Foreign Affairs

CPF
Discussion Brief Number 6/2013 – Britain’s Place in the World
British Conservatives in Paris (“BCiP”)
CPF Chairman: Paul Thomson
No of people attending: ca 10
Contact details for the response: Paul Thomson
Date of submission: 31.10.13
Introductory Comments
On the Brief
Comments varied on its general quality, some regretting that it did not provide even an overview of major challenges facing the UK (and its friends & allies) today; nor any prospective view, eg asking what the world might look like in twenty years (cf rise of China, India & other emerging powers; evolution of the goals, interests & loyalties of the United States etc). Others defended the brief in saying that it presented a good deal of relevant & well organized information on the subject; & suggesting that for an exercise of this kind the brief necessarily had to be limited in length, which necessitated being selective in the material covered.
However, regarding the questions, there was general agreement as to their insipidity & striking avoidance of issues of particular moment & also long-term relevance; focusing instead in part on slightly trivial administrative-level issues or, where issues of substance were broached, then only in a “mother pie” mode, not encouraging the participants to direct their minds to the real areas of difficulty or meaningful debate. One member suggested that 5 of the 7 questions could be characterized as being of the “Yes/No” variety.
Responses to the Questions
Q1
“How can we spend the defence budget to ensure value for money?”
Proper Management
Spending needs to be more rigorously managed. Under Labour purchasing methods & budgetary controls were woefully lacking. Have these problems now been resolved?
Are “top brass” involved in decision-making processes in the most effective way? One member suggested they were not involved early enough, which sometimes led to specifications being altered rather late in the day, with resultant waste.
Ensuring an optimal degree of the mobilization of competitive forces
While some projects may be of such a nature that only a limited field of suppliers can be invited to bid, in any case, maximum recourse – within security constraints as defined project by project – should be had to competitive processes.
Cooperation with others
See comments below (US, EEAS, CW).
Examples of “what to avoid”
• Ordering aircraft carriers before working out what kind of aircraft are to be borne
• Reducing the numbers of full-time armed forces personnel before knowing to what extent such reductions will in practice be capable of being offset by increasing the number of reservists.

Q2
“Do you support the Government’s firm stand on the sovereignty of our Overseas Territories?”
In general the answer was “yes”.
One member noted the small total population represented by all OT ie taken together.
However, another countered that geostrategic (or even economic) significance was not merely a function of size of population.
In any event, one should distinguish between two different kinds of major considerations (implicitly of relevance for all OT):

1. The self-determination question (cf Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands)
2. Geopolitical/strategic etc significance (minerals in the seabed, naval significance etc).
One member suggested that – without wanting to denigrate attention paid to OT – more attention should be paid to the potential national resource represented by the millions of British expatriates to be found all around the globe .
Q3
“Should we exercise more influence through the Commonwealth?”
All agreed with this general proposition.
Regret was expressed that CW ties have become devalued (beyond even now taking second place to those of the EU). A Canadian member pointed out that in Canada for generations massive support – in terms of men on the ground - had been given to the wars of the Empire/CW (Boer War, WWI, WWII) to a large degree out of a profound attachment to Britain as “Mother country” and source not only of many of the families living in Canada but also its law and institutions, of which most Canadians are proud. From this point of view, the CW-friendly orientation of the current government UK was to be heartily approved. It was pointed out that the present Canadian PM is a supporter of the British connection, has ordered that the portrait of the Queen be put back up in Canadian embassies across the world, has had the navy re-baptised “Royal Canadian Navy” etc. In this context, the appointment of Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England (though of course based primarily on his perceived professional competence) was to be greeted.
The fact that British expatriates in eg Australia do not have their pension payments adjusted for inflation, while those living in eg France do (by virtue of an EU requirement) did not speak well for Britain’s attachment to the CW.
What “standards” should be applied to other CW countries (wrt human rights, rule of law, respect of property rights more particularly etc)? Most agreed that a pragmatic approach was appropriate – with suspension being a sanction preferable (in appropriate cases) to expulsion. A parallel with the “Annäherungspolitik” successfully practiced by the German Federal Republic vis-à-vis the German Democratic Republic; & in the same vein, with the whole “Helsinki Movement” designed to gradually penetrate by the force of good ideas, the Soviet Block – was considered relevant here.
Q4
“How do we develop further our special relationship with the USA in the fight against terrorism, drugs, cybercrime & intelligence-gathering?”
Notwithstanding the present “tra-la-la” regarding NSA surveillance of allies activities, support was expressed without dissent for the close relationship between the UK & the USA (as well as Australia, Canada & NZ) in intelligence sharing. It was pointed out that attempts by N Sarkozy to have France “admitted to the club” were blocked by the US including the present US president.
Q5
“Have we got the balance right on our own spending on soft power?”
General support was expressed for nurturing GB’s “soft power” - & it was agreed (as pointed out in the brief) that its current level of the same is very high, because of not only the place of the English language in the world but also because of the prestige – fully deserved of course! – attaching to many things British (political institutions & culture, military & intelligence prowess, the Monarchy, London, political & economic thinkers, the many vectors of British culture & institutions around the globe, etc).
BBC World Service
Having the financing of the same transferred from FCO to the shoulders of the taxpayers was considered by all to be a big mistake: a very valuable resource risked being trimmed down because many taxpayers would not be knowledgeable enough to appreciate its great value to the UK.
British Council
While its different centres may function quite differently according to local situations, general support was expressed for sustaining this institution.

One member suggested however that in Russia it was being too aggressive, & inappropriately allying itself against the government of the day, producing an inevitable reaction having the unfortunate effect of making the overall relationship with Russia more difficult than it need be.
Would a similar analysis apply in Egypt? Members were not sure how to respond to that question.
In many places though the BC could do very valuable work, eg in African countries in countering the influence of China.
Q6
“Is the public sufficiently aware of government efforts to warn British citizens of threats before they travel and support themwhen in difficulties overseas?”
“Sufficiently aware”
Reference was made to the “email service” – allowing an individual to sign up for email alerts by country & in this way receive alerts as to brewing trouble in one of his selected countries were that the case.
This service was considered useful but not sufficient.
The closing of the passport office at the GB embassy in Paris was deemed regrettable: replacing or renewing a passport was now a more burdensome & time-consuming procedure.
The “Emergency Travel Document” was referred to. One member had been able to receive such a document quickly when needed on a given occasion while abroad. Was this document however too narrow in its scope (apparently only allowing the person to travel back to his place of residence but not to other countries)?
At least one member considered that GB consular services were not on a par with those of France (supporting details not however provided).
Q7
“Should we sharer more joint missions with other EU or CW countries?”
EU
While no opposition to the general notion was expressed, the existence of differing interests & viewpoints was recalled – thus limiting the scope for “joint missions”.
Regarding the EEAS: again it was stated that this should not be allowed to replace national foreign policy instruments; but if recourse to EEAS could allow savings to be realized here & there, so much the better.
One member suggested that the question of what might be considered to be appropriate areas of joint endeavor depended also on how Britain saw its place in the world over the longer term. A willingness to share a common destiny (or merely to embrace one bound to exist in any case) would affect the perception of what deserved to be embarked upon with fellow Europeans.
Most or all present approved the deepened defence relationship with France including its long-terrm dimension.
CW
Not specifically discussed but see above § 3.