THE BLOG

Taking Forward Control: Strengthening International Cooperation Is In UK National Interest

07/06/2017 13:04 BST | Updated 07/06/2017 13:04 BST

The global commitment to international cooperation has seldom been more in doubt.

The feeling of being left behind by globalisation is not just a developing world phenomenon. In the West, people are dissatisfied and political parties are quick to capitalise. Not least, because embracing this trend has led to electoral advantage for some, at least in the short-term.

But this is not a strategy for the future.

No government can deliver positive benefits to its citizens by ignoring the outside world.

Whether we like it or not, Britain's future is inextricably bound up with that of our neighbours.

If sovereignty is defined a country's ability to shape its own future, attempts to "take back control" by turning inwards won't work. Instead we need to focus on extending our diplomatic relations to help shape the international landscape on which the UK's future prosperity depends. We need to take forward control.

Whether it's addressing cyber vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure (think NHS ransomware!), counter-terrorism, climate action, or responding to the highest levels of displacement on record, the things we care about increasingly rely on international cooperation.

But policy makers are slow to get the message.

Despite the momentous task ahead rebuilding Britain's foreign policies, the election has been largely fought on highly politicised domestic issues. Even 'Brexit' was most often considered in narrow terms of parties' suitability to lead negotiations. Beyond the (also narrow in focus) international dimension to the appalling and tragic terrorist-related events in Manchester and London, foreign policy has been frequently sidelined.

The opportunity for meaningful discussion over the UK's future role has been missed, with parties appearing to subscribe to the old maxim of "there are no votes in foreign policy".

If you want to find out what a party thinks about the rest of the world, you had to turn to the very back of its manifesto. And hope they had some space left.

The lack of fully formed policies on international issues means voters often have little more than platitudes to work with when trying to determine how parties would answer the big issues of our age:

  • How will the UK invest in its remaining diplomatic networks post- Brexit?
  • Will the UK retain its traditional role as a bridge between the US and the EU, and if not what might replace it?
  • How will the UK maintain its influence at the UN if our allies increasingly see us as unreliable?
  • Faced with a US administration that consistently undermines the rules-based international system and a Saudi government that is complicit in war crimes, do we have the right alliances in place?

The lack of clarity makes it difficult to make an informed choice and means less accountability once elected.

Parties don't pay much attention to foreign policy...so the media devotes less time to it...so the electorate is less likely to care...so parties don't give much attention to foreign policy. We need to break this vicious cycle of apathy. This cycle is not without exception, but it is the trend.

Policy makers, the media, educators, civil society - we can be part of the solution. By highlighting the ways we all benefit from the international system, we can build a society that cares about our global institutions like the UN in a similar vein to our concern for the NHS. After all, they are both fundamental to our country's well-being .

There is nothing inevitable about the UK's security and prosperity (or that of any other country) - sustaining these things requires energetic and sustained action at the global level. Only through significant investment - political and financial - in international cooperation can the new Government realign the UK's national agenda with our national interest.