The ongoing cyber-attack on the NHS demonstrates the necessity to invest in new technologies, institutions and education to overcome these new challenges. Labour helped found NATO, now it must push the organisation to evolve to better tackle the threats of the future.
Theresa May is gambling with national security in Brexit negotiations and alienating the UK from our European partners. This makes the UK more vulnerable and less secure. We must push for the strongest possible ties with EU partners in Brexit negotiations to ensure security in both the economy and defence. Brexit will undoubtedly feature at the heart of this election campaign, but Brexit cannot be allowed to define our place in the world.
Labour should champion brand ‘global Britain’. It is vital that post-Brexit trade deals are successfully accomplished to ensure the security of jobs and livelihoods in the UK. Following the example set by London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s #LondonIsOpen campaign in the wake of the Brexit vote, a concerted effort should be made to demonstrate Britain is open for business – ready to trade, but also be involved with international organisations and efforts such as OECD growth initiatives, UN conflict resolution, disaster relief, peacekeeping and even military intervention if necessary. We cannot allow Britain to lose its seat at the top tables of global institutions. Soft power will be vital in the years following Brexit to maintain Britain’s image as a country ready to engage and lead in the world.
For the public to vote Labour on 8 June 2017, they must be convinced that a Labour government will provide them with security above all else. In an ever changing and uncertain world there must be reassurances that the government will have a foreign policy designed to keep the public safe and promote their interests on the global stage.