Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

LORD HANNAY OF CHISWICK GCMG, CH, SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK GCMG AND MATTHEW KIRK

8 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q1  Chairman: Welcome gentlemen. Thank you for coming along this morning. We are very pleased that you have all found the time to be with us. We are about to begin an inquiry into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's active diplomacy document and its overall strategy. The expertise and experience of all three of you is extremely valuable to us. Let me begin by asking whether you think that the White Paper is significant. Does it mark any significant changes or break any new ground, or is it simply an agglomeration of headings relating to things that are already happening?

  Lord Hannay: In my reading of it, the organisation of the tasks for the diplomatic service—the nine points at the end—is an excellent tool of the trade and is to be greatly welcomed. It is coherent and well set out, and it is probably extremely useful for members of the diplomatic service serving all over the world to have the priorities set out in that fairly well assembled way. As a political statement of foreign policy, I think that it errs in the direction of blandness, and, as you say yourself, a little bit of everything is piled in. I regretted that the then Foreign Secretary's introduction did not manage to mention a single thing about the European Union or the direction in which we wish to see it moving.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I agree with Lord Hannay. I am not sure that the White paper is significantly different from the Foreign Office's annual reports or the statement of objectives that it has been doing over the years. I do not know what else might have gone into it without revealing a much more careful analysis of where the world is going and getting into territory that might have been controversial. The decision behind the document seems to have been not to risk getting into controversial territory, which is perhaps a pity if there is to be a strong debate on where British foreign policy should go over the next 10 years. I believe that the world is changing fast in a number of significant directions, that we have to analyse those changes rather carefully, and that that may become a different debate from the one started by this document.

  Mr Kirk: Just to add to what Lord Hannay said, the statement of priorities—the work plan at the back—did not operate under this document but it did operate under its predecessors, and it was a helpful framework. However, it was important to treat it as an enabling framework and not as a constraining inhibitor of activity as a diplomat.

  Q2  Chairman: Thank you. As you are aware, when the new Foreign Secretary was appointed a few months ago, she added an additional priority—that of climate change. Do you think that she simply took with her work that she was doing in her previous Department, or does it mark a significant change in the approach of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

  Lord Hannay: I do not think that it is either one of those two exactly. Climate change has moved sharply up the agenda. As the post-Kyoto timetable inexorably advances, the science—and the economics, with Sir Nicholas Stern's report—remind us that we do not have a limitless amount of time to get the international community's act together. It is also a reflection of a priority that is rising irrespective of who is Foreign Secretary. Moreover, particularly since the Gleneagles summit of the G8, there has been a little coming together of the international community, at least in discussion. Climate change is now a really high priority—it is, of course, being discussed in Nairobi this week—to get into a process of negotiation, and to try above all to draw into that negotiation people who have been outside the climate change debate or who have been taking a free ride on what other people did—for instance, the United States, Australia, China, India and Brazil. That effort obviously has a much greater priority now than it did two or three years ago. You might say it was great priority then, but other people did not agree and you therefore did not get the necessary critical mass. People are now beginning to focus more on that, and I therefore very much welcome the Foreign Secretary giving the issue that priority.

  Q3  Chairman: Does it mean that the attempt to make priorities had been undermined within a few months, and that the prioritisation had already fallen apart because another priority had been added within a very short time?

  Lord Hannay: I think that it reflects the fact that you cannot make foreign policy by blueprint. No single country, not even the United States, can say foreign policy is to be thus, thus and thus. It is made by a lot of tiresome foreigners out there who have different ideas about what their priorities are, and you have to respond to them. It reflects the fact that documents such as this will always be outdated fairly quickly, because events will come along that will drive you to find responses that are not laid down in such documents.

  Q4  Sir John Stanley: This question is directed particularly to Sir Jeremy. As you know, the first priority listed in the document is making the world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. There were obviously no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so that can be set aside, but do you consider that our intervention in Iraq has made the world safer from global terrorism?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: First of all, Sir John, we must note that that priority, like several others in the document—and I do not exclude climate change—is an example of an area in which the Foreign Office has an important input, but it does not cover the whole field without liaising with other Government Departments, or indeed other Governments. Terrorism was becoming a huge threat to our security, to our allies and to other countries around the world before 9/11 and, of course, the threat was much more obvious after 9/11. That process would have continued whether or not the coalition had decided to invade Iraq. What has been risked in Iraq is an invasion that became an occupation and later a coalition working with the Iraqi Government. That has not yet settled Iraq into a stable and peaceful state, and because of that security deficiency, terrorists are able to operate as they might not have done under Saddam Hussein. If that state continues or deteriorates further, there will be a longer-term opportunity for al-Qaeda, for instance, or for a franchise loyal to al-Qaeda to commit terrorist acts in Iraq, to train terrorists, and to harden their people in battle. In my view, terrorists are no longer the main threat to a stable Iraq. There are very strong sectarian divisions that lead to immense violence every day and night between the sects in Iraq. Therefore, there are a number of different problems that the coalition, the allies of Iraq and the current Government in Iraq have to deal with that go way beyond terrorism. To answer your straight and literal question, the world is not yet safer from terrorism because of the invasion of Iraq. Other things have to be done to defeat terrorism in many other places.

  Q5  Sir John Stanley: Do you agree with the view, which has been widely repeated in the media, that the invasion of Iraq has provided the best possible recruiting ground for those who may wish to engage in terrorist violence in any part of the world?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I think the picture is more complex than that. There are other reasons for terrorist groups to recruit new people to their cause. I do not think that the situation in Iraq on its own has led to distaste, or worse, in the Islamic world among some, although certainly not all, Muslims for the west and what the west has done over the past five years. It goes much wider than that. However, Iraq has become a great cause in the Islamic world and beyond, and some young Muslims have been recruited to terrorism in response to the situation in Iraq.

  Q6  Sir John Stanley: Lastly, on a point that has been put to me personally and I am sure is regularly put to many others, the British Foreign Office had a unique insight, by virtue of history since the end of the first world war, into the make-up of Iraq and the latent forces that were being suppressed by the Ba'athist regime. The Foreign Office knew and had every reason to know that once the Ba'athist regime was removed, Iraq would take a fairly similar course to what has now happened. Do you believe that, before the invasion, the Foreign Office had such a view and was that expressed more widely to the Government as a whole?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: First of all, Sir John, I do not think that the Foreign Office's collected knowledge of Iraq, its people, its history and the way things may go after invasion was unique. Many people in the American system, for instance, beginning with the Secretary of State at the time, Colin Powell, had studied that part of the world quite well and served as American diplomats in the middle east, and warned that if Iraq was invaded and the Saddam Hussein regime removed, that place would be very difficult to govern. The Foreign Office understood better than some what Iraq might become, but there were also Americans—clearly, given the way things went, their advice was not heeded—who understood. There were also, of course, friends of ours in the middle east, Arabs and Muslims, with whom we talked as diplomats, who warned us very clearly that Iraq would be a very difficult place to manage after the invasion. Yes, those in the British system went over some of this ground with their American opposite numbers. Our input was stronger at that time into the State Department, the CIA and the National Security Council than into the Pentagon, and we found—this is perhaps another story—that the advice on how Iraq might need to be dealt with, which was received sympathetically in the United States, was not the advice that got to the decision makers, so there was clearly some disappointment in that respect.

  Chairman: I am conscious that we will have opportunities to come on to these issues later. I want to move back to the overall White Paper, but I shall just bring in Paul Keetch briefly on this point.

  Q7  Mr Keetch: Does this not show the danger of having priorities? Something will come along such as Iraq, which was undoubtedly the No 1 priority of the President of the United States, but it then became the obsessive priority of the British Government against other priorities such as, for example, Afghanistan or perhaps even what was happening and developing in Iran. Suddenly, the one great priority of Iraq overshadowed other priorities and made us as a country take our eye off the ball in other areas. In particular, the criticism has often been made that the diversion of troops and effort into Iraq ensured that Afghanistan was not dealt with properly. Does this not demonstrate that we can create priorities—we can write 10 priorities today—but the political priorities of the President or the Prime Minister of the day two months down the line might be on a subject about which we have no idea? It might be the Falklands or whatever, but suddenly that will become the overriding priority that, if we are not careful, will distract us from all other priorities.

  Lord Hannay: The example you give of the Falklands is perhaps not a good one, because the priority that was given to the Falklands was chosen by General Galtieri, not by the British Prime Minister. That illustrates that the foreigners out there do have a capacity to throw your best ordered priorities into a certain amount of confusion.

  Mr Keetch: President Bush is also a foreigner, of course.

  Lord Hannay: Frankly, if you do not have priorities, you have no anchor at all—you have no sense of direction whatever—so you need those priorities, but you also need the flexibility to be able to respond to events and you need structures in your diplomatic service that give you enough capacity to be able to switch between the priorities a bit if the circumstances demand that.

  Mr Kirk: I want to add that one aspect of this document that seemed to me, having moved out of the diplomatic service into the private sector, to be missing and which I think is relevant and would be found in a corporate-sector equivalent is something about values—values in foreign policy and values in the way the diplomatic service is managed and goes about its business. To me, priorities inevitably shift as the environment around you shifts. The values ought to be constant, clearly set out and deliverable, but there is very little in this document about them.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: We have to think of this set of priorities as the base from which the British diplomatic effort leaves to conduct its operations. It is extremely useful to have the fundamental values set out, so that public opinion understands where British foreign policy is coming from, but if you judge the British diplomatic effort or the resources it needs only by the base, you do not give the resources for the operations. British diplomacy is far more than this document. We can have a discussion about the document this morning, or we can have a discussion about British diplomacy. They are two different things.

  Q8  Mr Horam: If we have a discussion about British diplomacy, let us move on to your chosen subject, Sir Jeremy, and the role of the Foreign Office. It has been said in recent years that the role of No 10 Downing street in formulating foreign policy, which has always been very great, has become almost comprehensive and total. I have a quote—I do not know whether it is accurate—from Sir Rodric Braithwaite, who criticised the Prime Minister for reducing the Foreign Office to "a demoralised cipher". Whatever your views, I would be interested to know, first, whether that has happened—that the Foreign Office has become handmaiden to No 10—and, secondly, what effect that has had on the formulation of foreign policy.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: First, it is a trend of our age that as international affairs increasingly interlink with domestic affairs, the Head of any Government should be closely and in a detailed way concerned with foreign policy. Secondly, it is a diplomat's job to adjust to circumstances and to do his or her work with the relationships and contacts, and in the environment that he or she finds. I think you will find, if you had long conversations with members of the Foreign Office now and with us with our experience of being senior diplomats over the past 10 years, that we adjust to things and provide what the Government require from diplomacy.

  Q9  Mr Horam: Do you recognise any truth in the statement by Sir Rodric about "a demoralised cipher"? Is that anywhere near the truth?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: If the Foreign Office has a touch of demoralisation about it—I think that is true at the moment—it is for wider reasons than the relationship with No 10.

  Q10  Mr Horam: Such as?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: First, the demoralisation, if it occurs between No 10 and the Foreign Office, starts at the political level between the Prime Minister and his Secretary of State and Ministers. The civil service behind that will fit in with what is required by the Government and do what work is necessary. We could get into some comment about the use of special advisers and the difference between the civil service now and the civil service 30 years ago when special advisers were not so much used on operational work, but it is more than just the Prime Minister or No 10 taking over certain aspects of diplomacy. The world has led to that. Another serious factor in the Foreign Office's challenge today has been resources. No doubt we will come to that with other questions—

  Mr Horam: Yes, we will.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: We are finding that the size of post, the spread of the Foreign Office's work, the capacity to construct relationships and to negotiate, the experience gained by a slimmer number each year of men and women in important but more junior roles in embassies abroad because numbers have been cut is leading to a progressive decline in the capacity of the Foreign Office to cover every aspect of diplomacy. That is something that we should discuss seriously.

  Lord Hannay: May I add that the Foreign Office in my experience—I have not been a serving member of the diplomatic service for the past 11 years—is a pretty robust animal? It is highly motivated, enjoys a great deal of team spirit and can put up with some quite difficult circumstances. If you cast your mind back to Baroness Thatcher's reign, she was not invariably an admirer of the Foreign Office and she said some quite hard things about it, but it weathered that and worked loyally for her Government, as it works loyally for every Government. Such things can be exaggerated. Moreover, we must not forget that the Prime Minister has a much bigger role, as Sir Jeremy said, because Heads of Government are now much more involved in the day-to-day business of diplomacy. That has nothing to do with our country or the way in which our Government is organised; it is about the way in which the world, European Councils, G8 meetings and so on are organised. You may like it or not, but it is there.

  Mr Horam: I think the point that Sir Rodric was hinting at in his comment was that foreign policy would have been better conducted if No 10—

  Lord Hannay: Sir Rodric did the most right thing that he could have done. He advised the Prime Minister for whom he was working that his job should be abolished and that he should rely on the Foreign Office. That is not the view that everyone takes. One final point: it is worth remembering—this could be very different—that the two principal advisers to the Prime Minister in his office are both senior serving members of the diplomatic service. That makes a very big difference. If they were people completely from outside, or political advisers, I think you would get a much greater degree of demoralisation.

  Q11  Ms Stuart: It is about the ownership of these priorities. The White Paper states, "These priorities are Government-wide, they are interdependent and reflect the linkages between domestic and foreign policy" and says that all Departments must be seen to have a role in pursuing them. We all know how incredibly difficult it is to co-ordinate across Whitehall. To what extent do you think there is cross-departmental ownership? I go back to the example of environmental policy, which the current Foreign Secretary seems to have brought with her. Do you think it will make the Foreign Office's job more difficult?

  Lord Hannay: No, it is the modern world. It has been like this to an ever increasing degree for the past 30 or more years, as domestic and foreign policy—the clear distinctions, the different boxes—have become confused and overlapped. If you were to go round Europe or the rest of the world, you would tend to get the view that Britain has been better at recognising that and concerting a British policy on these matters than most other people. That is not to say that we are yet very good at it; we are just better than some people who are quite bad at it. There are plenty of examples of that; at European meetings in Brussels, one finds people taking completely different views in one council compared with another, and so on. On the whole I think that the British tend to avoid that. It is a very difficult art—it is more an art than a science—to get a concerted view and then carry it out. What this document does that I think is good is to tell the people out in the field, who are of course all members of the diplomatic service—although they may temporarily be drawn from other Departments—how to put together these priorities and what fits with what. That is very good, because out in the field you do not have the co-ordination problem that you have in London. If you allow the co-ordination problem in London to reflect through into the field, then you get a very poor performance.

  Q12  Ms Stuart: I put it to you that that is more a reflection of the way in which British diplomats and politicians perceive power in negotiations. We always think that sharing is extremely important, and any British Minister who goes into negotiations knows that the rest of Whitehall is behind them. But when it comes to the final stages, where you play poker, the British, having negotiated everything and been very safe, cannot play poker.

  Lord Hannay: I see. Well, if that is your view, that is your view. It was not the impression that I got when I was involved in European Union or United Nations affairs. I do not criticise the Ministers who were involved and whom I was advising on those occasions. I thought, for example, that Baroness Thatcher did rather well on the British rebate, and she showed every sign of not being somebody who folded her hand. She upped the ante quite often.

  Q13  Ms Stuart: That was the Prime Minister actually acting against the advice of the Foreign Office, which told her in the run-up that she could not get that rebate.

  Lord Hannay: No. I was one of her principal Foreign Office advisers, and we did not advise her in that way. The advice that we gave was that a two-thirds rebate was what we should be aiming for, and that was what we got.

  Q14  Ms Stuart: Can I ask just one very specific question? Do you think that the Government made a mistake in 1997 when they separated the Department for International Development from the Foreign Office?

  Lord Hannay: I would rather like to pass on that, because I am not an expert in that field.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: There were advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was that DFID became a much more focused conveyer of British aid policy. The expertise was refined because it had its own objectives, its own office and its own Secretary of State in the Cabinet. Therefore there was a momentum given to the British aid programme that probably was not there under the Overseas Development Administration. The downside was that the co-ordination between aid policy and foreign policy became a little less well conducted. Naturally enough, jealousies grew, there were budgetary problems and difficulties and there were two Secretaries of State in the Cabinet. The politics and the bureaucracy of the combined area probably diminished to some extent, whereas the professional delivery of an aid programme improved. I want to go back to Ms Stuart's previous question. I think that the Foreign Office is well used to the fact that diplomacy begins at home. We have always had channels to other Government Departments involved in international affairs and with increased globalisation and as the Government have become more used to international and domestic affairs coming together, the Foreign Office has adjusted through contacts round Whitehall, constant meetings and responses to the Cabinet Office's co-ordination of things. I think that that has been done very well by Whitehall in international affairs. There is a problem, however, in the business of divided budgets and payments being made for every detailed little thing that one Government Department uses from another. Budget mentality has become divisive as the requirement for united Whitehall and Government-wide policy has grown. That is a pity. It might be necessary in accounting terms, but it has not been good for the traditional British strength in combined bureaucracy across Government.

  Q15  Mr Keetch: May I ask about resources? Obviously, the Gershon report suggested some huge savings from the Foreign Office in particular. Do you think there is a danger that the drive for ever greater efficiency, the constant consideration of whether posts should be kept open and of which posts should be closed and the desire all the time to make savings—I am sure we would want to see savings—is now taking diplomats' time away from their principal job, which is being a diplomat? Is there a sense that the management of the estate of the Foreign Office and its buildings should begin to be done separately from those people who are diplomats? In other words, should the diplomats continue with diplomacy and could the management of the bricks and mortar of the Foreign Office be better done by someone else?

  Mr Kirk: May I kick off on that one, as the most recent serving diplomat of the three of us? I did not find it at all unusual as the head of mission that I should have quite a strong focus on the resources that I was using to fulfil the objectives, which obviously included the bricks and mortar resources as well as the people and the money that you need to enable both to do their job. I think the Foreign Office could be more professional in its management of people and in its management of physical resources. It could inject more external professionalism into that process. I think there is an underlying concern, as well, which is that the more you manage resources by strictly and tightly defined objectives—in a sense that is one of the concerns about the way in which objectives are set out here and whether they are a constraining framework or an enabling framework—the more difficult it is to value the existence of a capacity that is available to be used when necessary. I see that in the job I am doing at the moment. As a company, we call on the Foreign Office for help in many different places and many different ways. We cannot predict what those are in advance, nor can the Foreign Office. The knowledge that there are people there who have the knowledge of the country, the people and of how decisions are taken and so on, and who can advise us, help us and lobby us at short notice is invaluable to us. If the management by resources starts to erode that core capacity level, that would do significant damage to the Foreign Office's long-term capability.

  Lord Hannay: Two points, if I could. First, I think it is always very important to remember that in the Foreign Office the staff—the people—are a much higher proportion of the budgetary cost than in any other Department. I think I am right in saying so. Therefore if you do extract savings it means you are removing people. There is no fat to be removed on non-people parts—or there is very little. The second thing is that I think the trend is towards smaller posts in a lot of countries, because that is what some of these reductions result in. Personally I am strongly opposed to the belief that you can, by multi-accreditation, which is, say, having one ambassador for five countries, do a decent job—you cannot; but you can do a decent job with a very small post. If you have very small posts, as many smaller European countries than us have done for hundreds of years, frankly, then you cannot impose on them a template of management and administration which is the same as a post with 100 people. I am really not sure that it has been properly understood that if you are going to have just one person, with some locally employed people, or perhaps two people, in some country, you cannot ask them to do the same form of management controls as if they were in Paris or New York.

  Q16  Mr Hamilton: Can I follow on from the discussion about posts and how they are distributed with a few questions about whether the current diplomatic network of posts is really necessary? Obviously as a Committee we travel extensively. We meet our diplomats in posts all over the world and we are never less than impressed. I think British diplomacy and our posts are renowned in the countries that they are based in for being among the best diplomats in the world. Having said that, I think, Sir Jeremy, you referred earlier to changing priorities and the globalisation of the world, and the way that diplomacy is now done between Heads of State. Of course diplomatic posts were established in an era when we did not have the communications we have now. My question really is—having said how excellent our diplomats are and how important I think our posts are—are they are really any longer necessary, especially in Europe? Indeed, the White Paper points to the reduction of diplomatic posts in Europe. Do you think we actually need any? Mr Kirk, I know you have recently left the post in Finland, where we were just last month. Do we really need to have an embassy in Finland now we have got the European Union? Should we just be concentrating on the emerging markets of China, India and Brazil, and some of the emerging global priorities for the United Kingdom?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I am sure that my colleagues will have things to say on this question, Mr Hamilton, but may I just make a fundamental point about what we are discussing this morning, which is the nature of diplomacy and how it should be resourced? There is a reason why the British diplomatic service, person for person—man and woman for man and woman—is better than most other diplomatic services. There are reasons why the British soldier is more effective man for man than nearly every other military. The reason is the British professional approach to doing something down to its roots and the British habit both of collective team approaches and of pushing delegation down as far as possible to more junior officers, so that independent decisions are taken at quite a low level. The Government's capacity to handle international affairs is not just a matter of direct communication between the most senior members of Government. It is the product of a wide-ranging amount of teamwork, built on the knowledge and understanding, the contact and communications, that the British Government have, through all their capillaries, with other people in other countries. You cannot, at the top, seal a deal that has not been thoroughly prepared further down the system. You cannot negotiate at a conference without knowing what everybody else with whom you are about to negotiate may be thinking or may be carrying in their suitcase. You cannot understand what is happening in a country without having on the ground people who know, who understand and who have analysed the roots of that change, that problem or that particular development. This is actually an old debate. Now that we have the telephone, do we need diplomats? Now that we have the internet, do we need diplomats? Compare what posts deliver day by day to the Foreign Office and other Departments with what you may take as you find and find is incorrect on the internet, and you will see the difference between the diplomatic service's supply of analysis, judgment and advice to Ministers and what you can get from public sources.

  Lord Hannay: When I was doing the job that Sir Jeremy subsequently did, as ambassador to the UN, the world had an inconvenient habit of finding itself in the middle of crises in places where Britain did not have embassies: Kigali in Rwanda, Haiti, Somalia and Afghanistan. Your capacity to operate effectively was cut by a large amount by not having an independent, objective flow of information coming in. As it has since transpired in the case of Rwanda, the United Nations Secretariat was not passing on as much information as it should have done, and we really were groping around in the dark. If we had had a post in Kigali, as we now do, we would have been much better informed. It does not prove that we would have done any better, but we would have been better informed. Secondly, your EU point is not very well taken. Look around you at the embassies of our EU partners in London or throughout the rest of Europe. Are they getting smaller all the time? They are not. And why not? Because making EU policy is a complex affair that involves a great deal of work by our posts in EU capitals. The bigger the EU gets—it is about to go up to 27—the more complex this is and the more necessary it is that you do not just rely on the collective discussions in Brussels, which are the tip of the iceberg, but make a proper input through your missions in EU capitals. I am not saying for one minute that the only point of our embassies throughout Europe is to do EU business, because there are many other things; however, that is one quite important part of it.

  Mr Kirk: May I make two comments from my previous perspective, and one from my present one? Picking up on what Lord Hannay has just said about EU business, when I was in Helsinki, our role in relation to EU decision taking was first, to provide background analysis of why Finland was adopting the positions it was adopting across a range of issues. We did not involve ourselves in the Brussels negotiation, because that was done by UKREP, the UK permanent representation to the European Union. We followed what was going on in order to monitor whether the people we were dealing with were starting to cause a blockage or difficulty from the UK point of view. If they were, we then sometimes—not always—had a second role, which was to push the Finnish Government on a particular issue that had been reflected from the negotiations in Brussels. As we discussed earlier, decisions are increasingly moving to Head of Government level, so the push involved lobbying the office of the Head of Government, which could be done by only two people really; one sitting in No 10, the other being the ambassador on the spot. If you were to rely on No 10 to do all that communication, you would need a much bigger No 10 dealing with European business than you have now. So, we ended up doing quite a lot of it. My second point from my previous perspective again picks up on what Lord Hannay was just saying. A great deal of our work in Helsinki was on issues such as education, innovation, health care, reducing the levels of cardiac disease and that kind of thing. They were areas in which Finland had an acknowledged world lead, and where your colleagues in other Committees, the rest of Whitehall and parts of British academic and public analysis were interested in understanding better why the Finns were performing so well. Our job was to try to translate that which was relevant from Finland, which involved a lot of understanding of Finland, into that which was relevant in the UK, which involved a lot of understanding of the UK. My third point is from my current perspective. In the past month, I have been in touch with six FCO missions overseas, three of them within the EU, and on top of that, I have regularly been in touch with UKREP about processes of European legislation. With the bilateral missions, we are looking for a knowledge of the country, its people, politics and how our business fits into that—how best we can look after the substantial investment that we have made, or are thinking of making, in the countries concerned. That could not be done by anyone who is not present in the country. We have tried various models using private sector advisers to look for that same information. The quality is much higher from the Foreign Office.

  Q17  Andrew Mackinlay: I was very content just to listen and to absorb all that you said, but what tempts me to ask one quick question is that as we speak Kyrgyzstan is in turmoil. We do not have a mission there. There has been a long-playing gramophone record from me about this. Could you give us your view on whether the absence of a United Kingdom mission in Kyrgyzstan this morning is a substantial disadvantage to our interests and our information gathering?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: If Her Majesty's Government wanted to do something about what is happening in Kyrgyzstan, they would be less able to do so and less well based to make judgments from not having, as Lord Hannay recently said, a mission on the ground there. I doubt whether the British Government would want to take independent action in a country that is not so immediately connected to our interests as Kyrgyzstan. We are more likely to react with our partners in the European Union or, if the case came that way, in NATO. We would accept a collective analysis and a collective judgment with allies or within the United Nations on what to do in Kyrgyzstan. There have to come points where the British Government, independently, cannot reach out and mend something awful that is happening for those people on that territory.

  Q18  Mr Purchase: I have reason to agree with Fabian Hamilton about the excellence of our services. Forgive the massive over-simplification but my constituents care about two things in this setting. Can we keep them safe and out of military adventures as far as possible, and can the diplomatic service of the Foreign Office ensure that we have sufficient friends in the world to trade successfully? If I then look at outputs, we are in more struggles and difficulties than I can recall in any period since the end of the war, and our exports are not getting a bigger share of world trade. Given all the excellence that we hear of in the Foreign Office and the diplomatic service, what can you tell us about how we might improve on those two factors?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: To take security first, clearly the Foreign Office has a particular role within a much larger Government role for the defence of the realm and everything that that means. I do not think that your constituents will be looking just to the Foreign Office to keep them safe and to keep the world free from war. It depends on many other factors, starting with the police in their own streets. But let me make two brief points. First, your constituents, Mr Purchase, have not had to suffer a war on British territory or affecting British territory since the end of the second world war. With the things that have happened, with the establishment and the activity of the United Nations and with a much more globalised set of relationships around the world, inter-state war, particularly affecting the developed world and democracies around the world, is an extremely rare thing. We have moved on from the 20th century and the heritage that the 20th century had from previous centuries, including from empire and colonialism. We have moved on in terms of war. But the human race will never be free of violence. There will always be violence for some reason, somewhere, some of it affecting us, some of it on our territory. We will not be violence-free, and many aspects of government and many factors in society will bear on whether a particular area, a particular country or a particular county will be suffering from violence. The Foreign Office has an input there, in terms of understanding the way the world is going and working with other Government Departments and allies in order to ensure that the forces for peace are stronger than those for violence. In the economic sphere, although we are not winning a higher spread of world trade, our exports consistently go up in absolute terms. The fact is that other economies are growing faster than ours because they started further back and have room to grow. The spread of opportunity is much wider in a globalised world, which this country fought for throughout the 20th century. So that is a product of our own values earlier in our history. Other countries are freer, beginning to be more democratic, more economically prosperous, growing and giving us more markets, but we are not growing as fast as they are because we are an older industrialised country.

  Lord Hannay: I should like to add a point on that question. Because world trade is growing much faster than the world economy—that has been true for decades—we are increasing our exports considerably, even if we are not increasing our market share, as Sir Jeremy said. That is hugely important. Also, of course, our economy has been shifting steadily away from manufacturing towards services, at which we have been reasonably, if not very successful. I do not think that the picture is bleak. However, I wish to make a point: as in security, so in economics. More and more now depends on getting an international framework that will ensure that Britain can, if it is competitive enough, make a living, protect itself, further its interests and so on. In the case of trade, that international framework might be the World Trade Organisation, and obviously the stalling of the Doha round is a thoroughly bad thing and we ought to be exerting ourselves to restart it. That should cover the climate, which we started with, and of course all the issues of peace and security, many of which go to the United Nations and involve major peacekeeping obligations around the world. After all, the UN has nearly 100,000 troops deployed in different peacekeeping operations around the world. They are mainly doing a very necessary, important and good job, but they will not be able to do that if a country such as Britain, which is among the top five economies in the world and a member of the Security Council, does not pull its weight.

  Q19  Richard Younger-Ross: Coming back to strategic and international priorities, the paper that Sir Jeremy took us down slightly earlier talks about Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea. There is no mention of Lebanon and Israel or the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Is that a mistake?

  Lord Hannay: Well, I think that it is a mistake if it implies that the Foreign Office has taken its eye off the single most poisonous abscess on the face of the international body politic—that is what I would call it. Going back to what Sir Jeremy said on terrorism, I think that the failure, over many decades, even to move the Arab-Israel confrontation towards any kind of solution has fed that atmosphere in Muslim countries and allowed a very small minority of people to take up violence and to wrap themselves in a kind of Islamic cloak and a set of values that in my view is completely pernicious. Nevertheless, they have managed to do that. We should learn the lesson of this summer. If we believe that neglecting the Arab-Israel problem or that a unilateral, imposed solution will solve it, as did Mr Sharon's Government and as, in part, Mr Olmert's does as well, forget it. It is not going to work that way. That is what the events of the summer showed. It is right that this should be a very big priority in the period ahead. Not because it is likely to yield results quickly—it would be really silly to think that—but because if we do not get some kind of resumption of a process that could lead towards a settlement, something quite nasty will come along quite soon.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I think that it is fair to point out that this document was presented to Parliament in March 2006, but I subscribe entirely to what Lord Hannay said. The Palestine issue remains at the core of so many of our problems that it has to be a central part of the Foreign Office's work on political and security matters that we handle it. That is being evinced by the Prime Minister's approach to this problem now, and indeed during his premiership. We have shown that we understand the need for a settlement of the Palestinian issue more sharply than some of our allies.


 
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