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BRIT Review

In an Age of Terror and Turmoil, Foreign Policy is the Key. So Why Haven’t the Conservatives given us one? by Chris Lascelles

Friday, May 26, 2017


For the Conservative Party, foreign policy seems to have taken something of a back seat. I had originally intended to write a piece, placing the Labour and Conservatives head-to-head on key foreign policy issues. However, the Conservative manifesto, or lack thereof, has made that impossible. It is a manifesto that contains a large number of vague assertions, littered with a few recommitments to old policies. 

We currently live in a world in which long-term conflicts and terrorism are capable of destabilising political structures on a global scale. The effect of the rise of ISIS, the wars in Syria and Iraq, and global terrorism upon the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote are plain to see. The only way to genuinely combat these issues is through clear, effective foreign policy. The “strong and stable” mantra doesn’t cut it here. 

The real crime that the Conservatives have committed is a lack of specificity. I urge you to find a text version of the conservative manifesto, press ctrl+F, and search for these key terms: Middle East, Africa, Syria, Iraq, Saudi, Yemen, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, and Russia. Any luck? No. Now try it with the Labour manifesto. Clue: They’re all there. This isn’t to say that the Labour foreign policy is perfect; the key here is that it actually exists. 

So what is the Conservative Party’s proposed foreign policy? Here are the key points:

Foreign Aid

The Conservatives plan to “maintain the commitment to spend 0.7% of out GNI (gross national income) on assistance to developing nations.” Furthermore, the Conservatives have pledged to review the way that the aid is distributed, in order to maximise benefits. This is one of the few proactive, clear-cut foreign policy statements in the manifesto.

International Institutions

They state that they will “continue to help maintain: the United Nations and the UN Security Council, NATO… the Commonwealth, the G20, G7 and the World Trade Organization.” In this policy statement, the Conservatives have essentially named every major international institution that the UK is a part of and made a vague promise to continue supporting them. 

Foreign Relations

The only specific country that they mention here is the United States, wanting to foster the oft-touted “special relationship.” Political leaders tend to say the same thing every election, although Labour seem to be doing the opposite this year. Bringing up the “special relationship” will generally make people happy, even after Obama declared the pesky French to be America’s strongest friend and ally. 

The Conservatives have also promised to “strengthen our close links with our commonwealth allies.” Having failed to go into specifics about which countries, and the policies that they intend to implement, this is little more than a blanket statement covering over a quarter of the world’s countries. It is not a substantive policy. 

Foreign Military Action

The Conservatives have committed to “maintain the ability to conduct strike operations, peacekeeping, security missions and the deployment of a joint expeditionary force.” The key to understanding this statement is in assessing the language used. The use of the phrase “maintain the ability to” is nothing more than a noncommittal allusion to a military policy that doesn’t actually exist. If anything, this is a budgetary statement.

Who Needs a Foreign Policy?

So where is the foreign policy? Where is the substance? Looking at the entire manifesto, there isn’t a single mention of any specific foreign policy issue except, perhaps, religious extremism. Throughout, the Conservatives treat extremism as a purely domestic issue, the solution to which is a new police taskforce and internet regulation. The problem with this view is that Facebook, WhatsApp and end-to-end end encryption aren’t the cause of international terrorism. 

Regulating tech firms and creating new taskforces might stop a terror attack, but it will not stop terrorism, and it will not stop extremism. The current threat from ISIS stems from the Middle East, and the threat will not be neutralised until the region is stable. We need a resolution to the conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Syria in order to truly solve the problem of Islamic extremism. We need to stop Saudi Arabia, our stalwart friend and ally, from funding terrorist organisations that undertake acts of terror against British citizens, on British soil.  
The Conservatives are refusing to address these problems because they are too afraid to fall on the wrong side of any issue that the public feels strongly about. They are already so far ahead in the polls that their best option in most policy areas is to promise very little and make no serious mistakes. They know that they have already won.

The worrying result of this noncommittal stance is that, going forward, the next Conservative government will be acting in the realm of foreign policy without a clear mandate. Labour has accused the Conservatives of writing a blank cheque but, in reality, they have written us a blank manifesto. 

About Chris

Chris LascellesChris Lascelles is a recent International Relations graduate from Aberystwyth University. 

His main areas of interest are modern warfare and international terrorism.


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