Iain Duncan Smith: Beware the allures of designer diplomacy

From a speech by the Leader of the Conservative Party, given at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London
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Conservatives - with a big and a small "c" – are interested in the world as it is. We are realists; and we rejoice in the fact, because we know that it allows us to avoid succumbing to the distractions and descending into the cul-de-sacs that lure the unwary. There is, though, another view. And it is frequently proclaimed by the Prime Minister. The present government has an approach to British foreign and security policy which is, at its very roots, misguided.

The problem is simple and fundamental. It is that the Prime Minister seems to believe that there are no limits to what Britain, acting as part of an all-embracing global coalition of the righteous, can and should do to make the world a better place. To judge from a speech he made earlier this month in Bangalore, he does not even see any limits to foreign policy, saying (I quote): "In today's globally interdependent world, foreign and domestic policy are part of the same thing".

If, of course, this means that you cannot have a successful foreign policy without also having a successful domestic policy, there is a certain amount of truth in it. But, even then, it is not the whole truth. Countries which pursue ambitious foreign policies that neither advance their interests nor match their resources are putting their standing and possibly their security at risk. And there is worse. An unfocused approach to foreign policy leads to, and is often devised in pursuit of, media grandstanding.

High-profile diplomacy always contains it own temptations. Before foreign leaders decide to offer their personal services in sorting out long-standing international disputes, they should be clear about the answer to three searching questions. First: what do I expect to achieve? Second: what practical means are at my disposal? And third: am I best placed to do it? Without clarity on these points, the correct conclusion may be to stay at home.

So much of today's designer diplomacy demonstrates a worrying lack of realism. What is at work is a delusion about the way the world actually works, one which consists (in TS Eliot's words) of "dreaming a system so perfect that no one will need to be good".

Today's utopian internationalists, who only have to glance at an opportunity for multilateral intervention in order to jump at it, run the risk of weakening national support for those military engagements which are fundamental to our security. Moreover, they fail to recognise that it is only when nations consider that their vital interests are engaged that they will make those sacrifices and shoulder those commitments that lead to successful outcomes.

Let me take the War Against Terrorism as a decisive case in point. The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon provoked such national, as well as international, outrage because no one could fail to see that they were intended as attacks not just on America's interests, policies, and actions but on America herself.

I said at the time that America's war was – and is – our war. That is both because our people and our interests are so close to those of America and because we also had the will and the means to make America's struggle ours as well. But the fact remains that America unambiguously led the war – a sovereign power leading a coalition of sovereign powers.

America has now demonstrated decisively that its capacity for action is the best guarantee of the world's security. But America has also demonstrated that, no matter how powerful the currents of globalism and internationalism, the decisive strike against international terrorism required mobilising national loyalty, national pride and national willingness for sacrifice. That remains the most reliable way of ensuring that grave wrongs are punished and that just wars are won.