It is now widely understood that the financial and economic challenges to be faced by the government elected at the coming general election will be of extraordinary magnitude.
With the government's deficit as a proportion of national income running at its highest since the end of the Second World War there is no doubt that the principal legacy of the current government to its successors and to the next generation will be debt, and debt on a scale that will take many years to scale back.
Yet amidst all the attention rightly given to the massive economic challenges facing the next government, we must not neglect the need to focus at the same time on mounting external challenges which go beyond the economic sphere but which will be all the more difficult to deal with at a time when resources will necessarily be so constrained.
Any informed assessment of likely trends in world affairs over the next decade, on which our whole national future heavily depends, is a sobering one. While optimism, hope and faith in human nature must always be present in our approach to these issues we nevertheless have to recognise that the outlook in foreign affairs, just as much as in economic affairs, will require all the ability, energy and focus we can bring to it and that the pattern of events we might expect leads unmistakably and uncomfortably to a world environment in which it will be more difficult for this country and its traditional allies to achieve their foreign policy goals unless we improve the way we go about them.
Yet this country continues to possess great assets and advantages, among them a skilled and highly regarded diplomatic corps, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a bipartisan approach to certain aspects of foreign policy which has provided continuity and certainty over time, an exceptionally strong relationship with the United States of America, a major role in the affairs of the European Union, historic links with many nations outside North America and Europe, many of which are formalised in the Commonwealth, and the enormous but less tangible influence that comes from being a global trading nation and the home of one of the great languages of humanity. We also have the immense advantage of armed forces that are considered around the world to be among the finest it is possible to possess, although currently under grievous strain. The net result of such advantages is that Britain still carries far more clout in the world than its current share of the world population would suggest.
Such assets should always give us confidence and the fortifying knowledge that the foundations exist for building up British influence in selected areas if we chose to do so. At the same time, the advent of the kind of international co-operation at least discussed at recent summits of the G20, and of a new United States administration with a multilateral approach to foreign policy that provides other nations with a fresh opportunity to respond positively, both give some cause for optimism in international relations. It is not unreasonable at least to hope for advances in the Middle East Peace Process, for success in a new approach in Afghanistan, for a better era in US-Russia relations and for a more constructive response to the international community from the leadership of Iran, or a more determined effort by the international community to overcome Iranian intransigence, and while the prospect of any of these hopes coming to fruition survives it is vital for America's allies to work hard to bring that about for the good of all.
So as we survey the world's changing landscape there is no need for any of us to despair. Yet equally it would be a mistake to allow our current hopes to obscure the longer-term trends which, whatever the ups and downs of any given year, are likely to make it harder for a country such as Britain to pursue a chosen policy and to protect its interests and citizens. Looking a decade or two ahead, powerful forces of economics and demography elsewhere in the world will make it harder for us to maintain our influence. Conventional assumptions about what Britain and its main partners can readily achieve in world affairs will be eroded. And the likelihood of this happening is sufficiently great, and the challenge it will present sufficiently daunting, that it is vital we understand it and equip ourselves for it now. Simply put, Britain stands to lose a good deal of its ability to shape world affairs unless we decide we will not accept that and are prepared to do what is needed.
That there may be turbulent times ahead is a common thread running through most analyses of the next few decades. The recent report on national security by the IPPR, Shared Responsibilities, a national security strategy for the UK argued that "we have to learn to live in a more complex, less predictable environment, facing a broader spread of risks, with greater interdependence and reduced government power".
There are many specific reasons why the world looks likely to be a more dangerous rather than less dangerous place in the coming decades. For previous generations such increased danger usually occurred because of the rise of a single, dominant adversary. This is not the case in the first half of the twenty-first century, which looks likely to be characterised instead by growing political, economic and military uncertainty.
The first factor bringing such insecurity is the prevalence of state failure, the collapse of government in a country bringing vastly enhanced opportunities to develop terrorist networks, private armies, organised crime and links between all of them.
Indeed, so serious is this contagion that we may now need to speak of the emergence of what may come to be called failed or failing regions. This applies particularly to the Horn of Africa but could also apply to Afghanistan and Pakistan unless our efforts to turn the tide there succeed. This new phenomenon of failing regions will have serious consequences for our already struggling capability to reverse the decline of crumbling states, just as globalisation means that the threats within these regions cannot be easily contained.
A second factor, growing directly from the first, is the increasingly transnational dimension of terrorism. A terrorist today, for instance, may be a citizen of Somalia, who was educated in Yemen, has been trained in Pakistan and may be fighting in Afghanistan or attempting to commit a terrorist attack on the streets of Britain. This vastly complicates the task of identifying and stopping those who would attack us and requires unprecedented cooperation with our allies.
Third, and again related to the other two is the changing character of conflict from conventional to irregular warfare, exemplified by the Improvised Explosive Devices that have claimed most of the British lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq - undermining traditional military power, redefining military victory and challenging the assumption that victory on the battlefield can be swiftly be followed by development and 'nation' building. As David Kilcullen has put it in The Accidental Guerrilla, "Given overwhelming US conventional superiority, and contrary to the pre-9/11 conventional wisdom...it turns out that adversaries do not give up the armed struggle under these conditions: rather, any smart enemy goes unconventional; and most enemies are likely to continue doing so, until we demonstrate the ability to prevail in irregular conflicts such as those we are currently engaged in."
These three factors feed on and are fed by the extent of chronic poverty within the developing world which means that, despite the economic success of many developing countries, roughly 1 billion people are not only being left behind but are falling further behind, described by Paul Collier in his landmark book The Bottom Billion as "a billion people stuck in a train that is slowly rolling downhill". Poverty is not, of course, either a justification or an explanation for terrorism. But it does help to make such countries havens for threats to our national security which may include not only terrorism, but illegal trafficking and pandemic disease.
Failed states and widespread poverty are problems growing today but are scarcely new in human history. But on top of these problems, worrying enough in themselves, come two central challenges which are immense in their scope and which the world has never had to face before. The first of these is the risk of irreversible climate change. In some cases this brings a threat to the very existence of nations, as is brought home if you listen to the new and eloquent President of the Maldives describe the predicament of a country no part of which is more than six feet above sea level. A study by the UN environment programme found that the war in Darfur, one of the horrific conflicts of our times, has been driven by climate change and environmental degradation. It is easy to see how shortages of water could lead to tension and even conflict between nations. Unless enough action is taken quickly enough this phenomenon looks set to cause wars, disease, starvation or the laying waste of entire regions. It is therefore in our national interest to move to a genuinely low-carbon economy and act with our international partners to reach agreement on a successor treaty to Kyoto to reduce global emissions, keep global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius and avoid catastrophic climate change.
The second new and potentially immensely destabilising force is the spread of nuclear science. Civil nuclear energy can bring immense benefits to humanity and indeed provide part of the answer to the challenge of climate change. But the global spread of nuclear technology and materials threatens a new age of nuclear insecurity involving a rash of new nuclear weapons states or even the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists, a risk which may grow in parallel to their possible possession of chemical or biological devices. And as in the case of climate change, decisions taken in the next year or two will be crucial in determining whether this colossal risk can be minimised. After that it may be too late, for the alarming features of these two central threats are not only that they are new, and not only that their consequences are unknowable, but also that they are almost certainly not reversible once they have happened.
The list of worrying factors is by no means exhaustive: one only has to think of the many risks involved in energy security to add a further dimension, but the overall trends are clear and worrying enough. This troubling scenario is bad enough in itself, but the outlook from London, and to varying degrees from other European capitals, is further compounded in its grimness when it is understood that the relative economic power of many Western nations is in decline.
Economic success makes a big difference to foreign policy influence and sometimes quite quickly so. The economic renaissance of Britain in the 1980s undoubtedly reinforced the influence of British ministers on world affairs, something which Tony Blair was happy to enjoy while his then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was busily ruining that very renaissance. One of the damaging effects of Gordon Brown's catastrophic stewardship of Britain's finances, and of additionally reducing Britain from second to twelfth place in the international league of competitiveness according to the World Economic Forum, is the diminishing of our economic power and by extension the effectiveness of our international role.
Such additional short-term decline is exasperating because it is so unnecessary, but on top of that the huge expansion of economies such as those of China and India means that in our working lifetimes the size of the European economies relative to the rest of the world looks set to shrink dramatically. The European Commission's own projections have shown Europe's share of the world economy declining from 18% now to 10% by 2050. And even the United States is not immune from the effect of economic problems.
This diminished economic weight will have a major impact on the ability of Western nations to achieve their foreign policy goals. For instance, we are used to the idea of calling for economic sanctions against nations whose human rights records we find unacceptable, South Africa under apartheid being the celebrated cause of the effect that sanctions can have. Now we apply them to recalcitrant regimes in Burma, Zimbabwe and Iran, and indeed we may be coming very close to the time when much tougher sanctions on Iran are needed in the light of her nuclear programme. Yet it is already clear that the power of such economic weapons is declining and it follows from this analysis that it will decline much further in the years to come.
What is more, much of the economic weight in the world is passing to countries which either do not fully share our concepts of democracy and human rights or for their own reasons are opposed to interventionist approaches to foreign policy. China, which I will discuss later, is an obvious case. In recent weeks the Western boycott of financial support for Zimbabwe, designed to isolate Mugabe and encourage a democratic transition has been undermined by China's decision to provide that country with a $1 billion credit line. China gave robust support to the Sri Lankan government in the recent war, and Western countries proved unable to pass a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council calling for an investigation into alleged human rights abuses in the conflict there. India, another rising power, and the world's most populous democracy, is nevertheless traditionally not inclined to support our Western inclination to promote human rights through economic pressure and sometimes military intervention. Nor are many of the other growing economic power centres in the world, whether in Brazil or the Gulf.
Not only is the world not converging around our own democratic norms - according to the Freedom House 2009 survey, global freedom suffered its third year of decline in 2008 - but newly powerful democratic nations do not necessarily share our view of how to conduct foreign policy. In Britain, "Liberal interventionism" has generated much debate but to varying degrees all of us have subscribed to it. The economic sanctions I have mentioned have all enjoyed consensus political support, as have the military interventions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, Iraq being a much more controversial case but nevertheless heavily supported at the time. We are all agreed that we would try to intervene if another Rwanda were predicted and would like to do more in Darfur. But in the years and decades to come, the rise of other nations will constrain our ability to act in this way.
A further constraint will come in the form of tightly controlled military budgets. The extreme pressures on our own defence budget obviously necessitate a strategic defence review, which an incoming Conservative government will certainly undertake. It is crucial that such a review is informed by the changing pattern of threats I have described rather than financial considerations alone. France is also busily engaged in reshaping its armed forces. But beyond Britain and France there is no sign of other European nations making a serious effort to develop greater military capabilities. Indeed it is our criticism of EU defence arrangements that they too often involve the "rehatting" or duplication of NATO structures - just calling something European does not mean it has actually enhanced Europe's ability to act.
Does this background of a decline in our relative economic base and severe constraints on our military capabilities mean that we simply accept a much diminished role in world affairs? The United Kingdom has engaged before in major, conscious acts of strategic shrinkage, such as the withdrawal from the East of Suez after 1968. But the Conservative Party's answer to whether further such shrinkage will be right for Britain's international role in the decade to come is no. True, as a nation we will have to accustom ourselves to there being more situations which we dislike but cannot directly change but it is our contention that Britain must seek to retain her influence wherever possible and in some places seek to extend it. We must not disconsolately cease to make the effort. Foreign policy is above all about the protection and promotion of our national interest, and even narrowly defined, the British national interest requires our continued fully active engagement in world affairs since all the threatening factors I have listed are a threat to the interests of this country. 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 for ourselves.
In its broadest sense, what we might call our "enlightened national interest" requires British global engagement too. Britain will be safer if our values are strongly upheld and widely respected in the world. Nor would Britain ever be happy as a nation if we partly or largely retired from trying to influence world events. The citizens of Britain have always been restless in trying to improve the wider world and global in our outlook. We have always been at the forefront of international charity, development aid, and the welcoming of refugees. Two hundred years ago it was the Royal Navy that helped to drive the slave trade from the high seas and our parliament led the way even then in challenging the excesses of colonial rule. It is not in our character to have a foreign policy without a conscience: to be idle or uninterested while others starve or murder each other in their millions is not for us.
That is why David Cameron and I have spoken in recent years of our approach to foreign affairs being based on "Liberal Conservatism" in that we believe in freedom, human rights and democracy and want to see more of these things in other nations. But Conservative, because we believe strongly in the continued relevance of the nation state and are sceptical of grand utopian schemes to re-make the world. As David Cameron said: "My instinct is to work patiently with the grain of human nature; with the flow of culture, tradition and history."
We are conscious that our international role is no isolated subject. In such a changed world, with such stark threats, how we react to them and how Britain uses its abilities is a crucial part of who we are as a country, how we regard ourselves, and what it will mean in the next generation to be British.
So if Britain is to continue to be globally engaged in a meaningful and influential sense, albeit with a more realistic sense of the possible on how rapidly nations can be built or democracy entrenched, how on earth are we going to do it? The answer to that will constitute our approach to foreign policy, and it must necessarily involve using our resources more effectively, increasing our knowledge of other countries and often strengthening relations with them and launching and sustaining certain initiatives over many years. In January 2007 in my speech at Chatham House I set out five themes for the foreign policy of the next Conservative government. Two and a half years on they remain valid against the background I have described but it is now time to update them.
The first of these themes is learning from past mistakes to improve the decision-making of British government itself. I have already mentioned the need for a strategic defence review, and it is consistent with what I have argued that this must be focused not on whether Britain should be able to project military force elsewhere in the world but how it will do so. It is not the purpose of this speech to pre-empt in any way that review. But I wish to make clear now, first that it will be a defence and national security review, covering all aspects of Britain's security and not just the Armed Forces; second that it will be guided by the requirements of foreign policy and not solely by financial constraints; and third that we will not shrink from adapting our future Armed Forces for this changed world.
Good decision-making also requires the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be in its rightful place at the centre of decision- making. It is our intention to take a close interest not only in its day-to-day decisions but in its future as a great institution, able to attract the finest talent and, while it cannot have a monopoly of knowledge or expertise to be at the centre of Britain's thinking about and development of relationships with other nations. In my view, the sofa-style decision-making of Labour's Downing Street has often prevented it from taking this role.
The recent badly handled announcement of the Iraq War Inquiry was a classic example of decisions made hurriedly in Downing Street which the Foreign Secretary was then left to defend, underlining the fact that in modern government the Foreign Office can only exercise its proper influence if there is a close political and personal relationship between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.
A Conservative government will establish a real National Security Council as a Committee of the Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister or in his absence by the Foreign Secretary. This will bring together on a regular basis the work of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the Department for International Development and Ministers responsible for other relevant matters such as Energy. We intend this not to be a new bureaucracy but a centre of decision-making and we understand that it will only work if it is treated as such, buttressed by cross-departmental teams supporting it and covering the whole range of national security issues, not only defence and foreign policy.
The attempt by the Brown government to create a National Security apparatus in response to our demand for one has been a pitiful failure, typical, even in this vital area, of the prevalence of short-term gimmicks over sustained effort in the current administration. The National Security Committee, announced with much fanfare in July 2007 met only three times in the twenty months that followed; the Prime Minister's National Security Forum has had no discernable impact at all; and since the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy was announced a year ago its members have not even been appointed. This chronic failure to institutionalise cross-departmental working is in our view a serious impediment to the successful execution of foreign and security policies, and it is an urgent priority to rectify it. The recent decision of the US administration to institute a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review should be examined as a possibility for this country too.
The second of our crucial themes is our commitment to the transatlantic alliance, which David Cameron and I have long argued should be "solid but not slavish" in its nature. In our view, the high points of Anglo-American co-operation in the last century have been when there was not only a close relationship between British and American leaders but also the readiness to conduct a vigorous debate between them. That indeed is how we have conducted ourselves: while being absolutely clear that whether it be in matters of intelligence, nuclear weapons, diplomacy or commerce, the close alliance with the United States is and will remain indispensable to the United Kingdom. We have also imparted a frank message when needed. In my first speech as Shadow Foreign Secretary, in Washington in February 2006, I argued that in standing up for the rule of law we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it and that reports of prisoner abuse and of extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects resulted in a loss of goodwill towards America as serious to us all as the sharpest of military defeats.
The Conservative Party fully supports the foreign policy initiatives so far undertaken by the Obama administration and we are ready to work with our counterparts in Washington from the opening moments of a new government in Britain. Central to that work, and the single most urgent priority in foreign policy if and when we come to government will be the American, British and wider NATO commitment in Afghanistan.
The Conservative Party supports the deployment of our armed forces in Afghanistan. Let me be clear that we are not in Afghanistan to conquer that country but to bring about a situation where Afghans can provide for their own security and livelihoods while not presenting a danger to the rest of the world. In consequence we believe our political objectives in Afghanistan should be tightly drawn and regularly reviewed, and that ever greater priority needs to be attached to the role of the Afghan forces. Currently only 10% of them are deployed in Helmand even though 40% of the fighting is there. Everyone knows that NATO forces cannot be in Afghanistan forever, but the acceleration of the training and building up of the Afghan army would mean time would work against the Taliban instead of in their favour.
Alongside our priority to bring success to Afghanistan will be the emphasis we give to working with our international allies and friends to help Pakistan transform itself into a stable, prosperous, and democratic state, capable of controlling terrorist threats inside and outside its borders, committing to a secure Afghanistan, and actively working to limit the extent of further nuclear proliferation. The multiplicity of British connections to Pakistan, through hundreds of thousands of families as well as Pakistan's leaders, gives Britain a particular role in supporting Pakistan's democratic future.
We will also seek to buttress American efforts to give new impetus to the Middle East Peace Process, emphasising the need for a freeze on all Israeli settlement activity and adherence to the Quartet Principles by all Palestinian leaders as essential prerequisites for successful negotiations. We will also continue the process I began on our own behalf two years ago of robust dialogue with Syria, working to edge her towards playing a constructive role in the region and closer to a lasting peace deal with Israel.
The third vital theme of Conservative Foreign Policy is the freshening and deepening of alliances outside Europe and North America, an approach which is vital to the maintenance of British influence in the world given the trends in world affairs I outlined earlier. On his visit to India in 2006 David Cameron said he believed it was time for Britain and India to forge a new special relationship, focusing particularly on fighting terrorism, protecting the environment and globalisation. He said, "For too long, politics in this country has been obsessed with Europe and America. Of course these relationships are, and will continue to be, vital. But serious and responsible leadership in the twenty-first century means engaging with far greater energy in parts of the world where Britain's strategic interests will increasingly lie."
India is also a leading member of the Commonwealth, an organisation which in our view has been neglected and undervalued under the Labour government in Britain. In last year's strategy document from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the only mention of the Commonwealth was in the title, "Foreign and Commonwealth Office". While we must be realistic about what such a diverse organisation can achieve, its extraordinary diversity nevertheless offers some strengths: it is a unique network of fifty-three countries spanning five continents and with thirty percent of the world's population. We believe the Commonwealth is a tool to be picked up and used more often, in particular, to tackle inter-faith dialogue and conflict prevention. A good example of how it could be used is to encourage it to take a leading role in addressing state failure, like co-ordinating a future rehabilitation package for its former member Zimbabwe.
Yet the Commonwealth is not the only group of countries where we can recreate historic connections on a new, modern basis. I have long-argued that Britain should embark on the elevation of its links with many of the countries of the Middle East and Gulf, not only diplomatically but in matters of culture, education, commerce and security, and that this should be done as a cross-party, cross-government initiative pursued consistently over many years. It is strategically vital to strengthen Britain's links with many friendly Muslim nations and not only in the Gulf, and not only for political reasons, since it is vital to make the most of opportunities to expand our trade and investment. It is this kind of all-round strengthening of our links with allies, as well as dealing with potential threats, that our co-ordinated national security is designed approach is designed to help us achieve.
Critics of a closer relationship with some Muslim states will say that they do not conform to all of our own democratic and liberal values, but it is a vital part of understanding the world we are facing in the coming decades that we will not be able to prescribe the form of government in all the countries with whom we need friendly relations. British leaders will rightly always argue that democracy and freedom are the soundest basis for national security and international peace for other countries as well as our own. Yet in foreign policy idealism must always be tempered with realism: even those countries like many of the Gulf States, which are making democratic reforms, will do so at varying paces and sometimes over an extended period.
Similarly, it is in our strategic national interest to have an effective and strong relationship with China. Relations with China are often characterised by tensions over human rights. Our approach has always been to be consistent in raising such issues and not to shrink from debating them with Chinese leaders. At the same time, however, if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons and the urgency of dealing with climate change are the greatest threats to the future of humanity, we must acknowledge that we cannot hope to solve these problems without working closely with China's leaders. A Conservative government will therefore promote sustained dialogue and close understanding with China and a relationship in which, even where there is sharp disagreement, neither side will walk away.
It is similarly not in Britain's national interest to be in permanent confrontation with Russia, but a sustained improvement in those relations will require a major effort on both sides. I make no criticism of the Labour government for its poor relations with Russia, for a wide range of issues ranging from the invasion of Georgia through the treatment of the British Council to the Litvinenko murder have made improved relations impossible in recent years. Britain must remain firm in its belief that countries such as the Ukraine and Georgia must be free to determine their futures. Nevertheless, the "reset button" pressed by Hillary Clinton provides the opportunity for improved relations between Moscow and other Western capitals. Again, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is an issue very difficult to deal with without a working relationship with Russia. It is in Russia's national interest too for such issues to be dealt with, and to work more effectively with the US, Britain and other Western nations. With a Conservative government the door will be open to improved relations with Russia. We shall see if a door opens in return.
The fourth theme of Conservative foreign policy is one in which the cross-party consensus in Britain is very strong: the effective reform of global institutions to allow international co-operation in the face of the threats I have outlined to be enhanced.
This is clearly true in the economic area, where the focus of economic decision-making clearly needs to shift more to bodies such as the G20, and it is true of the United Nations, on which the Conservative Party share the view of the current government that the Security Council should be reformed to include permanent membership for Germany, Japan, Brazil, India and African representation. We have no illusions, however, about how difficult it will be to bring this about.
The European Union is also one of the institutions which must adapt to the changing distribution of world economic and political weight. This is not a speech about European policy: our belief that the European Union needs to focus on the issues of global competitiveness, global poverty and climate change is well known, as is our opposition to the greater centralisation of power in the EU, as embodied in the Lisbon Treaty. We see that Treaty as leading to institutional conflict within the EU, for instance, between the President and the High Representative on Foreign Policy, and a loss of democratic decision-making in nation states, a profound problem that the German Constitutional Court raised in its recent decision on the Lisbon Treaty. Institutional centralisation will not supply, and is even displacement activity for, what Europe really needs to develop in world affairs, which is the political will to use its collective weight effectively and a focus on practical results.
This is true of its relations with Russia, but also starkly true of the situation in the Balkans, where the EU is often failing to exert itself effectively even in relation to countries which many of us hope will one day be its members. There have been many positive developments, but some of the countries of the Western Balkans, most notably Bosnia-Herzegovina, are still tilting unsteadily between their past and their future. A lack of persistent international focus on the region until these countries are fully and irreversibly on the path to joining the EU and NATO could turn the successes of the last decade into the failure of this decade.
A Conservative government will work particularly to sharpen the European focus on the Balkans which we will see as a major test of what the EU can accomplish in foreign affairs. As Lord Ashdown put it last year in his article, Europe needs a wake-up call, Bosnia is on the edge again, "With an EU military force still here, an EU Special Representative with Executive Powers, a huge EU aid budget and a full-scale EU police mission, the EU has more leverage in Bosnia than in any other country. What will it say about the EU's pretensions if we will not act effectively to stop this bust-up happening?" Grand visions and ambitions are vain if the EU cannot demonstrate effectiveness in its common policies in its immediate neighbourhood.
It is vital too that the EU does not give up on enlargement. A European Union without the Western Balkans would forever have a disillusioned and disenchanted hole near its centre. And a Europe that turned its back on Turkey would have made an immense strategic error.
The effective reform of international institutions also includes the updating of international treaties, of which by far the most important is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, due for a major review conference in April and May next year, quite possibly at the same time as our general election. In the last three years I have given two lectures here at the IISS on what needs to be done to strengthen this treaty and the powers of the International Atomic Energy Agency, proposals I have discussed with the new US administration and which are very much in line with President Obama's crucial speech in Prague in April.
This may well be the main opportunity to fend off the nightmare vision of the effective collapse of the Treaty and the rapid spread of nuclear weapons, a nightmare which would see the Middle East, the world's most unstable region, festooned with the world's most destructive devices. In my view the current British government have been slow to develop ideas and provide international leadership on the reform of the NPT, leaving it until the end of their third term and the approach of the review conference to push any determined initiative of their own. The future of this Treaty also requires the maximum possible effort to persuade or deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability.
Again we have long-argued for a new American opening to Iran that has indeed now been made, but also that it will need to be followed if unsuccessful by far tougher European economic measures to show Iran that there is a serious price to its defiance of the international community. Twenty years from now European sanctions may count for much less, but today they still matter and securing such a policy is one of the highest possible priorities for whoever is the British Foreign Secretary at the end of this year and early next.
The fifth and final theme of a Conservative approach to foreign affairs is that, faced with so many threats to our society and our security, it is essential for us in Britain to uphold our own highest values. I have accepted in this speech that our power to dictate to other countries how they should uphold democracy or human rights may actually diminish over time. In many ways this makes it all the more important for Britain to be among those countries that sets 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.
Two hundred years ago, in his most famous and shortest speech, my hero William Pitt The Younger said, "England has saved herself by her exertions and will I trust save Europe by her example". In the future we will have to recognise that if our exertions may not always have the desired effect, our example must never be absent. This means that a British government must always be an advocate for political freedom, human rights in their broadest not just legalistic sense, free trade, and democratic decision-making. We must always understand that terrorists who are motivated by contempt for our society will only be strengthened if we weaken the values that hold it together, a consideration of huge importance when we consider recent allegations of complicity in torture.
Our values also include playing a pre-eminent role in the eradication of poverty and the spread of prosperity to less fortunate nations. We fully support President Obama's vision of engagement in Africa which is measured by "more than just the dollars we spend" but "whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change". We have to work with African countries so that aid and investment are a force for economic growth and political stability rather than a permanent lifeline that just helps the needy scrape by. Our conscience and our common humanity dictate that we must help those at the mercy of disease, conflict and poverty. That is why David Cameron has reaffirmed our commitment to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid by 2013.
However aid should not be the only driver of our policy towards Africa. We must focus on good governance and fostering the democratic institutions - the courts, civil society and police forces - that are the bedrock of more prosperous societies and the resolving of differences without resort to the gun. In this context development, along with effective diplomacy, is one of the tools of conflict prevention and needs to be used more effectively. We will be conscious that relatively small sums of money spent on conflict prevention can avert the need to spend vast sums on intervention or reconstruction aid, and is in alignment with our moral and well as national security duties.
An approach to foreign policy based on British values also means that the work of organisations such as the British Council will remain essential, and that the foreign language services of the BBC should always be promoted and defended. These organisations are not part of our implementing our foreign policy, but they are an important part of Britain's contribution to openness and understanding in world affairs.
These then are the foreign policy priorities that a new Conservative government would bring with it: a major change to our decision-making; the nourishing of the transatlantic alliance; the freshening and deepening of new relationships beyond America and Europe; a determination to assist the reform of international institutions and treaties; and the upholding of values and principles we hold dear here at home.
My argument today has been that it will become more difficult over time for Britain to exert on world affairs the influence which we are used to, but not impossibly difficult to do so if we make the changes and select the priorities of which I have spoken. To do so will be to act not only in our national interest but in the enlightened national interest to which I referred, for we have a responsibility to others as well as ourselves. Britain will not disengage from trying to shape global events. In trying to create and maintain a more peaceful world we will always be at the forefront. But we will so position and prepare ourselves that if the skies darken and new storms arise we will be ready for them.