THE BLOG

To Build Peace We Need to Invest in More Than Bombs and Bullets

24/11/2015 17:26 GMT | Updated 24/11/2016 10:12 GMT

The government yesterday announced plans for increased spending on the military and intelligence services, a decision billed as the government's response to the threat of the rise of ISIS.

Yet there was one obvious area of spending missing from that list: diplomacy.

In a world growing more complex by the day - a complexity whose risks have only been highlighted today by the shooting down by Turkey of a Russian jet near the Syrian border - the Foreign Office's importance is clear.

We need to be able to talk to other countries - their governments and civil societies, to understand their motivations and intentions, to react quickly to sudden and unexpected events with knowledgeable analysis and informed action, to be part of multilateral and bilateral efforts to tackle the many threats the world faces today, from political instability and terrorism to climate change to pandemics.

"More diplomats now" is not a chant I'm expecting to hear on a demonstration any time soon, but it is clear that if Britain is to protect its own interests and security, and work towards the more stable, democratic world, the Foreign Office is a key player within our national framework.

Britain as a former imperial power has a network of embassies like few other states, has a tradition of links around the world. That's not built on foundations that can be celebrated, but it is a foundation that could be a productive, useful force.

Diplomacy is frequently arcane in its practices, has traditions around dress and behaviour that are deeply anachronistic in the modern world, and is accompanied by unnecessarily expensive wine, but it is important.

Yet the foundation of British diplomacy has already been significantly undermined, and tomorrow in the Autumn Statement predictions are that it will be even more heavily eroded.

Since 2009-2010 real terms spending on the Foreign Office has been cut by 30%, from £2.4billion to £1.7billion (at constant 2013/4 prices).

In the run-up to the Autumn Statement, the office has been asked to accept cuts of at least 25% - and they could be as high was 40%.

Compared to the total budget of £748billion this is insignificant, but in terms of its importance to our functioning in a small world, it clearly isn't.

The slashing of spending contrasts with the military and intelligence plans announced yesterday and the ringfencing of spending for the Department for International Development, which the Green Party welcomes - and would like to see expanded.

There's a clear imbalance in our government's approach to dealing with the world - it's like a stool on which one leg has been sawn in half - and that's going to affect the functioning and effectiveness of the other spending, as well as our overall place in the world.

To build peace we need to invest in more than bombs and bullets. The Green Party is opposed to Britain joining the US bombing in Syria. The US has already made more than 8,000 strikes on 16,000 targets - and the fighting strength of ISIS is now put at the same level as when the attacks started. And the number of foreign fighters estimated to have joined ISIS has doubled from 15,000 to 30,000.

Destroying ISIS and finding stability in the region requires a stable solution to the Syrian civil war, one that also sees the removal of the Assad regime. There have been two meetings of the Syria Transition Group, which brings together global and regional players, from the US, UK and Russia to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

That's not going to be an easy and simple path, particularly after the events of today. But we know that the military intervention approach has failed again and again, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya. It has left chaos, suffering, death in its wake, and a spreading of conflict across regions.

This government has made many false economies, with its disastrous policy of austerity that has failed both in terms of restoring our economy and retaining our essential services and infrastructure. But the Foreign Office austerity could turn out to be some of the most damaging of all.