Letter from the Defence Editor: What is the state of the Coalition Government's moral compass when it comes to dealing with the outside world?


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The Independent Online


David Cameron will give his annual address on foreign policy at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet this week.

He had to speak over the weekend about the conviction of a Royal Marine for the murder of a prisoner in Helmand, which was used by some (wrongly, I believe) to attack the British mission in Afghanistan.

In a few days’ time Mr Cameron will be attending a Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka. Human rights groups have asked him to boycott the proceedings in protest at the massacre of Tamil civilians by the country’s military.

So what is the state of the Coalition Government’s moral compass when it comes to dealing with the outside world? Is the Prime Minister, who saw himself as the “heir to Blair”, in danger of gathering opprobrium, as New Labour did when its much-publicised ethical foreign policy degenerated, ending with the illegal invasion of Iraq?

But it is unlikely to happen on a similar scale. As the Commons vote on Syrian intervention showed, the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have left little appetite for military adventures abroad. Other issues, such as trading with repressive regimes or gaining intelligence from mistreatment of prisoners abroad, have not really raised widespread public concern.

But here is a question for you: The UK was one of the leaders in urging the Syrian people to rise up against Bashar al-Assad; having done so they have received very little help from us. In the meantime, Islamist extremists, funded by some Arab states, have become predominant among the rebels; the jihadists and regime forces are now busy killing off what’s left of the moderate opposition.

On my last trip to Aleppo an activist, a young woman, spoke bitterly about the immorality of the West in allowing this to happen and its indifference as the slaughter continues: 117,000 dead in the latest estimate. Was she, do you think, right?