With Responsibility to Protect Size Does Not Matter

13 Sep

There will be few people reading this blog that will not have heard the expression ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. A truism perhaps in a family setting but not a maxim that international diplomats necessarily subscribe to. Therefore, there was some irritation when at the G20 meeting in St Petersburg – according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) at least – a spokesman for Mr Putin, the Russian President, remarked to the effect ‘Britain is just a small island; no one pays any attention to them’. As is the case in diplomatic circles, the remark was rapidly disowned, even though any damage it might cause had already been done when the BBC’s chief political correspondent, Nick Robinson, not the Russian media, chose to release it.

If Mr Robinson says that he heard the remark who can gain say him even if one cannot help but wonder how many throw away remarks a reporter hears in a working lifetime and how many they choose to report and why? However, as the context for this alleged remark was the start of the G20 meeting – where action against the Syrian regime was the divisive hot topic with UK taking a diametrically opposite view to Russia – the phraseology used may be indicative and instructive in respect of Russian geopolitical thinking and methodology. The ‘mine’s larger than yours’ basis for diplomacy, where virility and strength are lorded and weakness treated with contempt. In this case the recent voting down in the British Houses of Parliament of the Prime Minister’s motion condemning Assad of Syria for using Sarin gas on his own people not going unnoticed. The democratic aspects of the decision being largely lost on many Russian pundits, diplomats and politicians who, for whatever reason, cling to the belief that their friend and ally, President Assad, had nothing to gain from doing such a dastardly thing.


6 Sep

On Thursday 29th August 2013 at around 2230 hours the British Prime Minister (PM) lost a vote in the British parliament. Not for the first or last time to be sure but in this case the government motion being debated concerned the PM’s ability to conduct foreign policy – for the United Kingdom to join allies in punitive military strikes against the Assad Regime in Syria. The decision of the leader of the opposition (supported by a sizeable number of government back bench members of parliament (MPs)) to oppose the motion not being, on the face of it, too outlandish as it was just another exercise in democracy. Except, this particular decision by the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition broke with precedent and in so doing possibly changed the political landscape for all future administrations; not least the PM’s prerogative to conduct foreign policy without constantly having to refer decisions to a vote in parliament. Indeed, not long before the recent parliamentary recess MPs were debating this very issue and although the back bench initiated motion was calling for parliament to be consulted ahead of any military action in Syria underlying the motion and the speeches was a view that the Executive should always consult MPs before committing British forces.

From the Israeli MFA – AWOL

13 Aug

There’s no real logical reason why, but the thought of diplomats on strike just seems a bit incongruous..The ongoing dispute between the Israeli MFA and Treasury seem to continue, with farcical results (US NIC officials being booted out of office meeting rooms, Kerry’s retinue not having sufficient visas for visit).


2 Aug

Dave Tisdale here provides an assessment of the UK’s military interventions. The British House of Commons Defence Select Committee has recently called for evidence in respect of UK intervention operations, asking questions such as: does the UK still have a role in intervention operations; if so, why, where, when and how?

Dave explores how, in the 21st century, this international system performs in practice? How do legal, ethical and moral imperatives impact national decisions? Notwithstanding the UN Charter, how do the realities of strategic necessity in international diplomacy – the application of soft, flexible and hard power – in pursuit of national interests impact the need for, and legitimacy of, International Intervention Operations?

Using Syria as a recent case study and exploring previous UK military interventions, Dave Tisdale has provided the following assessment as a start point for a possible input into this topic.

European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2013: the UK and EU foreign policy

20 May

UK ‘International Defence Engagement Strategy’

9 Feb

“The implementation of this strategy will ensure closer working between MOD and FCO, and across government, and ensure the allocation of non-operational defence assets and activities takes proper account of wider government objectives. This will be secured through the joint FCO-MOD governance mechanism. “This strategy implements the goals of the National Security Strategy and Strategic […]

Out of 10: Scoring the objectives of the head of the FCO

5 Feb

The Cabinet Office recently published the objectives of the Permanent Secretaries of all the main UK departments for the first time.  They made for interesting reading, in particular those of the FCO’s Permanent Under Secretary, Simon Fraser.   It didn’t provoke in this ‘arm-chair auditor’ a desire to measure the PUS’ performance against his objectives.  It […]

Democratic Strategy – The European Union Narrative

29 Jan