The Cook retort: `No question of us picking on the little guys and letting the big ones go'

Robing Cook was bullish yesterday after presenting his new policy on human rights. He insisted that upholding "universal principles" - for that read morality - did not conflict with economic prosperity and keeping people in jobs.

You could refuse to sell arms to nasty regimes abroad, then, and still avoid throwing people out of work at home. But he also knew that the dilemma at the heart of an ethical foreign policy is not so easily swept aside. "It's a matter of political life that you're not loved by all the people all the time." But Britain is ready to take the flak, even if business leaders complain about potential loss of contracts.

In an interview with the Independent Mr Cook acknowledged difficulties ahead. "Any government that pretends it is able to manage a consistent policy to 190 countries simultaneously is living in the mindset of a computer rather than the real world." But there would be no double standards: "There is no question of shrinking from difficult questions raised by large countries ... no question of us picking on the little guys and letting the big guys go."

Earlier he presented what was officially described as "his vision for putting human rights at the centre of British foreign policy". The setting was the Foreign Office's Locarno Room, the immediate backdrop a dais in a New Labour designer shade of grey, bizarrely enlivened by the jarring yellow and orange of Edvard Munch's Scream.

In a signal of the Foreign Office's declared openness to different viewpoints, his invited audience included representatives of Amnesty and 100 other non-governmental organisations. No less symbolic was the presence on the rostrum of the independent Tatton MP and former war correspondent Martin Bell, who championed the need for a morally based response to the war in Bosnia.

Until now, Mr Cook's policy has been largely confined to verbal gestures. None the less, if his words are only half matched by deeds, it will represent a radical departure. Not since Jimmy Carter occupied the White House has any Western government so publicly nailed its foreign policy to the mast of morality - and certainly not the government of a country so traditionally identified with hard-nosed realpolitik as Britain. But Mr Carter's pursuit of human rights helped undermine Soviet totalitarianism, and the New Labour Foreign Secretary sees no reason why, in this post-Cold War world, the formula should not yield new successes.

Mr Cook is unwilling to be drawn on how great a shift this represents from the last government's pragmatic priorities. "I don't want to get into the business of playing the superior political party on this issue. I would like to create a national consensus."

In one respect at least, Mr Cook is prepared to break new ground. He seems ready to extend an olive branch to those with politics diametrically opposed to his own. "In the US the Republican right feels as strongly on [human rights] as any member of the Clinton administration. You can detect that in the younger generation of new right-wing writers in Britain; some of that influence is coming through. If the right in Britain was to adopt some of the attitude of the right in America, I would welcome that."

He made it clear that the days when it could be said that "We have no friends and enemies, only interests," are over. "The commitments I made today are pragmatic, down to earth and serious. I get a bit fed up with the world-weary cynicism of some who feel they've seen the whole world go by. That seems to me to fit the mindset of a declining nation ... Robust confidence in our values is part of our national interest."

Mr Cook has been criticised for the apparent contradiction in policy of selling military equipment to Indonesia when Jakarta is under fire for its human-rights breaches. Yesterday he said the results of a review on the criteria for licensing weapons for export would be published "shortly". The review would result in "changes to the present policy" of sale of small-arms and other military equipment for sale to the security forces of "certain regimes."

On China, he told critics of its rights record not to hold a gun to Britain's head over its diplomatic and trade relations with Peking.

Mr Cook insisted there could be no question of Hong Kong's interests being sacrificed at the expense of good commercial relations with China. But he warned the democrats against too much doomsaying.

Last week's swoop by British forces against two alleged war criminals in Bosnia "represented a new resolve" by the world community to take tougher action there.

Next week Mr Cook goes to former Yugoslavia. A trip to Belgrade has been cancelled because President Slobodan Milosevic is "too busy" to receive him, which may be perceived as a backhanded compliment to the Foreign Secretary's tough stance on rights.

It is unclear how productive the "Cook doctrine" will be. As he acknowledges, in any rights case bilateral pressure can achieve only so much and multilateral pressure will be far more effective. But here too Britain has cards to play - the permanent UN Security Council seat, its Commonwealth role, and coming presidency of the EU. "We won't always succeed ... But we can use our influence to shift that common position a little further forward."

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?