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William Hague: The biggest risk for Britain is five more years of Brown

A British General Election is now imminent, and given that it is common ground that any new government will face an exceptional range of challenges in international relations, defence, security and diplomacy it is timely to set out how a new Conservative Government will conduct the foreign policy of Britain.

If we are the elected government after 6th May, or whatever the date may be, we will work to the framework I will set out today.

At Chatham House in January 2007 and at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in July 2009, I set out five themes to guide our foreign policy. I believe those themes have stood the test of time, are likely to do so in office, and they continue to provide the framework for this updated statement of our intentions.

Over the last four years my team and I have visited more than 50 countries, received delegations from the majority of countries in the world and tried to stand back and look at the longer-term forces, as well as the day-to-day crises, with which we may have to deal.

One of the most challenging of these forces is the shrinking of the British economy relative to the rest of the world. To some extent this is inevitable: the economic rise of such nations as China, India and Brazil necessarily reduces the share of world output of more established, slower growing industrial economies, but it will be the tragic legacy of the current Labour government that it will have accelerated and intensified the reduction in our relative economic weight with all that means for the clout we carry in world affairs. According to a report in December by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, the UK will drop out of the world's top ten economies by 2015, falling behind not only China, Brazil, Russia and India but also our neighbours France and Italy. Furthermore, in taking Britain downwards not only in relative economic size but also in every league table of competitiveness, and dramatically so in every league table of the attractiveness of our tax and regulatory system to the rest of the world, the Brown government has done serious damage to the perception of Britain as a home for enterprise, wealth creation, new ideas and opportunity. While Tony Blair happily strode the world on the back of the British economic reputation burnished under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, those who come after Gordon Brown will have to work harder to lift this country up after the thirteen years that he has spent diminishing its economic status.

President Obama recently argued that "Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry...Over the past several years...we failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy." He was right. And his argument which indeed I made in my speech last July, applies to this country too, and it makes the restoration of our economic fortunes under a new government, with lower deficits, simpler taxes and the opening up of Britain as the natural home for international business the indispensable foundation stone of the construction of effective foreign policy.

Our ability to undertake economic modernisation will be critical to Britain's future influence. When capital, labour and technology are increasingly mobile we cannot stand still. That is why James Dyson's report about how we can give more weight to science and technology in our economy is so welcome. That is why our proposals on business taxation are oriented towards attracting and maintaining investment, why our programme of education reform explicitly draws from best practice across the globe, from Alberta to Sweden to Singapore, to ensure we make the most of every young person's talent in the future.

But the change, the modernisation, our economy needs is not guaranteed. If our opponents' mistaken arguments and mistaken principles prevailed Britain will move backwards towards a '70s style model, with a bigger say for the trade unions who want to impose rigidity and unaffordable regulation across the public and private sector. The bridge will be drawn up against innovation and investment. 

The dominant current within Labour is no longer the outward-looking thinking of the late 1990s, but an explicitly old-fashioned Left approach. The clearest example is that the Labour Party candidates who are being selected are not the figures of distinction from outside the traditional Labour tent whom Tony Blair sought to win, but hardened union activists with a track record in resisting modernisation: Five more years of Gordon Brown would mean that this country would be associated across the world with risky and unaffordable debt, lack of discipline over spending and trade union power.

The Prime Minister spoke this morning about the economy. Gordon Brown is right - the economy is at a crossroads. We could continue with five more years of his debt, waste and taxes. We know where that would lead - just yesterday an international credit rating agency warned that Labour's plans would result in the loss of our credit rating.

That would be a catastrophe for our economy and for our reputation around the world. So the biggest risk for Britain is five more years of Gordon Brown. The alternative is to change direction, deal with our debts more quickly and restore confidence in our economy. A new Conservative Government will be a chance to send the signal far and wide that Britain is once again open for business.
 
Now there are some people who argue that Britain's current economic shrinkage must mean a continuing strategic shrinkage. Let me emphasise, as I did last July, that we will reject strategic shrinkage. We have not waited thirteen years to return to office simply to oversee the management of Britain's decline in world affairs. Of course it is true that Britain, even acting in conjunction with our allies, is much less able to get its way than would have been the case decades ago. I have pointed out before that if the entire European economy is only going to represent 10% of world economic output by the middle of the twenty-first century then sanctions policies even agreed by the entire continent will hold little fear for other nations. It is also true that in an age where power has become more diffuse and multi-polar, much foreign policy work must take place in multilateral organisations, in which even the United States, let alone the United Kingdom, will always need to win wider support for its views.

Yet we must not conclude from these trends that we must be less active in the world as the United Kingdom. On the contrary, if we are to fall to being the eleventh largest of the world's economies in five years' time, then we had better make a better fist of being highly active and influential in the G20. If more decisions are to be made in multilateral fora and if it has become even more important than it was to work with other nations across the globe, then Britain must make the most of leveraging the considerable advantages it still retains in world affairs. If our influence is under challenge, which it certainly is, then our approach must not be to limp away disconsolately, but to pick ourselves up and make the most, systematically and strategically, of our great national assets.

We should not be ashamed to say that we will use those assets to promote the British national interest, and indeed what I have termed our "enlightened national interest" of upholding our values and supporting our friends and allies. Our assets include armed forces that are among the finest in the world, a skilled diplomatic corps, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and membership of NATO, a major role in the affairs of the European Union, historic links with many nations outside North America and Europe, an exceptionally strong relationship with the United States of America, a bipartisan approach to many aspects of foreign policy, all the influence that comes from being a global trading nation and the home of one of the great languages of the human race, and cultural and educational assets that are the envy of many nations. Not to make the most of these assets and advantages would manifestly be against our own national interest and the interests of generations of British people to come. In my mind, therefore, the correct response to the great challenge of Britain accounting for a smaller proportion of the world's economic activity is not to retreat into our shell with ever few embassies and consulates and armed forces whose power cannot be projected in the world; it is to make our efforts in international affairs more ingenious, more productive, better organised and unashamedly devoted to making the most of advantages we already possess.

The economic opportunity of our own citizens requires our engagement with world affairs to be enhanced and more effective, but the clinching argument is that so does their future security. We should always be optimists about human nature and we should always try to overcome great difficulties in foreign affairs with peaceful diplomacy. But even while maintaining such innate optimism, it is necessary to recognise that the world may well become more dangerous in the decades to come. We face the increased prevalence of state failure in countries vulnerable to terrorist networks, private armies and organised crime and the increasingly transnational dimension of terrorism which has brought rapidly multiplying threats to our own national security and that of our allies: coupled with these factors is the changing character of conflict from conventional to irregular warfare which makes it harder for states to assert and protect themselves. Chronic poverty in the developing world leaves many countries open to these dangerous trends.

And on top of all of this come two central challenges which are particularly momentous in the danger they represent because once they are allowed to take root they cannot be uprooted at least for generations to come.

One of these is the onset of climate change, manifesting itself in foreign affairs as environmental degradation and an increased risk of conflict.

The second such force is the spread of nuclear science, bringing not only the benefit of civil nuclear energy but the growing risk of the spread of nuclear weapons and the shattering of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a fundamental cornerstone of human security for more than forty years. If Iran's nuclear programme leads to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East then the world's most unstable region will increasingly be populated with the world's most destructive weapons.

The imminence and scale of such threats to British and indeed global security will have a major bearing on our approach to foreign policy. In addition, however, they add to the need for Britain to work harder to exert her influence rather than to accept a decline in it. Not only because Britain can play a crucial role in helping to find the necessary global and regional solutions to these great dangers, but because we must recognise that in this more dangerous world no other nation or group of nations are going to increase the protection they afford us, and the essential alliances we enjoy with the United States and European nations depend directly on us continuing to do a great deal to defend and protect our own interests for ourselves.

And the final but no less compelling reason why we must maintain British engagement in and influence on world affairs is, simply put, that it is an indispensable part of the British character. It was British people who led the campaign to drive the slave trade from the seas; it was our parliament that demanded accountability in the conduct of colonial rule; it was Britain that played a leading role in ending the Cold War, it is our country that gives so generously today for the development of other nations. We will not turn our back on the suffering of others and it is not in our character to have a foreign policy without a conscience.

David Cameron and I and our colleagues derive our "liberal conservatism" in foreign affairs from this. For we combine a belief in freedom, human rights and democracy with a scepticism of utopian schemes to remake the world, a cherishing of what works well in practice and a strong belief in the continued relevance of the nation state. As David has put it, "my instinct is to work patiently with the grain of human nature; with the flow of culture, tradition and history".

How then are we going to achieve this arresting of British decline in the world, this more systematic and strategic approach to making the most of our national advantages?

At the deepest level such objectives rest on a revival of economic confidence, openness and competence. A second requirement is that the foreign policy arm of British government must have the institutional capacity and ambition to lead such a process. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office must be equipped for that purpose, not only in its people and organisation but in its sense of what can be achieved and in its ability to exert its own influence across the rest of government. The raw material is certainly there: I believe the Foreign Office possesses many people of great calibre and dedication. But I also believe that the Foreign Office as an institution has in recent years not been encouraged to have ambition. The decision-making methods of the Labour government, now being steadily and painfully documented at the Iraq Inquiry, have placed a lower value on actual experience overseas than is wise or right. Foreign Office staff surveys have shown some sharp ups and downs in morale; and the last two years have witnessed the extraordinary episode of the Treasury succeeding in transferring to the Foreign Office the entire exchange rate risk that comes from having to maintain over half its total expenditure in foreign currencies, and doing so just before a very sharp decline in the purchasing power of the pound.

It cannot be a sensible or economically efficient way to run a foreign ministry to say that if the value of its home currency goes down in any given year its embassies and consulates must be sharply cut back and if it goes up, they could conceivably enjoy an increase in expenditure. Indeed, this is so inappropriate a way to run a foreign ministry that I have yet to discover any other such instance in the world.

That Foreign Office Ministers agreed to this in late 2007 shows the most breath-taking naivety, and has lead to sharp and unplanned reductions in numbers of staff at key embassies, reductions in travel for diplomats and cuts to programmes such as conflict prevention. A recently announced emergency package to try to put right some of this damage is largely funded by unspecified sales of the Foreign Office's own assets and so far unspecified reductions in the budget of the British Council, and it only applies to the current financial year. Make no mistake, under a Conservative government the pressure to achieve greater efficiency in Whitehall spending will be intense, including in the Foreign Office. But whatever the level of resources available, funding the Foreign Office in accordance with movements in the exchange rate cannot possibly be right.

The undervaluing of the Foreign Office in the current government is also borne out by the extraordinary turnover in junior Ministers. Under the current Foreign Secretary, the average tenure of the other Ministers serving with him has been thirteen months. In foreign affairs personal knowledge, personal acquaintance and personal continuity matters. There seems to be no appreciation of this on the part of the Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary. David Cameron is determined to do things differently.

An effective British foreign policy will require, however, a great deal more than a rejuvenated Foreign Office and this brings me to the five vital themes which are at the heart of our approach.

<h2>IMPROVING THE DECISION-MAKING OF GOVERNMENT</h2>

The first of these themes is learning from past mistakes to improve the decision-making of British government. Again, the processes of government are not sufficient on their own to achieve our objectives, but getting those processes right is a fundamental requirement, particularly in an area of policy where unexpected events occur so frequently. We therefore argued from 2006 onwards that it was vital to hold an inquiry into the conduct and aftermath of the Iraq war so that the lessons, including those that might apply to operations in Afghanistan, could be learned. If the inquiry had been set up when we proposed it, it would be over by now, its results there for all to see, and all parties able to make use of it in planning for the future. As it is, the ham-fisted short-term tactical approach to such issues of Downing Street at present meant that the inquiry was delayed until its conclusions could only be available after the General Election and after a damaging attempt to hold its proceedings in secret.
What has emerged so far in the Iraq inquiry has greatly strengthened the case for a further proposal we have advanced for some years; the creation of a true National Security Council at the heart of British government, chaired by the Prime Minister or in his absence by the Foreign Secretary and bringing together on a very regular basis the work of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development and Ministers responsible for other relevant matters such as energy security and cyber security.

This will not be a new department but it will be a powerful centre of decision-making, supported by its own secretariat and by a high-ranking official designated as the government's National Security Adviser. It will be supported by a cross-departmental committee of permanent secretaries of the relevant departments ensuring that the planning and co-operation necessary for the Security Council to function effectively is taking place.

It is true that the Prime Minister did set up in July 2007 a National Security Committee of the Cabinet, seemingly in response to this proposal. But this body met only three times in the twenty months that followed and while recently it has met more frequently, it has not be turned into the robust and properly supported structure that is needed.

A government with a proper National Security Council would not have cut the helicopter budget while operations in Iraq were at their height and operations in Afghanistan in the offing, and it would not have taken vital National Security decisions, as Clare Short described the scene, in meetings which "there were never papers. There were little chats about things". In our new government, if elected, decisions about national security and international relations will be taken together, with the advice of the Armed Services Chiefs, the Intelligence Agencies and the Foreign Office experts available and in meetings which are properly minuted and recorded.

This approach, coupled with a stronger personal and political connection between the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the day, should help to avoid some of the mishaps and mistakes on foreign policy that have occurred under the current Prime Minister, who has twice announced sanctions on Iran which have never materialised and who pledged British naval resources to stop smuggling into Gaza which have never been deployed.

It is the National Security Council in a new Conservative government that will conduct the Strategic Defence and Security Review which is so long overdue. We are determined that that review will be foreign policy-led and will form the basis for the thinking and strategy not only of the Ministry of Defence, but of the entire British government. Being foreign policy-led does not, of course, mean that such a review is not financially informed but it does mean that the thinking is done in a properly integrated way.

In my view there are at least seven key objectives of Defence policy which arise naturally out of Conservative foreign policy. One, to be able to defend the United Kingdom itself against any remotely likely threat. Two, to be able to defend Britain's overseas territories against any likely threat. Three, to ensure that we are able to come to the aid of any NATO ally in a militarily significant way in accordance with our Article 5 obligations. Four, to retain the ability to project power on a strategic level when working alongside the United States or France, with speed, precision, safety and effect. Five, to be able to conduct extended stabilisation, reconstruction and humanitarian operations. Six, to extend meaningful military and political co-operation within elevated bilateral relationships with certain nations, and seven, to enhance the influence of the United Kingdom by leveraging our national advantages, such as in Special Forces, intelligence, diplomacy and defence industries.
Such objectives will no doubt be elaborated on and redefined when we come to conduct the review, but they illustrate the direction of our thinking. Our national security approach also illustrates that under a Conservative government with David Cameron as Prime Minister, proper Cabinet government will be restored. Our armed forces have never let us down, and the way in which we make decisions about their use must never let them down.

<h2>THE TRANSATLANTIC ALLIANCE</h2>

Our second theme continues to be our commitment to the transatlantic alliance: the "solid but not slavish relationship" of which David Cameron and I have often spoken. We are clear that in matters of intelligence, nuclear weapons, diplomacy or commerce, the close alliance with the United States will remain indispensable to the United Kingdom. Britain will sometimes differ in its policy from America even though our shared interests and values mean that we will on most occasions wish to act together. As America's close friend, it also falls to us sometimes to impart a frank message.

We fully support the major foreign policy initiatives launched so far by the Obama administration and have established the relations necessary to be able to work closely with both President Obama and Secretary Clinton from the first day of a new government. At the same time we are conscious that 2010 seems likely to prove still more challenging a year in foreign affairs for the US administration than 2009. In 2009 President Obama quite rightly extended a hand of friendship in new directions, such as towards the Iranian leadership, and made a fresh attempt to put new momentum into stalled diplomatic processes, in particular the Middle East Peace Process. In 2010 he, his advisers and his allies face the question of what to do when some of these enjoinders to solve differences are not heeded by the parties or countries involved.
Relations with Iran are the most obvious example of where laudable efforts to create fresh diplomatic progress have so far been spurned. Iran's lack of co-operation with the IAEA warrants a firm and strongly reinforced response from the rest of the world and it seems likely that this issue will be one of the most pressing in foreign affairs at the time any new government takes office in Britain.

In the Conservative party we have long advocated intensive and creative diplomacy behind the scenes, a resolute display of unity from European countries and tough action at the United Nations Security Council. Unless Iran changes course, we will do our utmost to secure such action, which in our view should include the imposition by the UN of a full arms embargo, a ban on the provision of military training and support services to Iran, a ban on oil and gas investment and an inspections regime to choke off nuclear smuggling to Iran as well as the full enforcement of existing sanctions. The EU is Iran's largest trading partner and action in this area is an opportunity for Europe to show how it can use its collective weight in the world. We believe that European measures should additionally include the mirroring of US financial sanctions, action against other Iranian banks and the blacklisting of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Countries that hold out against sanctions on Iran should consider the consequences of inaction for future nuclear proliferation.

The most crucial area in which we will need to work alongside our American colleagues from the very beginning is Afghanistan which, along with the related issue of Pakistan, is likely to be our most urgent preoccupation in the days following a General Election victory. We are committed to NATO's operations in Afghanistan and we support the new strategy that has emerged from the Obama administration's review and the Afghan conference here in London. It is right that every effort is made to reverse the Taliban's momentum and to increase Afghanistan's capacity to create the conditions for transition to Afghan control.

We would come to office at a time when a new strategy is part way through being implemented, including vital military operations, and we believe that the correct course would be to give that strategy the necessary time and support to succeed. We would give unremitting attention to the effectiveness, safety and welfare of our armed forces deployed in the Afghanistan theatre of operations. Alongside that, we will work with our NATO allies and the government of Afghanistan to ensure that an effective political process and development work accompanies military gains, turning the extraordinary efforts of our forces and those of our allies into stable and enduring conditions on the ground. The Afghan government must of course implement its commitments on administrative reforms, corruption and ensuring free and fair parliamentary elections later this year.

A Conservative government will also give particular emphasis to helping Pakistan transform itself into a more stable, prosperous and democratic state, capable of controlling terrorist threats inside and outside its borders and actively working to prevent further nuclear proliferation. The multiplicity of British connections to Pakistan through families and history gives Britain a particular role in supporting Pakistan's democratic future.

The Middle East Peace Process is a third area in which an incoming British government must work closely with the United States. On this issue there is a strong continuity of policy across British political parties, fully in support of a two-state solution but with the accompanying assessment that unless progress is made soon such a solution may become impossible to achieve. Like the current government we look to Israel to freeze settlement activity and to open up Gaza to permit the reconstruction of the homes and livelihoods of ordinary Palestinians. Like them, we also look to Palestinians to adhere to the Quartet principles of forswearing violence and recognising the right of Israel to exist. We want the new generation of Palestinians in Gaza to grow up in hope not despair believing in a peaceful settlement with Israel, not impoverished and susceptible to terrorist recruitment. And we want the next generation of Israelis to live free from the fear of rocket fire and able to enjoy peaceful relations with their Arab neighbours. We cannot deliver this for either side but as friends to both Israelis and Palestinians we should help by trying to preserve the framework within which negotiations can take place and by joining the United States in giving whatever impetus we can to achieving a two-state solution before the time to do so runs out.

In all of these areas, the intimacy and candour of US-UK relations at their best will be needed. The relationship with the United States will therefore remain as it has been since the Second World War, an irreplaceable bond in the conduct of our foreign policy. Yet at the same time we must acknowledge that a vast proportion of the world's economic activity, followed inevitably by its political weight, has moved in recent decades beyond the confines of Europe and North America.

<h2>ALLIANCES AND FRIENDSHIPS</h2>

This brings me to our third theme, one that is it vital to the development of a distinctive British foreign policy, namely the freshening and deepening of alliances and friendships beyond Europe and the United States.

We should not take for granted our strong links and co-operation with New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Our deep friendship with these countries flows easily onwards, but I was surprised to discover recently that no British Foreign Secretary has visited Australia since the last Conservative Government. Nor must we neglect to build on our solid co-operation with Japan, a country often unaccountably omitted from roll calls of the world's new leading nations even though it is the second largest economy in the world and plays an important role in non-proliferation efforts, for example. The fact that in a crisis we can count on thinking and acting in a like-minded fashion with these countries is an enormous asset and we should invest more effort in our relationship with them.

A second obvious area is the Gulf and North Africa where many nations are seeking a closer relationship with Britain. Stability and progress in these countries remains critical to our interests, their commerce is of enormous value to us, and the strategic need for firm friends in the Middle East is very clear. The case for an across-the-board strengthening of bilateral links with some of these countries is very strong.

The same is true of India, where we have not made the most of all the opportunities our relations hold. The UK and India have a unique relationship on which we should build. It is true too of some countries of Latin America, a neglected region in British foreign policy.

My view is that British government is not currently well-equipped to pursue, in a sustained and strategic fashion, the enhancement of key bilateral relationships, driven from the highest levels of government and involving a determined drive to intensify cultural, educational, commercial, diplomatic and in some cases military links. The current government has never adopted such an approach, let alone put energy behind it and the Foreign Office has lacked the weight in government to deliver such an approach in practice. We are determined to change that, using the National Security Council as a key Committee of the Cabinet to bring domestic government departments into the enhancement of key bilateral relationships as part of a programme that will be sustained over many years.

The same consistency must apply to our bilateral relationships with Russia and China.

We have always said that under a Conservative Government the door will be open to improved relations with Russia. We are under no illusions about the areas in which we differ and about how difficult this task may be, but we have common interests which we must work on together. We have begun this work in Opposition and have established a relationship with our counterparts in Moscow.

It is similarly in our strategic national interest to broaden and sustain our dialogue with China, standing firm on human rights but strengthening a relationship in which even when there is a sharp disagreement neither side will walk away. In particular we shall putting our support behind further business and economic cooperation and educational and cultural exchanges.  There are many issues where we would like to see China play a bigger role. With economic development come international responsibilities and we look to China to play her part in addressing international challenges. 

We will also change the present Government's neglectful attitude towards the Commonwealth, failing to appreciate its unique value as a network of states whose achievements can make a difference to the lives of two billion citizens and which could have a greater role to play in climate change, conflict prevention and conflict resolution, including in Africa.
 
But we must bear in mind that there cannot have a one size fits all policy towards Africa. The continent is extraordinarily diverse and our policy cannot be uniform.  While focussing on good governance and the democratic institutions -courts, civil society and justice - that are the bedrock of more stable societies - we would also work to sharpen the international focus on conflict prevention and effective diplomacy, rallying international action on issues such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

<h2>INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS</h2>

The fourth theme of Conservative Foreign policy is the effective reform, use and development of international institutions and here we must start in our immediate neighbourhood.

The European Union is obviously an institution of enormous importance to the United Kingdom and its foreign policy. The Conservative Party has seldom shied away from frank criticism when we have thought the EU collectively has been getting things wrong but we have equally been the foremost champions of the EU's greatest achievements: the Single Market and enlargement.

If we win the coming general election, it is our firm intention that a Conservative government will be active and activist in the European Union from day one, energetically engaging with our partners. We will be highly active in furthering the Single Market, in promoting European co-operation on the environment and climate change, on energy security, on pressing for freer and fairer global trade that will benefit not just the peoples of Europe but the world's poorest who have not enjoyed the gains of globalisation.

We will uphold our conviction that the widening of the European Union, including to Turkey, is in Europe's collective interest.

The EU's future 2020 strategy on jobs and growth will, if we get it right, have an important contribution to enhancing Europe's competitiveness. The European Conservatives and Reformists Group's submission on the Strategy is a valuable contribution to the debate.

Unlike some, we read the Lisbon Treaty very closely. Our criticisms are on the record. Part of our critique was that far from making the EU more streamlined and efficient, as many claimed, it would lead to bureaucratic turf wars between European institutions. The current situation shows that reading to have been accurate. It remains our view that the denial of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was an appalling breach of faith with the voters and has done serious damage to the EU's democratic legitimacy in the United Kingdom. David Cameron has set out in detail the Conservative Party's response to the Lisbon Treaty's entry into force, and that of course remains our position.

But whatever our disagreements on that Treaty, we intend to maintain and value the bonds of our relationships with our European partners. I am grateful for the time spent by the foreign ministers of our partners, Bernard Kouchner, Franco Frattini, Radek Sikorski, Miguel Moratinos, Carl Bildt and others, who have ensured that the channels of communication have been open, and [later this month]  I look forward to meeting Guido Westerwelle in Berlin.

The success of the new External Action Service will have considerable bearing on the future success of the European Union's global role. The Conservative Party was not convinced of the case for such a Service, but its existence is now a fact. A Conservative government will work closely with the High Representative, whom we wish well.

While we have had differences over the utility and purpose of institutional structures, we have always argued that it is in all our common interests that the nations of the European Union use their collective weight in the world to our mutual advantage and in the promotion of our shared values. I have often argued that the nations of Europe have demonstrated insufficient determination and consistency in the delivery of our foreign policy goals. A Conservative government will be a strong advocate of the European Union's collective demonstration of those qualities.

We will give urgent attention to these areas of common interest.  The western Balkans are the European Union's backyard, and its credibility in foreign affairs depends on the effectiveness of its policy there. On Bosnia, in particular, there is a need for a more muscular and demanding European policy which should be capable of using sticks as well as carrots. The European Union needs to show unity and purpose in its relations with Russia, where a balanced and constructive partnership would be desirable. Further afield, the European Union should prove that we have the political will to deliver the appropriate response to the Iranian Government's stance on nuclear proliferation.

So, with a Conservative government, Britain will play a leading role in external affairs discussions within the European Union.

Turning briefly to other international treaties and institutions, we are mindful that we may take office during the NPT Review Conference, which may be one of our last remaining opportunities to prevent a new age of nuclear insecurity. I have made two separate speeches on this subject and will set out our thinking again as we approach the Conference, but a successful outcome will rest on reviving the consensus between the nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states on which the Treaty rests.

We will be a strong advocate for the reform of international institutions, including the reform of the UN Security Council and a re-design of the governance structures of the World Bank and IMF. We recognise that reaching international agreement on these will require political will and patience but we must invest time and energy in the task if our multilateral institutions are to be effective and reflect the distribution of power in the twenty-first century not the early 20th.

<h2>UPHOLDING OUR VALUES</h2>

The fifth and final theme which will run throughout the foreign policy of a Conservative Government is the upholding of the highest values of our society - political freedom, democratic choice, economic liberalism, human rights, free trade and the eradication of poverty - so that even if Britain holds a smaller share of the world's wealth we will be among those nations that set an example that can be inspiring to people across the world who are denied liberty or power over their own lives, just as it may encourage in the right direction those who have that power. This involves taking a long hard look when we ourselves make mistakes or are seen, rightly or wrongly, not to adhere to the highest standards. Only then can we lead by example.

A Conservative Government would maintain a commitment to achieving the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income as aid by 2013. We will champion a new approach to aid to ensure that assistance reaches those who need it. We will immediately review the list of countries currently receiving British aid so we can concentrate on those where it will make the most difference, and as set out in our One World Conservatism Green Paper, we will move towards results-based aid, giving financial assistance to governments only when development results have actually been achieved. Given that successful development policy depends overwhelmingly on economic growth and trade we will do more to help developing countries in areas such as determining property rights, building effective public services and establishing access to global markets, stability, security and the rule of law.

<h2>A DISTINCTIVE BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY</h2>

This then is how a Conservative Government would approach foreign policy; recognising the erosion in Britain's international position under the present Government, determined to reject strategic shrinkage and to build up British influence, consciously promoting Britain's enlightened national interest and creating the relationships that Britain needs to maintain its influence in the 21st Century.

Although there is much welcome bipartisanship in foreign policy there have undoubtedly been failures in Labour's approach. Their disjointed sofa-government approach to foreign policy led to failures of planning in Iraq and, at times, a lack of coherence in Afghanistan. They have also been slow to recognise that a comprehensive approach to international relations is now essential, and there has been no distinctive British foreign policy. Britain's friendships and alliances beyond Europe and North America have been inadequately developed. This would be a serious error at any time, but is a particularly serious and short-sighted one as a new multipolar world evolves. With our economic prestige undermined, our reputation for delivering on our undertakings tarnished, our international profile shrunk, the need for change is clear.

We will pursue a distinctive British foreign policy founded on the five themes I have reiterated today - a major reform of decision-making in foreign policy, a renewed commitment to the transatlantic alliance, the cementing of relationships with old allies and the elevation of links with new partners, the reform and development of international institutions, including the European Union, and the upholding of our values. We will do so with energy, purpose and determination to defend and promote the enlightened national interest of the United Kingdom.

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