War breaks out when politics fails. All too often in recent years in the Middle East and on the eastern fringe of the European Union politics has failed, governments have lost authority or have lacked the power to resist powerful enemies. The UK has tried military interventions in the Middle East with our allies, and has wisely avoided military intervention in Eastern Europe. Neither course of action or inaction has brought peace and democracy to those areas. So what in future should we do?
I want the next Parliament to rebuild the UK’s diplomatic strength. The last five years have seen some strengthening of the Foreign office’s capability to understand foreign countries and represent us more widely abroad. By 2010 the FCO lacked the language skills and intelligence staff needed to have a thorough understanding of the Middle East and Russia. Policy analysis and the presentation of our viewpoint was made more difficult by the shortage of skills. The Defence Select Committee has reported on this.
Armed with better information and advice, our diplomats and senior military staff will be in a better position to work with allies and with any democratic governments in the specified areas who are worthy of support. The Middle East needs more talking, and Eastern Europe needs more talking. This is not some vague hope of peace through asking people to be nicer to each other. I am far from naive about the magnitude of the problem faced in these troubled areas. I am also very conscious that we have tried military solutions in the Middle East, and the Ukrainian government is seeking a military solution in its unhappy territory, with no obvious signs that this route creates a stable peace and good democratic practice.
It takes many years or decades even for a country to establish democratic practices that are reasonable. It takes even longer for democracy to become a reflex reaction, to be part of the social and political fabric. It is only when people assume governments can be dismissed by voters, recognise that minorities have rights and protections, understand the power of the state cannot be used for party political purposes, and realise everyone is beneath the same law administered by independent judges,do you have the makings of a democratic state. The UK’s unique contribution in future could be to do more to build confidence in democracy,to explain to more people how democracy works, and above all to show it is an attitude of mind and an approach that has to be shared by government and opposition alike.