British Foreign Policy and the Arab Spring

March 15, 2012

The Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee is holding an investigation into British Foreign Policy and the Arab Spring and they’ve just published a transcript of their evidence session with Lord Malloch-Brown, formerly of the UN and the FCO and now working for a political risk consultancy.  He’s got plenty to say about ‘electronic solidarity’ and the uprisings, the inapplicability of the Marshall Plan analogy and the state of language teaching in the UK education system.

A few highlights

The West, in this perverse situation, is not providing the one thing it should-money-and is providing a lot of what it shouldn’t, which is free advice and what is interpreted in the region as…meddling

The British Council is clearly having a good Arab Spring by all accounts, but the big players are really disappointing. The EU is disappointing, because it is quite unable to assert itself as the real strategic partner of economic and political change in the way it did in central and eastern Europe. The combination of major funds with the big carrot of, “If you guys reform you can join the European Union”, is completely missing. The one big funding source we have as Europeans is missing in action in any sort of evident way.

Lord Malloch-Brown: Gloriously, the FCO’s civil society involvement, or more informal involvement, in Egypt came around its different programmes to support moderate Islamic development, if I can put it that way, which did give the FCO, by promoting academics and scholarship, access into university campuses in Egypt, and certain other groups, which I have no doubt have been a spearhead of re-engagement after the revolt; but I think Britain, frankly, suffers from its perceived closeness in the Middle East to the US policies. I think its position on the Palestinian statehood request will have been widely noticed in the region.

I think the UK long since ceased the sort of Arab camel train UK foreign policy. To the extent that it has been seen as very closely linked to that of the US in the region there are many who are in a much better strategic position than the UK, at this stage-not just France, which is a very close ally and tends to act as one with us in that world now, but Nordic countries. Obviously Turkey is the absolute favoured country of the region, despite its own colonial past there. I think there are plenty of countries, which have had less history with the old regimes and therefore have been able to turn the page more effectively than we have.

Q119Ann Clwyd: Do you think that the Foreign Office needs to re-evaluate its whole approach to the region?

Lord Malloch-Brown: Look, the Foreign Office-I think from testimony you have received you will have seen its version of this-in a way which is a remarkable thing about it as an institution, scrambled to broaden its team. Some astonishing number of the whole of the Foreign Office were working on the Arab Spring at one point, so it was very adept in a Whitehall mandarin way at pulling people together to address this, but in terms of the strategy going forward, yes, it has not escaped its past in the region. It is doing bits and pieces to re-engage. It has played a pretty deft tactical hand over the past year, but there is a need for a back-to-basics strategic review of how we write our policy for the future.

Q120Ann Clwyd: You are critical of the EU. What should the EU be doing?

Lord Malloch-Brown: I think the EU needs to do something similar. I think the EU problem is, first, that this isn’t eastern Europe, so obviously it does not have the same carrots to offer; but, secondly, if ever there was somewhere where the EU could line up the 27 members behind a coherent approach, surely it is this. In my view there is not much evidence that it has, and that it is therefore able to show leadership. The blame for that is partly the Brussels system and the external affairs apparatus; but it is also the member states. As an old UN man I am always first to point the finger at the member state for failures on these occasions.

The full transcript is here



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