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Hague: Foreign Affairs may be the greatest of all challenges for the next government of this country

In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague said:

"A few months ago, in the refugee camps of Darfur, I met people whose homes had been torched, relatives killed and families driven from their land.

Looking into their frightened, vulnerable eyes reminded me, more than any statistic or chart ever could, that politics is about much more than what we do here at home.

And is it not one of the great things about our country, whether in leading the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, or fighting alone against Fascism in 1940, or sending the bravest soldiers on earth to try today to prevent Afghanistan becoming a terrorist state once more, that we have never shirked our responsibility to stand for peace, order and compassion in the rest of the world?

In our approach to foreign policy we will never forget that there are people in Burma and Darfur who have to fight for their very lives, and indeed under other despotic and vile regimes such as that of Zimbabwe.

In this country the language of human rights has sometimes been cheapened by laws that are out of touch with the people.

But the right of a Burmese family not to be exterminated on the grounds of their ethnicity, the rights of farmers in Darfur not to be driven from their land by their own government, the rights of people in Zimbabwe to have a life expectancy beyond their thirties - these are real human rights that British people should be proud to justify and uphold.

Although our home is here on these islands, we know enough of the vast scale of human trafficking and drug running, and the speed with which terrorists can move and conflicts spread, to know that isolation can never be our creed.

Foreign affairs may be the greatest of all challenges for the next government of this country. And our mission in preparing for government is simply stated: to understand the world we will be dealing with, and to do so with humility and patience.

When David Cameron went to India last month, and at the same time George Osborne went to Japan and Liam Fox and I went to China, we went because we sense that Britain needs to make far more of the shift of the world's economic weight to the nations of the East and we want to understand how.

We need to understand how we can make the most, at a time when revolutionary Islamic terrorism is the greatest threat to our security, of those many Muslim nations in the Gulf and North Africa who wish to be our friends - avoiding the divisive rhetoric of a clash of civilisations - and championing the great strategic goal of bringing Turkey into the European Union.

We need to understand the politics and intentions of a country like Iran, whose breach of the non-proliferation treaty must be resisted with united resolve, and ensure that other nations can be confident of access to peaceful nuclear power provided they desist from the utter folly of nuclear weapons proliferation.

We need to be able to make much more of a body Labour ministers hardly ever mention: the Commonwealth.

We need to muster a global alliance on climate change as purposeful as any alliance of armies.

We need to know how we can manage an alliance with the United States that is not seen as one-sided; that is solid but never slavish. And how, as we face opponents who cannot be defeated by military force alone, we can use the greatest values of our free societies - our openness to fresh ideas and our respect for the rights of others - to inspire our friends and isolate our enemies, which means never besmirching those values by the abuse of prisoners or the abandonment of our own rule of law.

Our foreign policy, as David Cameron set out on September 11th, will be that of liberal conservatives, supportive of spreading freedom and humanitarian intervention, but recognising the complexities of human nature and sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world.

It will require understanding as well as resolve to defeat terrorists whose murder of innocent civilians can never be defended or excused.

It will recognize that that we are much stronger working through NATO, the UN, or the G8 than when acting alone.

And just as communism was defeated not only by arms but by ideas, so our own moral authority is vital to the defeat of our newest enemies.

That means force is a last resort. It means that whenever British troops are sent to war there should be a debate and a vote in parliament.

It means learning from past mistakes, and it cannot now be doubted that the terrible failure to plan for the aftermath of the war in Iraq, leaving our soldiers and our many friends there exposed, was one of them.

It means we have to be wise as well as strong.

And we must be wise too in our dealings with the nations of Europe, ready to give the new leadership which a European Union in crisis so desperately needs, but firm at all times that we will give up no more of the powers and rights of this country.

Tony Blair was convinced that he could take Britain into both the euro and the European Constitution. He will leave office with the Constitution demolished by the good voters of France and Holland, and no person in their right mind advocating British membership of the euro. After lecturing us for years about what he could achieve by going along with every fad and fashion, he ended up giving up £7 billion of our rebate with absolutely nothing in return in an act of shameful surrender.

The British people believe that political integration has gone far enough, and so do we. So we renew this pledge: that under a Conservative Government there would be no Treaty changes that transfer more competences to the EU without a referendum of the British people.

And there must be no introduction of the EU Constitution through the back door, nor any yielding of our veto over justice and home affairs.

Because we have, for years, said 'no' to bad ideas we have been depicted as the nay-sayers, even little Englanders, as we warned against the grandest follies of European political integration. But now, as high unemployment and chronic low growth threatens much of Europe with a profound social, political and economic crisis, it is our turn to set the positive agenda and lead the debate.

There are some who still hold to the fifty year old dream of ever closer union. They reject a wider Europe for fear of losing their cherished goal of a deeper Europe. But that course would deny what is best about the European Union for the sake of what is worst. Europe is at its best when it admits new members - look at how countries like Spain and Poland have been transformed for the better by the EU. But Europe is at its worst when political elites try to force their peoples to embrace bureaucratic empires.

Others condemn the EU in its entirety. But as we champion a new vision for Europe and make great friendships among its newest members, it would be extraordinary for us to turn our backs on them and myopic to advocate withdrawal. I am as convinced as ever that our place is to be in Europe but not run by Europe.

Timothy Kirkhope has explained the purpose of our Movement for European Reform and why are establishing a new group in the European Parliament. Jan Zahradil has demonstrated the enthusiasm of our allies. Now we must show the power of our ideas, of turning away from political uniformity to economic freedom, of building a Europe of co-operating nations rather than of ever-closer union, of vibrant flexibility rather than stultifying rigidity.

In place of the culture of hopelessness that prevails today, I am determined that we will take our message far and wide, and that young politicians and thinkers will have the chance to hear of a better way for a new generation, and give them the chance to share in the dynamism of Asia and America.

This then will be our approach: Recognising that rarely have the challenges in foreign policy been harder, but knowing too that never has our opportunity to use our values to do good for ourselves and our world been greater.

Our country enjoys a unique position - the place where America, Europe and the Commonwealth meet.

Our outlook has always been global. So let us now bring to our unique role

• The extension and broadening of our alliances

• The enhancing of our moral authority

• The understanding of other continents

• And the much needed reform of our own

Let us make this part of our New Direction, and part of the excitement, purpose and resolve of a new Conservative government."

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