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A New Direction for UK Foreign Policy – Lunch with Meg Munn, 8 May 2008

On Thursday 8th May in Sydney, Per Capita hosted a lunchtime discussion with Meg Munn, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The discussion ranged from the Burmese cyclone response, to Pacific Island sports programs, to that old Sydney favourite, house prices.

But on a serious note, Meg outlined the need for ongoing reassessment of foreign policy settings. In Meg’s words: “Foreign policy cannot stay the same if it is to be effective.” Read the full text of Meg's presentation below...

Foreign policy cannot stay the same if it is to be effective. It has to change to take account of the ebbs and flows in the world, the rise and fall of global and regional players, the world’s economic climate and the resulting demand, and competition, for oil, minerals, and food. In recent times we have seen the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the Eastern block, the emergence on the global scene of China, India and Russia – with countries like Brazil also beginning to appear as states to take account of.

Additionally foreign policy used only to be about states – whose alliance to be part of, which country to watch, to counter. That’s still here of course, but we now have to be aware of serious threats from within failing, or fragile states. In times gone by, unless you were a neighbour, these forces would probably not really affect you. With global networks, mass communication, this is no longer the case. So foreign policy has to change, and so UK policy has changed and will continue to do so

But before the changes the things that remain constant: the need to promote British interests abroad, including issues around defence and trade. Supporting British nationals abroad should they be victims of crime, get ill or lose their passport. There is also the requirement to include the British Overseas Territories in our thinking – what is their future, can they respond to the challenges of the modern world and what do we need to do to help them?

But to the new additions - when David Miliband became Foreign Secretary in July of last year he started a process of sharpening up the department’s focus to reflect the world as it is. At the heart of the resulting focus is a desire to advance a progressive agenda in the world – one that combines domestic growth and social justice with an international activism that tackles poverty, injustice and oppression.

There are four new policy priorities to guide the work of the Foreign Office:

Countering terrorism and proliferation,
Reducing and preventing conflict,
Promoting a low carbon, high growth global economy, and
Developing effective international institutions.

This new emphasis brings with it a shift in resources, for instance an increase for counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation, climate change, conflict regions, and important international institutions. It has meant scaling back resources for Europe and the Americas in favour of Asia and the Middle East.

I’ll outline what we are doing in a couple of the new policy priorities; countering terrorism and proliferation, and promoting a low carbon, high growth global economy.

Countering terrorism

Our aim is to help prevent people becoming or supporting terrorists or violent extremists in the UK and abroad. We’re doing this by:

Supporting reform at home and abroad to tackle social disadvantage, inequality and discrimination that contribute to radicalisation,

Deterring people who assist or encourage terrorism and by changing the environment in which extremists can operate, and

Challenging ideologies that extremists use to justify violence by helping people who wish to dispute these ideas.

To achieve this we work closely in key countries to build up capacity to tackle terrorism and extremism. Our Embassies and High Commissions support local groups and organisations that are working to promote civil society, good governance, education, human rights and the rule of law, and that provide platforms for challenging extremism.

For instance, last week I was in the Philippines and launched the Amanah project, a Muslim leadership initiative aimed at countering Islamic radicalism. Working with the Asian Institute of Management, it aims to develop leaders who will work to reform education, health, governance and economic systems in their communities.

It is now recognised that there is a strong link between the global drugs trade and terrorism. One example of us getting involved to help is a local project I saw in Barbados. We help fund a group promoting a strong anti-drugs message, and last month when I was there, I visited their education centre working on drug reduction programmes through teaching children and young people about the effects of drugs and alcohol on their bodies.

But, of course, there are terrorist networks in operation and we have to work to reduce their threat by trying to disrupt them and their operations. We’re doing this by:

Improving our ability to identify and understand the terrorist threat,

Disrupting terrorist activity and taking action to frustrate terrorist attacks,

Bringing terrorists to justice through prosecution – this includes strengthening the legal framework against terrorism, and

Developing international co-operation with partners and allies to strengthen our ability to work together to disrupt terrorist networks.

One way is through the money supply as it underpins terrorist activity. Without it there can be no attacks, training, recruitment, assistance or welfare support for terrorist groups. By targeting their sources and supply of money we can significantly disrupt their ability to strike – this is a key strand to our overall strategy against terrorism.

Countries are required to act against terrorist financing under UN Security Council resolutions, with the Counter-Terrorism Committee monitoring to see if countries meet their obligations. Tracing financial flows within a single country is relatively simple. But we need the assistance of other countries to trace flows abroad to their final destination or source. Financial investigators rely on co-operation and exchange of information for successful investigations and prosecutions.

Climate change

The UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) made clear last year, that “continued green house gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century.” We need to take such findings seriously.

As you may know, before David Miliband became Foreign Secretary he was Environment Secretary, and he has continued his focus on this issue. It is undoubtedly one of the great challenges facing us, a challenge that demands a global response. If we don’t respond, the prospect of achieving the Millennium Development Goals could become a distant dream.

Last night he gave a speech at the London School of Economics entitled "Green Peace : Energy, Europe and the Global Order", where he made the point that current global crises such as spiralling energy and food prices have their origins in carbon dependence. His solution is for the world to move to a low carbon economy with a diverse mix of energy sources and suppliers.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel has suggested unmitigated climate change could have a significant impact on human migration. People could potentially be displaced not only by the direct effects of climate change such as coastal flooding, desertification and agricultural disruption but also by conflict and instability exacerbated by the scarcity of resources – particularly food and water.

As a Foreign Office Minister I have responsibility for South East Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean. Having visited these areas a number of times, I have been struck by how near to disaster some of the islands are. Some islands are literally just feet above the ocean, and in the Pacific there is already talk of islands at risk of disappearance. A few years ago the Cayman Islands suffered dreadfully from Hurricane Ivan which literally flattened most of the buildings. Just this week, we have been watching, horrified, at the scale of devastation in Burma from Cyclone Nargis.

With an unchecked rise in the seas water levels, with unpredictable and increasingly terrible storms and hurricanes, the local population would be forced to leave. Where would they go? Who would accept them? With the prospect of more people on other islands likely to want to follow?

So, tackling climate change seriously is vital. We are committed to taking a leadership role, to help develop a global political consensus on how we can proceed. The Bali conference was a step in the right direction, and we came away with agreement on a roadmap for achieving a global climate deal by the end of 2009. But we need to take this much further if we are to realise the aim of building a sustainable and equitable low carbon high growth global economy.

The UK is the first country in the world to set a long-term legal framework for reducing emissions through our Climate Change Bill. I hope that others will want to make similar commitments, and that this will help unlock progress towards a post 2012 agreement.

Alongside reducing emissions nationally, and working to reduce them globally, it is crucial to address the issue of climate resilience – how can we enable the most affected countries and populations to best adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change? Understanding and assessing the impacts and working to reduce areas of vulnerability and increase resilience is important in mitigating the consequences.

Whilst in Belize last month I visited the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre to learn more about its work. The Centre, with the support of the UK Metrological Office, has been able to model the effects of climate change over many years in the Caribbean and Central America.

As I mentioned earlier, many of the islands are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but traditional models predict changes for large areas of land. The model developed and used by the Centre is able to identify the issues for small groups of Caribbean islands, essential when trying to organise preventive work or stockpile emergency supplies.

The Centre also works to raise awareness and to develop mitigation measures. One area of work that is funded by the UK Government examines the effects of climate change on a number of the British Overseas Territories in the region. These are often quite small countries, with small populations, and unable to cope with a large-scale emergency on their own.

In my visit two days ago to Brisbane, I met the Queensland International Collaborations Department. They also have a link on climate change to the UK Meteorological Office, and we agreed to explore whether techniques used to model climate change in the Caribbean might also be applicable to the Pacific.

Relief of poverty internationally

Advancing a progressive agenda in the world must mean tackling international poverty, recognising the causes and changing them. The Make History Poverty campaign spread across the world, and things have moved on, but we all need to make an effort to move us forward again.

World economic growth must be at the heart of any successful strategy for reducing poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. At the same time, growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable, providing “human security” through freedom from poverty and disease, and empowerment to fulfil human potential.

We are at the mid-point toward the Millennium Development Goals; we have to recognise the urgency of reinvigorating our efforts. Together with the UK Department for International Development, we work in a participatory way with all who can contribute - within and outside Governments – to address development challenges, both on growth and access to health, water, sanitation and education. I know the new Australian government takes the same progressive approach.

Thank you for listening.

A New Direction for UK Foreign Policy - A presentation by Meg Munn MP